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Understanding the cloud service broker model

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Cloud brokers emerge to sort out the chaos of cloud services

Faced with a chaotic mix of cloud services, IT execs now must sort through a crowd of cloud brokers that claim to minimize risks and improve interoperability.

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Understanding the cloud service broker model

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At Biogen Idec Inc., time is of the essence as scientists close in on cures for such nerve-degenerative diseases as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. For both altruistic and business reasons, time to market has made William Hayes an internal evangelist for cloud services.

"To be innovative and agile, we can't wait weeks to months to get servers to try new technology," said Hayes, director of decision support for the Cambridge, Mass., biotechnology company.

Hayes, whose job is "to bring in new technology and start using it," has been using Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, for a development project, but "it's challenging to deploy that [company-wide]," he said. Executives at the biotech company are naturally concerned about the public cloud's risks, such as security and interoperability of workloads.

Hayes found a solution in a "cloud broker" that encrypts data on premises and provides a secure tunnel to Amazon.com Inc.'s or Terremark Worldwide Inc.'s cloud infrastructures. The software, from CloudSwitch Inc. in Burlington, Mass., is sold as a downloadable software appliance with virtual system requirements.

Cloud brokers are emerging in as many models as there are cloud formations: from the CloudSwitch appliance to Software as a Service (SaaS) providers, to online brokerages for unused resources, to systems integrators and consultants.

Cloud brokers unify chaotic services

"This is the year in which organizations of all sizes will try to gain greater control over the chaos of wild, ad hoc, unplanned adoption [of cloud services]," said Jeffrey Kaplan, founder and managing director of ThinkStrategies Inc., a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. "A growing assortment of solutions is coming to market that can bring greater management control and visibility."

In January, for example, San Francisco startup Okta Inc. launched its identity management SaaS that provides enterprises with identity management, single sign-on authorization and authentication across a catalogue of hundreds of cloud services. Customers still pay their SaaS providers directly, but also contract with Okta for single-sign-on convenience.

In February IBM and Jamcracker Inc., an aggregator of on-demand services based in Santa Clara, Calif., demonstrated a combined platform that enables IT shops and cloud providers to unify the delivery of cloud services including internal Infrastructure-as-Service clouds with IaaS, SaaS and Platform-as-a-Service offerings from third-party providers.

As always, winners and losers

Although Kaplan believes the channel will play a greater role in the next phase of the market, "some ideas about the broker role may be broken," he said. "I've worked with companies trying to establish online marketplaces in a vendor-independent fashion. It's a tough struggle," he added. "The economics of this business are so tight that there's not enough money to go around."

This is the year in which organizations of all sizes will try to gain greater control over the chaos of wild, ad hoc, unplanned adoption of cloud services.

Jeffrey Kaplan, founder and managing director, ThinkStrategies Inc.

Nonetheless, SpotCloud (from Toronto-based Enomaly Inc.) arrived in early March as an online brokerage for unused data center space in enterprises around the world, claiming to offer the capacity of 10,000 servers. Most of the sellers on the brokerage are not cloud computing infrastructure vendors with solutions ready to go, however, but smaller hosting companies with excess resources. It remains to be seen whether sellers on the brokerage will be able to float a price that tempts buyers, experts say.

Professional cloud services

Cloud brokering also is available from professional services organizations, which can help IT departments weave through the legal quagmire and implement a hybrid cloud. "Consultancies have always had a toolkit of preferred solutions that they like to work with, just like resellers and systems integrators," Kaplan said. "Bluewolf [Inc.], for example, has done a lot of work in Salesforce.com."

Likewise, Appirio Inc., a systems integrator in San Mateo, Calif., is integrating Salesforce.com with Google, Facebook and Amazon.com, Kaplan said. Appirio's CloudWorks application unifies identity, security, data, context and business object definitions across cloud applications.

Other large consultancies, including Accenture PLC, Computer Sciences Corp. and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, will jump into the mix, predicts Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Ease of use rules the day

The software appliance model, with its simplicity and ease of use, suits Hayes just fine at Biogen Idec.

"I can go to CloudSwitch and click to provision a server in minutes. For one of our developers to get a virtual instance on their machine [through traditional provisioning channels], it could take weeks or months." Hayes said.

Moreover, the security aspects are a "comfortable story for IT," Hayes said. "It's the biggest scare any time you talk about cloud computing. With CloudSwitch, everything is encrypted down to the block-level disk storage."

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Essential Guide

Understanding the cloud service broker model

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