IBM and its newly acquired IaaS provider Softlayer last week unveiled its plans to open a new data center in Hong Kong. Expected to go live in Q1 2014, the Hong Kong data center will be Softlayer's third one outside the US, following Singapore and Amsterdam.

On his recent visit in Hong Kong, George Karidis, COO of Softlayer, said that the new data center will be the 14th one within the company. Instead of focusing on IBM's traditional customer base like local operations of MNCs and large enterprises, this data center aims to support the global operations of Softlayer's 21,000 customers and other technology-centric and cloud-based businesses.

"Many of our customers operate globally and they may not have an operation in Hong Kong, but their customers are based in the region and they need to provide the same quality of service," he said.

Karidis said that current customers include gaming companies like 6Waves in Hong Kong, as well as other technology-driven companies like WhatsApp, Yelp, Citrix, Intel and Ogilvy.

Catalyst for startups

Another reason Softlayer chose Hong Kong to host its latest data center is due the vibrant local startup community, according to Karidis. Tech startups are a major customer segment for Softlayer, thus the company started an accelerator project two years ago named Catalyst Project.

The project provides free mentoring and referral services for tech startups to help them connect with potential investors or partners. Karidis said the Catalyst team has 12 people supporting 1,000 companies around the world and all of them are Softlayer's customers.

"Operating as a tech startup is at the DNA of Softlayer," said Karidis. "We do not charge any fees or shares, but it is a program to build a community and support system for tech entrepreneurs."

Softlayer's first full-time employee in Hong Kong is part of the Catalyst team, according to Karidis. The person, recruits and engages with the local startups at Catalyst, is expected bring more companies to the program with the opening of the local data center.

In addition to the Catalyst team, he said Softlayer is also planning to hire a team of 20 to 25 people to operate the local data center, which is expected to host 8,000 to 15,000 servers.

Complement not duplicate

Although IBM has been offering IaaS through SmartCloud Enterprise in the past few years, Mark Latchford, general manager of Global Technology Services IBM Hong Kong said Softlayer is bringing in new technologies to complement IBM's offering.

With a focus on leveraging its Unix capabilities, IBM's existing customers are mainly large enterprises. Meanwhile Softlayer focuses on serving technology-based enterprises or startups and is stronger in its Linux and Windows offering.

"Bare-metal servers or virtualization are really the same to us, we just manage it differently and deploy it differently for our customers," said Karidis. "Regardless, they are going to be delivered within one to four hours--one hour for Linux OS and four hours with Windows."

Both IBM and Softlayer did not reveal the new data center's actual location, but with Softlayer's stringent network requirements, it is expected to be hosted at a location with the highest quality network connections in Hong Kong, according to IBM.