The rise -- and risk -- of the composite clouds

Many cloud computing providers are using other cloud services to form their offerings. Is this adding invisible risk?

Many cloud providers are learning to eat their own dog food, and they're leveraging other clouds to augment missing pieces of their offerings. As a result, you may find that a cloud provider offering software as a service (SaaS) is actually leveraging another cloud for storage, another cloud for compute, and perhaps other components as well.

As cloud computing evolves -- and providers try to get the market quickly -- we could find that offerings appearing to be from a single provider are actually a composite of various cloud providers brought together to form a solution. I've found myself in briefing after briefing where this is the case. But should you care?

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I think you should. The fact of the matter is that IT is moving to cloud computing with the assumption that the cloud provider will give a certain level of security and a certain level of service. Having core components, such as storage, compute, security, and so on, outsourced to other cloud providers could mean that your data and application processing exists across many different physical providers -- and the risk of outages, compliance issues, and data leaks increases dramatically.

Consider that the primary cloud, which is in reality made up of many clouds, could stop dead if a single subordinate cloud provider fails. Thus, your cloud provider that's offering five-nines reliability is not truly providing that level of SLA, considering the added risk of leveraging a composite cloud.

I suspect that this trend will continue as smaller cloud providers come to market and look for shortcuts in getting services online quickly. Moreover, as cloud providers learn to work and play better together, they'll tap other clouds as channels. And I suspect that we'll see some outages in 2011 around the vulnerabilities that composite clouds bring. Keep an eye on this one.

This article, "The rise -- and risk -- of the composite clouds," originally appeared at Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and follow the latest developments in cloud computing at