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The Rise Of The Cloud Service Broker

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

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Cloud services won’t reach their full potential until we can automate how we buy and sell them, says Peter Judge

Cloud services are supposed to be rewriting the way IT services are delivered – but if it is going to happen, we need to have new standards that can bring the full benefits of distributed services to end user organisations.

That was the message of the webinar I chaired a week or so back (which you can still watch online), called “The Rise of the Cloud Broker”.  In a nutshell, getting services from outside your company is all well and good, but you need standard interfaces to those services, and automated brokers that can negotiate the best rates and performance levels for you.

It ain’t Broker, don’t fix it?

“Cloud brokers provide a simplified interface,” said Winston Bumpus, who’s employed by VMware and is also the president of standards body, the DMTF. The broker lets users put together services from different platforms, and even move workloads between providers, because they have standardised interfaces.

The cloud broker is the grey box near the bottom of this slide from our talk. The broker links to multiple cloud services.

cloud broker DMTF

The two lucky data centres at the bottom left can buy services through the cloud broker. They only have to talk to one entity, tell it what they need, and the broker then goes off and finds the perfect data centre.

In contrast, the data centre further up on the left has a tougher job, having to deal with multiple cloud service providers and orchestrate the services it uses (look how many more arrows it has to use).

Cloud brokers need to conform to several standards managed by DMTF: Open Virtualisation Format (OVF) is a way to package up a virtual machine and its resource requirements, which can be handled by a cloud service or a cloud service broker, and the DMTF also has its Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface (CIMI).

The standard normally works at the infrastructure-as-a-service level, as higher layers such as platform-as-a-service or application-as-a-service would become more complex and specialised. It is also of particular interest for organisations using public cloud services (though it could also be used for private clouds). 

In the talk, we also heard from Todd Graham at VMware, and Angus Thomas of Red Hat, who is working on CloudForms – an implementation of a standards-based cloud request broker.

I don’t think I can adequately sum up all we got through in that talk here, but there were some key issues.

cloud request broker webinar
Click on the image to watch the webinar

We discussed whether service providers really want the brokers to appear. Some of them – especially market leaders like Amazon – might hesitate to adopt a standard which would allow users to go elsewhere, but analyst Clive Longbottom says it’s the lesser of two evils, allowing users to decide where a workload will be, and leaving them plenty of scope to make their services “stickier” and more attractive. It is not always necessary to move the data wholesale to another service.

Another big issue that came up is security – somewhat obviously, since on one level, when you ask a cloud service broker for a service, you are effectively giving someone else your corporate credit card and telling them to go off and buy stuff on your behalf.  To my surprise, a lot of the listeners are already using cloud brokers, and most of the rest seemed quite happy to use them.

We also discussed how the business model would work. Would some cloud providers also offer services, and perhaps give them a higher priority when offering services? If not, how would the cloud brokers actually make money?  Even automated software has to justify its existence somehow, after all.

I can’t say the panel came to conclusive answers, but if you want a look at some of the gnarly issues that real cloud implementations will get into, this could be a good one to listen to.

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