Cloud

Cloud Computing Trend 2012: Cloud Service Brokers

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2012 will see the rise of the Cloud Service Broker (CSB) as organizations increasingly outsource multiple processes to the cloud. The challenge of managing multiple cloud providers and getting a diverse set of solutions such as CRM, B2B, EAI, accounting and more to work together and share data can be daunting to IT departments used to managing these solutions in house.

The unique data integration, management, security and compliance complexities created by outsourcing to multiple cloud providers is best solved by a CSB experienced in all aspects of data integration, data management, service-oriented architectures, data security and governance. Such entities can manage all of an organization’s external cloud connections while enriching the data integration process with validation – a view that is also shared by Gartner.

This article explores the service management dilemma companies face when outsourcing solutions and processes to multiple cloud providers and why CSBs are well suited to the task of simplifying those complexities.

The cloud goes mainstream

Over the last couple of years, companies began tapping more heavily into cloud services and are becoming comfortable with entrusting their entire customer base to a third-party cloud service provider. This growing trust has led to widespread adoption of a few high-profile cloud services, indicating that cloud computing is the wave of the future for both home and business computing. Because of this growing acceptance, we’ll see an explosion of diverse cloud services providers in 2012. These providers will rise up to meet the demand of organizations ready to embrace the technology more fully after having had a successful experience with outsourcing CRM or some other facet of their business to the cloud.

Be aware, however, that expanding the use of cloud services for both back-office systems and B2B processes requires a high level of coordination and integration. That can mean adding staff and resources — whether it’s for writing code or just managing the integration process — which can negate the benefits of cloud computing. It’s one thing for these different services to exist as islands where they never need to interconnect. That’s easy to do. However, it becomes complex very quickly when a company outsources interdependent business processes to multiple cloud service providers.

The big dilemma: managing multiple back-end systems in the cloud

Outsourcing back-end processes to the cloud makes a lot sense for all the same reasons outsourcing anything to the cloud does – reasons that include scalability and cost savings – but it also can increase the complexity of cloud computing when these systems need to work together.

Consider this: When applications reside on-premise, internal staff writes translation maps to enable those applications to communicate with each other and share data for the business to operate. When these applications — CRM, purchasing, etc. — move into the cloud, the integration and data management challenges remain the same; they’re just happening in a different place. However, a new problem also emerges, which is managing the connections to multiple cloud service providers. There is no one way to talk to all services. Each cloud service provider uses its own method for connection, creating a complex management problem that can be counterproductive to cloud outsourcing.

For example, if you want to connect to integrate Amazon.com, you have to learn its Web service architecture and methodology, which is defined in thousands of pages of documentation. If you then want to connect to Salesforce.com or any other service, you have to learn their interfaces, too — all of which takes a considerable amount of time and effort. The lack of a uniform or standardized connection is a real bottleneck to working with multiple cloud service providers.

The solution to this bottleneck is establishing a common business process — sometimes referred to as a “facade” — that allows organizations to interact with all of these different services provided by various cloud providers and tie them together in an intelligible way so they can interact with one another and share data just as they did on premise, and also be more easily managed.

The role of the cloud service broker

CSBs provide organizations with a single point of entry into multiple clouds. They exist to eliminate the complexity of managing the data integration requirements of interconnected systems and multiple connections by interfacing to the other clouds on behalf of their customers.

CSBs that are data management and integration experts are ideally suited to handle the increasing complexity of managing multiple cloud service providers. They take care of data management and integration requirements to ensure the services interoperate with one another, so your organization doesn’t have to. They provide a singular facade service, giving organizations a single set of coherent uniform services that map to various cloud service providers.

For example, if a company wants to generate a ship notice, the CSB knows how to make a call out to do a look-up on ship rates in the cloud to insert the shipping cost in real time.

Beyond providing a single way of managing multiple disparate cloud service providers, CSBs also provide common visibility. A good analogy is online bill paying. You log on separately to your bank, credit card providers and service companies like your utility company, to pay bills and check balances. In each case, you have a separate connection with a unique user name and password and different interfaces to learn. This is not unlike an organization that uses multiple cloud service providers, but the bill-paying example is much more simplistic.

A CSB solves this problem by providing a framework that manages all of the connections and provides a common visibility layer to all of the cloud services an organization uses. CSBs also take care of security and certificate requirements on behalf of the organization.

CSB case study: Mohawk Fine Papers

Mohawk Fine Papers, the largest premium paper manufacturer in North America, successfully implemented a SOA and integration services backbone that combines application-to-application (A2A), business-to-business (B2B) and cloud-to-cloud services using a CSB’s integration-in-the-cloud solution. The implementation is detailed in a July 19, 2011, Gartner report titled, “Case Study: Mohawk Fine Papers Uses a CSB to Ease Adoption of Cloud Computing.”

As the report details, the CSB provides a SOA-based backbone to support interoperability between Mohawk’s internal and external applications, services and data, including customers, suppliers and partners, and external service providers. Using a single connection to all parties like banks, third-party logistics providers and software-as-a-service providers such as Amazon.com®, Authorize.net®, StrikeIron®, Google Shopping™ and SugarCRM®, the CSB simplified Mohawk’s B2B and e-commerce strategies and sped its adoption of cloud computing.

The CSB’s unified information architecture enables interoperability with Mohawk’s business partners and supports seamless integration of on-premises business services with cloud-based business services. This enables Mohawk’s IT staff to focus on the formation of business models and business process innovation rather than the technical complexities of managing multiple back-office cloud services.

By shifting responsibility for cloud services integration to its CSB, Mohawk increased business agility in terms of both the range of integration capabilities and the speed and cost of execution. Mohawk reports that it has improved time to deployment from months to weeks, achieved an overall reduction of integration project cost by as much as 30 percent and reduced risk through version control and governance.

All CSBs are not created equal

While most CSBs are typically well versed in taking care of B2B data translation in the cloud between trading partners, it is far more complicated to do A2A integration or other types of integration in the cloud as illustrated in the Mohawk case study. Only highly experienced CSBs that are data integration, translation and management experts can handle data translation for the most complex A2A projects, freeing internal IT staff to focus on more strategic issues.

A top-level CSB can provide a wide range of services including

  • Connectivity to various cloud service providers through one point of entry with uniform interface to all services
  • B2B and A2A data integration, translation and management between interdependent back-office services
  • Trading partner relationship management, including data requirements, delivery requirements, messaging and communication and formatting
  • Managing the relationship between the organization and its various cloud service providers.

CSBs can also help future-proof an organization’s business processes by readily scaling resources to help companies adapt to change. As part of this, they also customize their services to more precisely match an organization’s unique needs.

In 2012, we’ll see the demand for CSBs rise rapidly as organizations outsource more back-office business processes to multiple cloud service providers and discover the complexity of connecting to these services, managing their providers and ensuring successful data integration between applications.

Robert Fox is the Director of B2B/EAI Software Development at Liaison Technologies, a global provider of secure cloud-based integration and data management services and solutions based in Atlanta. An original contributor to the ebXML 1.0 specification, the former Chair of Marketing and Business Development for ASC ANSI X12, and a co-founder and co-chair of the Connectivity Caucus, Fox can be reached at rfox@liaison.com.

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