Cloud brokerages get popular, but are they ready for prime time?

A self-service Web portal that lets state agencies in Texas choose cloud services from a marketplace of providers could serve as a model for how federal agencies could use cloud brokerage services, according to the general manager of cloud services for NJVC.

The Texas Department of Information Resources last week released a whitepaper that reviewed its multi-year Pilot Texas Cloud Offering. The portal is designed to allow a small group of agencies to choose a virtual private cloud based on infrastructure-as-a-service from a marketplace of service providers made available by cloud broker Gravitant, Kevin Jackson, vice president and general manager of cloud services for NJVC wrote in a recent blog.

NJVC has been collaborating with Gravitant since August 2011 to bring cloud brokerage technology and lessons learned from the Texas implementation to the federal marketplace. Currently, the NJVC/Gravitant portal is in limited pilot in the federal sector, Jackson said.

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The concept of brokerage services -- those that let organizations choose cloud providers by the job and change providers on the fly depending on prices or services -- is gaining momentum in the federal government, as the General Services Administration extends a deadline for industry to submit information on cloud brokerage services.

The deadline to respond to the request for information was originally Aug. 17, but GSA extended it to Sept. 7 after receiving a huge response and interest from industry. GSA had more than 160 industry participants at the Cloud Brokerage Industry Day Aug. 2, and the wait list was large enough that officials could not accommodate everyone who wanted to take part, Matthew Weigelt reported in Federal Computer Week.

But is the technology mature enough to handle all of the technical, costs and governance issues associated with migrating to an on-demand cloud computing model?

The concept of using a cloud broker does interest officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, if brokers can provide value-added services, said Khawaja Shams, manager of data services for tactical operations at NASA JPL.

Four years ago, JPL officials recognized the benefits of moving some services to the cloud to better address the big-data Earth sciences needs of NASA’s scientists and researchers. JPL’s data centers are already filled to capacity, and the need for computation is growing rapidly because the lab is getting better at processing data, Shams noted. The lab relies on multiple cloud service providers depending on the workload requirements, including Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace and systems integrators such as Lockheed Martin.

“Within our organization, because the cloud brokers were running so far behind, our IT organization ended up becoming the cloud broker for the rest of the Lab,” Shams said. That might be because JPL is forward-thinking and ahead of the curve, so the brokers weren’t ready yet.

“One of the problems of cloud brokers, in my opinion, is that if you go with a cloud broker, you are forced to pick the least common denominator across all the vendors they are supporting,” he said. “If a particular vendor comes out with a service that only one vendor has, it is difficult for cloud brokers to kind of encapsulate that complexity,” Shams said.

NJVC’s Jackson said that a cloud broker has to address three layers of complexity: technical integration, pricing and governance.

Technical integration deals with how organizations combine services from their own private data center or cloud with public or community clouds. NJVC/Gravitant has created a cloud bus that addresses integration by putting management and monitoring over the whole information supply chain, Jackson told GCN. In that way you can address how to compare different services over that supply chain.

For pricing you need some form of measurement so you are comparing apples with apples. In a supermarket that would be pounds. For cloud services common measurements of gigahertz and storage allow users to compare the common metrics of each supplier’s virtual machine so they can then compare prices, Jackson noted. 

The third level is governance. Every organization has its own policy workflow that needs to be addressed before a customer can actually order the cloud service. The governance layer offers a command-and-control function. So you have a customized workflow based on the policy of organization, Jackson said, adding “no cloud service provider is going to do that.”

“That is what we have done with the portal by providing a single pane of glass interface for policy, control and workflow management,” which is now ready for the federal space, Jackson said.

“To my knowledge it is the only live operating model as a cloud brokerage platform in the government space. It is a proof point that the cloud brokerage model works and delivers value,” Jackson said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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