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Cloud service brokers: Q&A with Robert Fox

Rob Fox explains the state of cloud computing and how cloud service brokers can help companies with the new challenges of managing services in the cloud.

As more companies move multiple services to the cloud, they face the challenge of coordinating disparate services and managing various cloud service providers. Enter the cloud service brokerage as a way to attack that complexity. spoke to Robert Fox, director of EAI and B2B software development at integration broker Liaison, to uncover the current state of cloud and brokerage adoption.

Rob FoxRob Fox, director of EAI and B2B software development, Liaison

Do you think this will be the year of the cloud service broker?

I think 2012 will definitely be where as an industry we will get to know the term and get real comfortable with it. It’s on the forefront of where analysts are starting to talk about where we’re going with cloud strategy.

Why is that the case? What particular merit does it have?

Well, in general, there’s a trend of cloud adoption. Companies are starting to take a real serious, hard look at moving away from the traditional on-premise solution and looking for cloud solutions. And, of course, there are a number of reasons and advantages for that. The big issue is that as a customer or a company moves into the cloud to solve some of their problems, they want to solve all of their problems, or they want to start solving multiple problems. That becomes a new management issue for a company or customer.

Gartner: Cloud Service Brokerages key to cloud computing

As IT shops continue to look for convenient approaches to cloud computing, Gartner Group research finds that cloud service brokerages (CSBs) can reduce cost and help expedite cloud adoption. A recent case study on Mohawk Fine Papers, a customer of Liaison, suggested the role of cloud computing in integration will grow, and CSBs will lead the way. Paul Stamas, CIO at Mohawk Fine Papers, noted that “a cloud service broker can help promote both SOA and cloud use among mid-size organizations.” Companies like Liaison, traditionally B2B-focused, are expanding to include cloud brokerage services in response to customers’ needs for outsourced management and integration skills for the move to cloud.

To give you an example: If we move our CRM into the cloud and that CRM –whether it’s SalesForce or Sugar or whatever it is – what they’ll do is they’ll offer what we call “façade services.” [It covers] the way you talk to them and manage that cloud solution. Here’s the thing: Do I want to start getting into the business of managing different cloud strategies or different cloud providers? What we are seeing is that the answer is no.

If you’re going to start moving outside services that were traditionally inside your four walls, and you want to start working with multiple cloud services – you want someone else to take the headache and manage those things for you. And so that’s where the cloud service broker is born.  The cloud service broker can do two things. One is take the management away where they don’t have to manage different connections to different services and try to coordinate those. And the other thing, too, is that we can roll ‘em out quickly.

Liaison is coming at this from a history with B2B, is that fair to say?

Yeah, that’s correct. We’re also trending towards attacking more than just B2B now. This concept we call EAI in the cloud, which is a little bit more challenging to think about. If a customer has an on-premise back-end system but they want to do data integration in the cloud, they don’t want to have to hire people to maintain [movement of] data in and out of this system to communicate.

So are there related skills and traits that the company has developed that have set the stage for more successful multiple cloud services implementation?

Absolutely, I think that would be fair to say. In adapting a B2B solution, sometimes we have complex requirements. Let’s say I want to add value for things, whether it’s basic stuff like POs and invoicing or maybe I just subscribe to a special service to do real-time tax look-ups, or real-time shipping rates or things like that. [With a cloud service broker] the company doesn’t have to learn, “Okay, how do I connect to that service? How do I format the messaging so that I can do that type of thing?” Something as simple as doing exchange rate look-ups or shipping information. So those services are becoming more and more prevalent.

When you talk about cloud, you do hear more about services. Do people have to do something on their side to get their arms around data services?

Definitely, because our traditional approach is to go out, buy software, acquire hardware to install software – and if you don’t have the resources on staff that can support the hardware and the software, you have to get that trained and get it ready to go. I think the attractiveness of a service is to basically say, “Let’s not do that. Let’s take a different approach.” Traditionally we’ve associated a service with a subscription thing, a software license thing. I think it’s attractive to many businesses, especially in this economic climate if they perceive that the value goes up and the cost goes down; if you can show that with a service approach, that’s very attractive.

You don’t want to implement something and feel that you’re stuck. A lot of the concepts behind SOA were to try - by having a canonical or semantic model – to improve the ability to break things into the idea of a service, whether it’s you hosting those services or others. And I think [the cloud service broker] is just the next iteration of that.

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