If I could get my crystal ball to work, I know exactly what I'd ask it. And then once it had answered that question, my next query would be: Who will integrate the cloud?
This is the question I always come back to whenever I read or write about the integration problem with SaaS. You would think this would be a simple question, but it's not. SaaS providers aren't interested in getting into the integration business. It's messy, potentially expensive and it's not a core competency-excluding, of course, the few providers who actually specialize in SaaS integration.
And customers sure don't want to do it. Let's face it-you don't move to SaaS because you want new problems. You want an easy, inexpensive, connect-and-play solution-not integration headaches.
So who's going to integrate the cloud? As I envisioned it, there were a few options:
- Application integration vendors who have built specialized SaaS solutions, like Boomi or CastIron, could sell integration to you, the SaaS customers.
- Alternatively, these same vendors could also sell integration to the SaaS companies, who in turn would sell their customers pre-integrated solutions. Boomi's CEO, Bob Moul, recently posted a comment about this on IT Business Edge, calling it a sort of "cloud middleware." Moul believes so much this model will win out, that last year the company launched a solution called Atomsphere based on it.
- Systems integrators would expand into SaaS integration and would be hired as consultants by organizations who extensively use SaaS. The big question I have with this scenario is how that will impact the cost-savings SaaS vendors promise.
But a recent article about cloud services and end user integration has me wondering if the options might be broader than I thought. I repeat-the focus of this piece is integration for end users.
Gartner analyst L. Frank Kenney-who, incidentally, will probably never be my Facebook friend-is predicting the need for cloud service integration will give rise to a new niche - cloud service brokers.
Cloud service brokers-or CSBs for short-will be "third parties whose job it will be to negotiate the relationships between the cloud service consumer and cloud service provider, including integrating the various services that will make up a user's cloud environment," according to a recent eWeek Europe article.
Kenney told eWeek:
"The future of cloud computing will be permeated with the notion of brokers negotiating relationships between providers of cloud services and the service customers. In this context, a broker might be software, appliances, platforms or suites of technologies that enhance the base services available through the cloud. Enhancement will include managing access to these services, providing greater security or even creating completely new services."
Interestingly enough, Kenney predicts there will be three types of CSBs:
- Cloud service intermediation brokers. Companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Telestra or Virgin Media will sell you services, with add-ons such as identity and access management tools. You may buy directly from these companies, or you may get their services as part of another SaaS offering.
- Aggregation brokers. As the name implies, these companies will combine multiple services into one or more new services. They'll handle the data integration and other details for end users.
- Cloud service arbitrages. These will be similar to aggregation brokers, but the services won't be fixed, so users will have more options and flexibility.
I just want to stress again that Gartner was referring to end-user/cloud service integration, but could it also work for organizations? Only the crystal ball knows for sure, and it ain't talking.