January 27, 2015 by Bill Johnson
The term “Cloud Broker” is used a lot these days, and industry analysts predict you’ll hear it a lot more in the years to come. The market for all forms of cloud services brokerage is expected to grow to more than $10.5 billion per year by 2018.
With demand for value-added services from intermediaries growing fast, now is a good time to understand the nuances of cloud brokers, the value they provide, and how they are driving change and fueling further cloud adoption. The role of brokers in enabling IT to act as an on-demand service provider to the business units (ITaaS) is also worthy of review and explanation.
Basically, “Cloud Broker” is a generic term that the industry uses to categorize a third-party vendor that adds value in some way by connecting end users to the cloud services they need. That value can come in a variety of ways, as you might expect given the different forms that brokers can take – from people, to companies to technology-based solutions.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) originally defined cloud brokers very broadly. Brokers who negotiate rates and act as sales agents connecting cloud consumers with providers were included in the overall category, as were software systems that automate service provisioning, management and governance. NIST later updated their definition and made distinctions between types of brokers calling the former “Cloud Business Brokers” and the latter “Cloud Technical Brokers.”
Wikipedia defines IT as a service (ITaaS) as an operational model in which the IT organization of an enterprise is run much like business, acting and operating as a distinct business entity creating Products (including services) for other Line of Business (LOB) organizations within the enterprise. What many CIOs have come to realize is that they are, by definition, cloud brokers. As a result, many CIOs have recognized the need to (a) retool their organizations to deliver competitive and relevant IT services and (b) properly vet and offer solutions from third-parties to their LOB, or risk becoming obsolete as their LOB procures external services directly. That realization can be quite daunting.
So, what can help bring these functions together in an enterprise to speed innovation, enable an agile environment, and provide the control IT needs to effectively govern these cloud services? A cloud management platform (CMP), of course! So lets briefly explore the key features you will need from a CMP to help your organization transition to this new, on-demand consumption based model and to act as a cloud services broker:
Self-Service Marketplace – organizations require a way to empower users with a single interface for fast access to the same cloud services they already use, while giving IT and financial managers what they need to effectively govern and manage those services. Users need to be able to quickly view, order, and provision public, private, and hybrid cloud services from a clean, easy-to-use, self-service portal. Application stacks need to be served up with push-button provisioning, approval, orchestration, ongoing management, and cost tracking of these resources. And of course other “generic” (non-IaaS) items ideally can also be made available through this portal.
Governance – centralized cloud governance is essential for enterprises to maintain control over increasingly complex and integrated systems, services and human resources environments. Self-service portals can be governed via role-based access controls (RBAC), single sign on, and budget-based workflow and oversight. These access controls allow you to allocate specific levels of access to development, QA and other teams by directly integrating into your LDAP/Active Directory deployment and by extending your internal policies into your clouds. Centralized logging and auditing of all activities taken across your clouds is also necessary.
Cost Visibility and Chargeback – by routing your enterprise cloud purchasing through a centralized platform with RBAC, all users, teams and projects can be held accountable for resource utilization and spend. The ability to provide timely analytics on this spend information and performance against budgets can deliver immediate value.
Real-time alerts can also assist users in keeping within budget expectations. RBAC can also be used to limit which users can provision instances, so that only authorized purchases can be made based on roles, budgets and workflow. Other benefits of implementing a cloud management platform, within IT and finance departments includes integrating cloud provisioning into their chargeback workflows, and easy tracking of cloud service spend.
This centralized control—especially when a self-service marketplace allows user to make purchases from within the platform—can help organizations become a cloud services broker and implement ITaaS.
The bottom line is that while there are alternatives to using a CMP, the benefits are clear and adoption is growing. As cloud continues to grow, it certainly seems that the need for tools to simplify and optimize cloud infrastructure will also continue to grow and develop.