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What's a cloud services broker, and why do you need one?

cloud broker

The proportion of cloud services purchased through cloud brokers is growing, and Gartner predicts it will soon make up a substantial portion of cloud purchases. The appeal of a cloud broker is obvious: It allows the enterprise to leverage specialized expertise to provision expensive and complicated services. But what is a cloud services broker (CSB), and why do so many companies need one? What’s the impact of CSBs on IT, and should brokering the cloud be done externally or can it be as an internal IT function?

The Role of a Cloud Services Broker

As organizations continue to turn to cloud computing, the demand for specialized expertise to provision the optimal cloud offerings for enterprise business and technical requirements is rapidly increasing. This has led to the swift emergence of CSBs, who help the enterprise with all things cloud: from evaluating cloud service providers to negotiating contracts and documenting cloud vendor deliverables.

 Internal Versus External Brokering

But is it worth paying the fees for an external firm, equipment vendor or consultant to serve as a broker, when instead IT staff could do it themselves? Today, many companies lack experience in analyzing cloud services and negotiating contracts with cloud vendors. Instead, they opt to use external CSBs to augment existing IT resources and accelerate institutional learning so the organization can broker cloud resources internally in the future.

 Or companies can opt to turn to trusted equipment vendors that have consulting practices to help them evaluate cloud requirements, identify shadow IT utilization of public cloud services that IT may not even be aware of, and make recommendations on cloud strategies.

 But the use of external professional services can get expensive, and an internal CSB function is increasingly showing up within IT organizations. Organizations need a CSB function to secure cloud services, and the choice of whether to select internal or external resources is being made largely based on existing staffing resources and skillsets within IT and the policies and procedures of each organization.

The Need for a Trusted Intermediary

A good CSB should know the cloud market well. And a trusted CSB can make it easier, more secure, and less costly to choose and manage cloud services, particularly in multi-cloud environments. Fast IT is transforming IT infrastructure, making it more flexible, automated, simple, and secure, and the enterprise is working with an ever-increasing number of cloud vendors. Whether the CSB is an internal or external resource, by acting as an intermediary between the enterprise and cloud service providers, a broker should add value by helping the enterprise clearly define business and technical requirements while carefully evaluating the infrastructure capabilities, security policies, and unique differentiating features offered by each cloud service provider.

 Aggregation, Integration, and Customization

When Gartner first introduced the concept of CSBs in 2011, the research firm laid out the three primary roles of a cloud services broker as aggregation, integration, and customization. With aggregation, a broker packages services from multiple cloud providers to ensure interoperability and security of enterprise data passing between systems.

 A CSB focused on integration will help an organization coordinate multiple cloud services, and CSBs focused on customization help IT find and tailor cloud services to meet their unique business and technical requirements. CSBs can also fulfill other important functions, such as helping the enterprise define and implement cloud governance policies and analyzing whether to migrate premises-based applications to the cloud.

 Bringing the CSB role in-house as a specialty practice is an increasingly attractive proposition for many organizations, particularly as they learn from their early experiences with external CSBs and train IT staff in the many skills needed to broker cloud resources for the enterprise.

 It takes time to develop and implement strategies for managing this function in-house because cloud brokers require skills ranging from negotiation to security to financial analysis, as well as domain expertise in multiple areas. For many companies, promoting internal senior IT professionals and investing in training them in a new model of IT to complement their existing skill sets with cloud-focused business and technical skills is a faster path to building in-house CSB capabilities than recruiting IT professionals that lack institutional knowledge.

 It remains IT’s responsibility to make sure that cloud-based services used by the enterprise comply with enterprise governance, security, and compliance policies while minimizing enterprise risks, and efficiently brokering the right cloud services is increasingly essential in multi-cloud environments. 

For more blogs by Chris Carroll, visit www.innovatethink.com

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