With so many cloud-based resources on offer the choice between the providers of these services can be a difficult one – especially if you’re not an expert in the field.
For businesses, there’s a real need for a trusted advisor, someone who knows the ins and outs of the cloud. Someone who can act as a go-between or intermediary, linking corporate customers on the one hand, and cloud service providers, on the other.
In Other Words…
A broker. A third-party individual or company that’s paid to help business customers get more out of the cloud services they sign up for. This could mean tailoring services to fit a specific company’s needs, or combining services from different suppliers to create an ideal mix.
In 2011, the Gartner Group coined a term for these agents: Cloud Services Brokers or CSBs. Cloud Services Brokerage (CSB) is their corresponding business model and IT function.
The technology needed to fulfil the role is provided by CSB enablers, and CSB providers bring together the expertise, equipment and methodology required to carry out CSB projects. For example, this might include setting up and integrating applications across private and public clouds.
A typical cloud brokerage solution will have a three-pronged approach
Aggregating Multiple Services
This aspect focuses on making sure that compatibility issues and security leaks do not occur as data is moved between multiple disparate systems. It also extends to operational matters, like dealing with the various contracts, payment schedules, and passwords associated with a host of cloud service providers.
Acting as an Intermediary to Ensure Value Added Services
Here, the CSB negotiates “extras”, like access management protocols and identity verification mechanisms, which may not feature as standard in a provider’s offerings.
Acting as an Arbiter, in Pricing Matters
In a process known as Cloud Service Arbitrage, the CSB continually studies the market to detect price variations in the various service packages on offer. The broker can then present their clients with a selection of similar services from which to choose.
Benefits of Brokered Services
Businesses have more options
, as a CSB can offer them a cloud services package including offerings from several sources, running on different platforms – yet fully integrated, and able to work together. Services can be customised to suit a particular organisation’s needs.
By working in collaboration with many service providers, a CSB will have access to special offers and pricing deals, which can be passed on to their clients. The broker will also have a greater understanding of the range of services available and how they operate. Knowing all of this is the CSB’s job – so their clients don’t have to spend the time, effort, and money to glean this information themselves.
A CSB can be a buffer between a business and their cloud service providers. This applies not only to the inner workings of the various cloud services, but also when problems arise. By acting as a liaison point, the CSB can distance its clients from the nuts-and-bolts aspects of problem resolution which occur at the provider’s end of the chain.
Cloud Brokerage Enablers provide CSBs with the automated functions necessary to scour the market for the best service deals and pricing levels. They’re software platforms with a standardised interface, common to the various cloud services to which they are linked. This makes it possible to easily shift data and workloads between different platforms.
As an organisation moves data and applications to the cloud, the workload on its IT division logically decreases; they have less software, application data and systems to take care of. But rather than reducing IT staffing levels, their remit can be changed, so that they assume greater responsibility for the enterprise’s dealings with the cloud.
They can provide support when cloud-based systems need to be integrated with those in-house
. Moreover, the IT division can be given oversight responsibilities for contracts signed with cloud service providers – a precursor to their becoming resident CSBs.
Some organisations have already put in place programmes to train senior IT officers in the skills necessary to manage cloud-based technologies and business practices.
Finding a Broker
A Cloud Services Broker should have multiple skills, including negotiating, security assessment, and financial analysis. They should be well acquainted with the current state of the cloud services market, and able to monitor and interpret trends. The CSB should also be able to compare and evaluate different service providers, based on their feature sets, their infrastructure, security implementation, etc.
Knowledge of the cloud is not enough. The CSB also needs to understand the operating environment, business objectives, and specific needs of their client organisations. With this understanding will come their ability to construct the ideal mix of cloud services to enable their clients to achieve their goals.
The Talkin’ Cloud website
hosts a regularly updated list of companies providing cloud brokerage services. The list also includes some Frequently Asked Questions on the brokerage issue, and links to related resources.