Technology, Cloud

What is a cloud computing broker?

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I posted a vBlog related to cloud brokers, but I thought I'd put another post out with a bit more detailed thought. It can be tough to crush even a medium size blog post down to the size needed for a vBlog -- at least the way I talk.

Forrester recently released an analysis of the concept of a Cloud Broker. Although there was much to agree with, I actually view it a bit differently. Forrester’s view is too hardware centric for my taste. My view is that the various components of a cloud approach build upon top of each other as I’ve described before in previous blog posts.

The various market components can interact in different ways to provide value to the marketplace:

  • Cloud Infrastructure provider – Infrastructure operators have been around for decades. Organizations that specialize in this area focus on the automation, security and performance needed to take what has been a traditionally business by business approach into a multi-tenant solution that can be charged “by the pound.” This is the core of the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) space.
  • Software vendors – These players are critical to cloud computing since their solutions are what actually add the business value on top of the lower cost solutions provided by the Cloud Infrastructure providers. Their software (and just as importantly their licensing) needs to change to enable the cloud shift for organizations. Taking advantage of the many cores that can be applied to the new leveraged environments and to have the solutions fail over gracefully when needed with no downtime is something the software vendors need to continue to address.
  • Industry consulting – As more of the infrastructure operations and management functions are provided by 3rd parties, the need to integrate it all together in a unified, business value generating solution still remain. Consultants still play a role by having the deep expertise that can be brought to bear on the strategic cloud move.

Businesses specialize at the intersection of these IT industry components:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – This is where the software intellectual property mentioned earlier meets the cloud infrastructure. Business application functionality is offered as a service by subscription. The consumer does not normally see the IaaS issues that may reside under the SaaS layer.
  • Cloud Integrator – This is where the IaaS capabilities are used by consultants to help modernize both the infrastructure and the application portfolio and make it operate effectively in this new environment. Since the value needs to be generated against the organizations business model, integrating the various components can be critical to effective use of the cloud.
  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) – Business process outsourcing has been around for decades and it usually involves access to both the software IP as well as the personnel with the industry (or at least process skills) required to take on specific business functions. It allows organizations to concentrate on areas where they want to focus and offload other business functions to experts in that area. Some organizations have relabeled this to BPaaS so it can align to the XaaS abbreviation model, but BPO has always been cloud-like.

The Cloud Broker as the Hub

Finally at the hub of these intersections is the cloud broker. This function may do all of the items previously mentioned or just perform 3rd party administration, ensuring that a unified solution meets the needs of the business.

Cloud brokers need to have expertise in a wide range of hardware capabilities, ranging from the servers through the desktop and mobile platforms – after all the computer you have with you all the time is likely a Smartphone.

They must also understand the analytics and user interface issues to weave together all these possibilities into a solution that is coherent and effective for the business. No one wants to be distracted by user interface or data inconsistencies. The elimination of latency through the use of automated workflow and techniques that allow people to focus on the anomalies and automate “normal” is key here as well.

There can be a range of capabilities in this cloud broker space ranging from the simple sourcing manager all the way though the business model integrator who deeply understands the business and technology objectives of the organization and is constantly on the lookout for technology solutions that disrupt the status quo. They need to be experts on the kinds of problems that usually hurt cloud deployments.

Some of the descriptions of the cloud broker function that are out there make it seem like an IT management function, but to me, its roots are deeper into the business needs and expectations than that.

What is common to this range of cloud broker is that the IT complexities of managing the workload and the vendors should be hidden from the end user – and to some extent the end business. After all, if they wanted to know these details and manipulate the controls, they should have someone on staff that is performing the function, instead of purchasing it as a service. Many CIOs are going to spend much of their future effort in the cloud broker function, among other things.

Although this cloud broker function may seem like a vision, there are a few organizations that HP supports today where this level of performance is expected and delivered. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

What are your thoughts on cloud brokers? Are you performing this role as part of your CIO duties? If not, do you foresee cloud broker duties in your future?

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