Cloud brokers, a reply to the ‘cloud silos mess’ menace and a business chance

Luis Rodero Merino

Cloud brokers are a solution for cloud management that is getting growing attention not only in technological forums but also by firms such as Gartner or Forrester, or economic newspapers like Financial Times. Cloud brokers are seen as the next driving force in the cloud landscape and a chance for business. But why are them needed?

Today cloud adopters have a wealth of options to choose from. Users can request virtual machines (VMs), storage and network infrastructure from several vendors (Amazon, GoGrid…) or even build their own private clouds in their datacenters using any of the several platforms available (Eucalyptus, OpenNebula…). It is thus easy to start enjoying the advantages that clouds bring, namely flexibility and scalability. Maybe too easy!

The different cloud systems offer pretty much the same basic services, but their APIs are dissimilar as standardization efforts such as OCCI have had so far small success. Hence, organizations must properly coordinate cloud adoption processes or they will have to handle several dissimilar ‘cloud silos’, with no chance to reinforce unified policies that rule cloud usage. In other words, there will be no easy way to reinforce security norms, control costs, share resources, etc. A collateral issue is the proliferation of cloud APIs that IT departments will have to struggle with.

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Image 1 Looking for trouble: mixing public cloud providers and private platforms, without unified control.

Cloud Service Brokerage (CSB) addresses these concerns.  A cloud broker lies between cloud providers and users to ease access and control. It hides the heterogeneity of the underlying cloud interfaces and services, providing a unique API. For example, a broker could choose the cloud provider depending on the SLAs demanded. Also, it helps IT departments to manage all cloud-related issues, for example by allocating limited budgets to individual users. There are already some CSBs such as FluidOps’ eCloudManager, Gravitant’s CloudMatrix or CompatibleOne. They offer a hosted cloud broker, or license software so users can run their own. CompatibleOne open source cloud broker, for example, can be installed at users’ facilities.

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Image 2 Cloud brokers are the solution.

Despite the potential of those offers, at Gradiant we feel that a step forward is still needed. The foremost requirement to be addressed is that CSBs must be designed to simplify the addition of new functionalities. Given the complexity of many organizations, a simple packaged solution cannot address the many requirements they may have, which change over time. Any organization should be able to include new API modules or to implement custom functionalities without the need of full updates or struggles with the whole framework code (think for example in ERP systems, that usually need be customized for each organization).

To achieve this goal we deem the Jclouds open source project a key enabler. Jclouds offers a unified API to access a broad collection of clouds. Jclouds can be run in Karaf, an open source framework for building modular systems based in the OSGI specification. In Gradiant we are analyzing the potential of Jclouds and Karaf  as the basis for a new cloud broker architecture where functionalities can be added or modified through easily pluggable modules. We believe such architectures can be the answer to the need for more flexible CSB systems, where users will not be limited by a single cloud or CSB provider.

Summing up, we can conclude that next developments in cloud computing will be related with CSB systems. But these will have to be based on architectures that can be easily adapted and extended. Fulfilling these requirements will be the key for the success of next CSB solutions.

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