In a previous post we introduced the topic of cloud-as-it-is versus cloud as-we’d like-it-to-be. In this blog we look at how the cloud services broker (CSB) business model is gaining momentum as one way to turn the cloud into as-we’d-like-it-to-be. CSB is a term used for the activity of brokerage and also for the software that supports that brokerage activity. What’s it all about?
The Gartner guys have defined it in this way: “CSB is an IT role and business model in which a company or other entity adds value to one or more (public or private) cloud services on behalf of one or more consumers of that service via three primary roles including aggregation, integration and customization brokerage. A CSB enabler provides technology to implement CSB, and a CSB provider offers combined technology, people and methodologies to implement and manage CSB-related projects.”
Here is my perspective, in less formal terms: when done well, cloud services brokerage takes the reality of the “cloud-as-it-is,” removes some of the pain, mess, clutter and confusion, and brings it closer to the “cloud-as-we’d-like-it-to-be.”
Gartner identifies three areas within brokerage: aggregation, integration and customization. Gartner provides nice explanations of these areas, but I have my own words that might be helpful for those new to this concept.
- Every cloud service that a company consumes brings with it the need for a set of management and administration tasks, such as provisioning, user access and authentication, monitoring SLAs and more. Across a corporation, users may need to access and manage 10 or perhaps dozens of different cloud services from multiple cloud service vendors. Clearly, life would be easier with a unified and consistent interface to all these services. Bringing all this together is an important task for cloud services brokerage: aggregation.
- The apps we decide to use in the cloud are, at first, independent chunks of software. To fulfill a business need, we need to make those apps communicate and work and play nicely with other applications. Some of those other applications are also up there in the cloud; others are Earth-based, kept in captivity in a company’s own data center, where they are fed and watered by the IT team. Making all those applications work together in a way that fulfills a business need is another important task for cloud services brokerage: integration.
- Closely linked with integration, we will almost certainly have to set up the way that each one of our cloud app works, so that it is aligned with the exact way we want to do business. This means tweaking and sometimes adding functionality, creating the kind of look and feel that users expect, and setting a host of parameters to ensure that the system behaves in accordance with our business rules, security standards and regulatory requirements. I would like to call this activity configuration, in line with the our philosophy that users and integrators should, in the 21st century, be able to set all this up in metadata. However some apps may need actual coding or the addition of helper applications, and so Gartner realistically calls this cloud service brokerage task: customization.
I can think of an additional task that is no doubt assumed as part of the above but isn’t specifically mentioned. I already pointed out that one of the difficulties potential users have is choosing the optimal suite of apps from all those that are out there, and this can get in the way of cloud adoption. I think this is important enough to add as a fourth possible task for CSBs:
- A knowledgeable cloud service broker can help companies cope with the “tyranny of choice” by offering, as part of the CSB service, the ability to choose from various portfolios of apps known to work well together, possibly with industry-specific recommendations. Organizing and describing relevant applications and app bundles in some kind of cloud service catalog is a necessity if businesses are going to be able to navigate the universe of choices and make informed decisions; as such, there is something else CSBs should also facilitate:
CSB software should be able to support one or all of the above tasks, orchestrating selection, aggregation, integration and customization for multiple cloud apps through one unified and consistent portal.
A CSB service provider (SP) may perform any or all of these tasks on behalf of a client and will probably use CSB software to do so. A CSB SP sounds like a brand new entity in the firmament. Sometimes those CSB SPs may be new companies set up to deliver those CSB services. However, at least initially, it is likely that most CSB SPs will be companies we already know: systems integrators, communications service providers, Internet service providers and cloud vendors. And since the move to cloud services reduces the need for IT departments to look after software, operating systems, virtual machines and racks of hardware in their own data centers, we expect more than a few large enterprises will set up cloud services brokerage teams in-house, using the IT experts who already understand their business needs.
In a future blog, I’ll look at cloud services brokerage again, when I’ll raise the all-important topic of monetization.