Most people talk about the cloud like it is a single, integrated entity. However, the reality is quite different.
As things stand now, multiple cloud providers building on disparate infrastructures means there is a substantial disparity among various cloud services, and this may make it difficult to relay data from one to another. In short, the cloud is shaping up like the silo architectures that virtualization was designed to abolish, except this time the silos are not within the data center but spread out across the globe. And the problem is likely to become more acute as business units take it upon themselves to spin up their own cloud environments with little or no oversight from IT.
This is where cloud brokers come in. Although still in its infancy, brokerage is seen as the next stage in the transition from largely static enterprise infrastructure to the more dynamic data environments of the future. Individual services may vary, but the gist is that a single firm, or broker, will deliver a coordinated infrastructure using multiple providers, at once lowering costs and providing a more integrated environment than a piecemeal service approach can deliver.
As described by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, brokers will provide a variety of services, from integration and aggregation to full arbitrage of individual cloud providers and their services. In this way, enterprises gain the luxury of a unified cloud infrastructure without running the risk of single-provider lock-in or the threat of losing all cloud services in the event of a system failure.
Probably the most well-known example of a cloud broker is the Department of Defense's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which has been set up to facilitate service delivery as the four branches of the U.S. military transition to a more cloud-based IT infrastructure. The agency is tasked with not only providing services directly, but with vetting outside sources as well, ensuring that services are both integrated and compliant with strict security protocols.
On the commercial side, new brokerage services are cropping up from leading outsourcing firms like Infosys. The company recently launched the Unified Cloud Ecosystem that it describes as a "unified gateway to build, manage and govern hybrid cloud ecosystem(s)." The platform not only provides an integration mechanism to bind clouds together, but a support and analysis system that helps enterprises judge the fitness of various offerings based on parameters like quality of service, technology compatibility and regulatory compliance. The Hub has already gained high-profile support from Amazon, Dell, HP, IBM and Microsoft.
In fact, cloud brokerage can be seen as another facet of IT outsourcing, according to ITBE's Loraine Lawson. Instead of handing over systems or application delivery, however, brokers take on the complicated and costly task of integration. Firms like Liaison are already utilizing their experience in aggregating and orchestrating cloud services to become full-service mediators between enterprises and service providers. Again, the enterprise gains a single point of reference for all their cloud needs even as they are able to disperse their infrastructure across multiple providers — simplicity and redundancy in one package.
Note, however, that use of a broker does not absolve IT from its responsibility to maintain a properly working data environment. Oversight will become one of the key tasks heading into the future, not just of the cloud broker but of all services and service providers on the roster.
Remember, when the data is gone and the applications are no longer available, IT can always blame the broker/provider, but users will blame IT.