As enterprises struggle to sort out the array of cloud computing options and services, analysts see a growing opportunity for "cloud brokers" to serve as intermediaries between end users and cloud providers. These cloud middlemen will help companies choose the right platform, deploy apps across multiple clouds, and perhaps even provide cloud arbitrage services that allow end users to shift between platforms to capture the best pricing.
"The future of cloud computing will be permeated with the notion of brokers negotiating relationships between providers of cloud services and the service customers," said Frank Kenney, research director at Gartner. "Enhancement will include managing access to these services, providing greater security or even creating completely new services."
Gartner has seen a role for cloud brokers for some time. Last November Gartner analyst Tom Bittman predicted the emergence of thousands of clouds, prompting enterprises to either assemble in-house teams to manage specialized cloud service providers or look to third-party cloud brokers.
Earlier this month Gartner reiterated that view, and outlined three categories of opportunities for cloud brokers:
- Cloud Service Intermediation: Building services atop an existing cloud platform, such as additional security or management capabilities.
- Aggregation: Deploying customer services over multiple cloud platforms.
- Cloud Service Arbitrage: Brokers supply flexibility and "opportunistic choices" - and foster competition between clouds.
"Cloud service providers must begin to partner with cloud brokerages to ensure that they can deliver the services they promote,” said Gartner fellow Daryl Plummer, who said cloud services will "multiply and expand faster than the ability of cloud consumers to manage or govern them in use."
Cloud brokers can add value by building specialized services atop third-party cloud platforms, but there's always the risk that the undelying cloud platform may eventually provide those services directly. An example: a number of providers developed interfaces to manage Amazon's web services, only to have Amazon introduce its own management console.
Aggregation and Migration
That possbility - along with vendor concerns about lock-in - suggest that cloud aggregation and migration services may be the sweet spot for cloud brokers.
"I think their value is in federating across clouds," said Erik Carlin, Senior Architect at The Rackspace Cloud. "The ability to federate an app acrosss multiple clouds is an appealing thing. Then if one service goes down, you can run on another. All these services' APIs are exposed, so you could do it yourself. The broker will just simplify it."
Who Are the Contenders?
So who are likely to emerge as the leading cloud brokers? Cloudkick and RightScale are contenders in this space, while Enstratus, Kaavo and Elastra are also in the mix. Then there's startup CloudSwitch, which is in stealth mode but reportedly developing a cloud brokerage service that would include an on-premises appliance to manage switching between internal and external clouds.
Cloud brokers could play a particularly important role in the Obama administration’s efforts to migrate government apps into the cloud. System integrators manage data center and IT services for many federal agencies, and cloud providers are seeking to leverage those relationships.
Government hosting powerhouse CSC is working closely with Terremark (TMRK) and also will deploy customers on Microsoft's Windows Azure platform. Amazon Web Services has created a federal division which recently provided training for IT services firms with a "clear track record of success in the federal market."