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Companies eyeing cloud brokers to manage multiple cloud services

Some IT departments are aggressively adopting “cloud-first” strategies for new deployments. Instead of buying new servers, they’re looking at Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); rather than renewing expensive software licenses, they’re evaluating whether applications — from customer relationship management to enterprise resource planning — are more affordable as cloud services.

But with thousands of providers out there, IT departments need help navigating the ecosphere of cloud services. Enter a new class of software and service providers: cloud brokers.

William Hayes, director of decision support at Biogen Idec, a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Mass., has done some of those “loose calculations.” A cloud evangelist in a company that doesn’t have a cloud-first strategy, he concluded that the costs of “running an application on a fully loaded VMware server versus running it on Amazon EC2 is essentially a wash.”

Given the risks of using public cloud services — security and interoperability, for example — such a finding might be enough to convince some enterprises to continue owning their IT infrastructure. What Hayes’s financial calculation didn’t take into account, however, is the speed with which he can provision and deprovision resources in the public cloud — in minutes, compared to the months it took him recently to deploy a new server. Time to market is critical for Biogen Idec, which is working to find a cure for such nerve degenerative diseases as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

To minimize the risks while using Amazon’s EC2 for a development project, Hayes deployed a cloud broker in the form of a downloadable software “appliance” that requires a hypervisor, 2 GB of memory and a 50 GB disk in virtualized hardware. The software, from startup CloudSwitch Inc., encrypts data in Biogen Idec’s data center, ties into its Active Directory to push IP addresses and identity management policies out into the cloud, and secures the network to Amazon’s or Terremark Worldwide’s cloud, said Ellen Rubin, founder and vice president of products for the Burlington, Mass.-based CloudSwitch.

CloudSwitch is one company looking to solve the need for secure cloud services, according to Jeffrey Kaplan, founder and CEO of ThinkStrategies Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. Okta Inc. in San Francisco is another new company with a cloud-brokering Software as a Service that also focuses on identity management. SpotCloud, from Enomaly Inc. in Toronto, has popped up to provide a marketplace for excess infrastructure resources and companies that need IaaS.

“It gets back to failure remediation and insurance,” said Tom Bittman, distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. By 2015, 20% of cloud services will be consumed via cloud service brokerages, rather than directly, up from 5% today, he said.

To learn more about cloud brokers, stay tuned next week to

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