Clear solution to nebulous problem

It’s easy to get lost in cloud which is why businesses may seek guidance from brokers, as Alison Coleman reports


The problem with technology is that it promises to save you time, but can end up taking up more of it. The cloud is no exception. On the one hand it provides firms faster access to the latest IT services and technologies; on the other, a bewildering range of services and providers leaves some firms scratching their heads.

Commerce’s age-old solution to the problem of too much choice is the middle-man. Accordingly, cloud brokers have sprung up to help firms take full advantage of the cloud by identifying and tailoring suitable solutions.

The typical model works like this: a cloud broker – often also a cloud service provider in its own right – partners with a series of managed services providers (MSPs) who specialise in areas like email, data security, data storage or voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephones, weaving the whole lot into a single integrated package.

“Cloud brokerage takes away complexity for the end client,” says Doug Clark, cloud computing leader for IBM UK and Ireland. As a cloud broker, IBM has established new partnerships with more than 500 MSPs in the last few months to meet growing client demand.

“Partnering with MSPs creates hybrid managed cloud services that provide better value to customers than commodity cloud services,” he says.

Cloud brokers have sprung up to help firms take full advantage of the cloud by identifying and tailoring suitable solutions

Clients benefit through cost savings and greater agility. A single point of access to multiple cloud-based services means cheaper, more flexible and more scalable solutions.

Matthew Finnie, chief technology officer of Interoute, which operates Europe’s largest cloud platform, believes that cloud brokers represent the next stage in the cloud’s evolution. “Instead of buying kit, you’re paying someone to buy it and put it together for you,” he says. “The delivery model is immediate; the opportunities for businesses and for cloud service providers will be amazing.”

CASE STUDY 01

Defence against virus attack

Sports Fusion works for top sporting brands like Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC to develop and test new websites, and set up systems to process transactions. Victims of a hacking attack, the company sought an improved data protection and recovery infrastructure.

“After a major botnet attack [where a virus spreads itself by using infected computers to propagate itself] spread across many countries last year, we needed to enhance our intrusion prevention solution (IPS),” says Sports Fusion chief technology officer Yelena Yershova.

“But the market for these services is competitive – lower prices offered by hundreds of providers was bewildering.”

Using market research, comparisons and industry recommendations, Sports Fusion opted for Union Solutions, a broker specialising in data centre infrastructure consolidation. It recommended a virtual IPS appliance that automatically stops botnet attacks, potentially from thousands of IP addresses, as they occur. The system also detects and blocks hacking attempts within Sports Fusion’s cloud environment, which is provided by virtual security partner Stonesoft.

Ms Yershova says she benefitted from Union Solutions’ economies of scale, knowledge and partnerships with other service and hardware providers delivering security in the cloud. This left Sports Fusion to concentrate on customer services and putting their internal resources to best use.

CASE STUDY 02

Rehab for dislocated ICT

Total Rehab Solutions provides physiotherapy services through a network of nine clinics located in the south-west England.

It had been using a cloud-based data protection firm for secure off-site data back-up. However, three years of rapid business expansion had created an increasingly widespread, remote workforce, giving rise to various IT issues relating to telephones and email, which Total Rehab believed a hosted solution could resolve.

Operations manager Philip Mutton says: “We tried using different companies for different solutions, including Google Apps and a hosted email solutions provider, but it was complicated and inefficient. We’re not IT experts – what we really needed was an integrated approach and some customer support.”

Total Rehab Solutions appointed cloud broker On Direct to source and integrate solutions for secure and robust off-site data storage and retrieval facilities, a scalable hosted VoIP phone solution and management of multiple email accounts. It included a single point of contact for servicing all solutions.

Mr Mutton is pleased with the results. “We compared the costs between the brokered solution and approaching the various individual service providers direct, and concluded that the broker was cost-effective,” he says. “Everything is streamlined and we have centralised access to reliable customer support.”