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Cloud Brokers Offer Customer Leverage, If Little Choice

Lately, in the course of talking to startups who are hoping to succeed by storing and processing information in the cloud, I have discovered that some companies are trying to overcome security concerns by encrypting everything that goes back and forth between data centers and clouds. It's an approach that makes sense and it should relieve some potential cloud customers who are still unwilling to let their data leave the premises.

Despite their enthusiasm, however, these cloud storage and application processing vendors, who rely on various cloud service providers to maintain the security of their customers' data, are painfully aware that they must choose their service provider partners very carefully.

Writing in the VMware vCloud blog, Steve Jin of VMware R&D discusses cloud brokers, who provide a single point of contact and management for multiple cloud service providers, while maximizing the benefits of leveraging multiple external clouds.

Comparing cloud brokers to brokers of financial instruments, Jin cites the convenience of not having to worry about placing orders and working with multiple stock exchanges, and asks users to ask themselves if service providers fit their requirements. He also advises users to have backup plans to protect them if they are not satisfied with their providers. Along those lines, Jin continues, users should also find out if they can easily and cost-efficiently switch among cloud service providers.

If users are not happy with the answers to these questions, they should consider a cloud broker, which Jin describes as "Software that helps users and companies get the benefits of external cloud services. Depending on your requirements, it could be offered as a product so that you can install it inside your enterprise or as a service for which you pay as you go."

Jen suggests deploying the cloud broker as a service as opposed to a product because users require the most recent market data to make the best customer decisions and they don't want to have to keep updating a product.

What capabilities should cloud brokers have? They must work transparently with multiple cloud services providers to manage system monitoring, provisioning, billing, among other functionality. They should also help users avoid service provider lock-in by shifting workloads among service providers, and thus maximizing performance/price rations of cloud services. Finally, endorsing the idea of scaling virtual machines beyond low-resource providers, he declares, "Every service provider has a limit which you just don't hit normally."

What's difficult is providing a unified way for customers to use different service providers, whether they be Amazon, Rackspace, Terremark, or another company. "The tricky part of the challenge is while searching for the best deals among the various services, you want to keep the key differentiators of the providers so that you can leverage their comparative advantages when needed."

While noting the market for cloud brokers is still in a nascent, undeveloped state, Jin does recommend one product, Appirio CloudWorks. At least for now, it's clear that buyers in the emerging cloud broker market have a big advantage over sellers.

Posted by Bruce Hoard on 01/10/2011 at 12:48 PM


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