Transforming IT into a cloud service broker

Analyst and research firm Forrester predicted in November 2013 that 10 trends would dominate the information technology landscape in 2014. Amongst them was the belief that IT will become an agile service broker and if it doesn’t it will simply fade away.

This trend is occurring because many of the leading IT organisations are moving away from what it describes as being aligned IT in favour of empowered business technology practices. This transformation will include some significant modifications to the software development lifecycle.

Changes will also occur in the realms of managing and developing IT architecture, as well as impacting on solutions development in order to deliver mobile, cloud and big data solutions more readily than today.

Portfolio management will change too. Forrester says that IT will concentrate more on products rather than on IT projects. This is apparently because projects are more in focus and this in itself diminishes the value derived from them.

Additionally, the success metrics will be replaced and move away from measuring the performance of project management in terms of time, cost and resources towards an emphasis on value, capacity and time-to-market metrics.

Rival research and analyst firm Gartner conducted another study recently, and it showed that cloud compliance and cloud data residency are slowly gaining prominence.

In other words there is an increasing number of organisations that are using a cloud broker, says Cloud Computing Topics, to “arrange and manage the service” and this can either consist of a cloud broker platform or an actual person.

The analyst firm therefore believes that 25% of companies will use a cloud broker of one kind or another by 2016. Subsequently data losses will be reduced by up to 30%. This is because cloud security is achieved in Gartner’s view by having a cohesive cloud security broker solution.

Types of cloud brokers

Cloud Computing Topics also identifies three types of cloud brokers who will save the cloud. The first is a cloud aggregator who can add cloud security and other capabilities while offering solutions that can improve the service too. They might also add and support additional hosting services too.

The second cloud broker is the cloud customiser. This person’s focus is to aggregate multiple services from an array of different cloud providers for integration within a company.

Then you have brokers that arbitrage cloud services. These are third type of cloud broker, and they permit consumers to choose between several cloud service providers and their choice is dependent on factors such as speed and costs. Each of these will gain traction as IT infrastructures will become increasingly complex.

>See also: The best of both clouds

Hybrid cloud story

Information Age adds that IT teams are increasingly trying to manage their own infrastructure as well as cloud vendors, and as a result of this they are increasingly becoming cloud service brokers. This therefore raised the question of: “What has been the story of the hybrid cloud up to now, both in terms of adoption and how it has been used?”

Nigel Moulton, CTO for EMEA of converged cloud infrastructure vendor VCE, responds by suggesting that the story of the hybrid cloud to date has been about one of rapid growth across a number of industry verticals “and with the common themes of shadow IT – groups within a business that go outside of their normal IT department to access computing and/or storage services.”

He adds that they are ‘sandboxing’. In his view this means they are using a combination of private data with public cloud services “to experiment with new service ideas or concepts without the need to wholly provide the applications, compute and storage required internally.”

Bryan Foss, an independent board level advisor and visiting professor at Bristol Business School, adds that the “first uses of cloud were probably single departmental applications (HR system etc) where IT perhaps could not meet the necessary delivery schedule or cost.”

In contrast he believes that a hybrid cloud example would be where IT uses cloud services for its underlying services, platform and infrastructure services. These offer flexibility in capacity and cost while ensuring a high level of availability. With this approach IT provides “all of the complementary activities that are involved to provide a complete application service to the user”, he explains.

In spite of this Moulton doesn’t forecast that there will be much of an evolution in the hybrid cloud model in 2014. “The public cloud providers will continue to compete on availability, reputation and price”, he comments. He nevertheless believes that hybrid models will become more targeted towards specific industry verticals.

Demand for specialisations

To date organisations have taken a one-size-fits-all approach that has been sufficient, but there is now an increasing demand for a more specialised approach than there was previously.

He therefore offers the example of the UK government’s G-Cloud initiative “where providers need to adhere to strict security levels – depending on which parts of government business they are looking to host.”

If they don’t meet these obligations, the providers are precluded from bidding for certain types of IT projects that are put out to tender.

Foss adds: “There is an increasing number of very visible delivery failures caused by a lack of variable capacity to meet peak demands (e.g. UCAS, Student Loans etc.), which a hybrid cloud solution could address.” He also says that hybrid cloud solutions are also being used to “address new markets where the capacity needs or business cases are uncertain, or where rapid delivery of an integrated solution is needed to combine channels including social media and mobile with traditional contact centres, intermediaries and perhaps bank branches.”

Yet there’s also a sign that the definition of the hybrid cloud is changing. Some have found this to be the case, but Nigel Moulton disagrees: “I think the definition of the hybrid cloud is stable, and I would define it as an approach where some applications, resources and datasets are wholly owned as an asset by the business; and they are blended with a set of applications and datasets that leverage third party resources to deliver an overall service to the business.”

>See also: Accenture's "cloud broker" bid

Recruiting a cloud broker

Should CIOs be allocating the role of service broker to a member of the IT team to manage the cloud vendor? Moulton believes that they should “to the extent that IT is actually in control of the cloud vendor.”

This requires a strong relationship between the two parties that begins with a solid platform comprising of a set of known and validated service level agreements (SLAs). These are then used to provide a governance model to which all parties are obligated to adhere.

Yet in his view many of these hybrid relationships begin when business groups within an organisation feel so frustrated with their own IT function. This leads them to “go outside of the normal IT model to procure what they need”, he says.

Moulton then raises an issue. He says the problem is that there is often no overall governance and this can lead to spiralling costs. Nevertheless an individual or a business group should in his opinion be responsible for the role of service broker. That person or group needs to ideally have an IT background, and emanate from within the business. A group with significant IT representation will however have what he describes as being “a more balanced and ultimately successful relationship.”

In reality Foss finds that “these roles are moving out of IT and into a relevant part of the business reporting structure.” He argues that this helps to clarify business ownership in so far as data and security are concerned, but at the same time it might lead to the service broker being isolated from both the business and IT reporting lines, sponsorship and resources. To avoid this situation both parties need to accept full ownership or their complementary responsibilities.

Positive future

Moulton nevertheless feels that the role of cloud service broker has a positive future. He believes that it will grow in its importance “the more the business goes outside of its own IT function to use resources that are available via a hybrid cloud approach.” This necessitates an evaluation of the applications and workloads that a business runs, requiring an organisation to decide about whether they could be more efficiently delivered outside of the IT function than from within it.

In this situation he suggests that the role of the cloud service broker becomes important regarding the governance for the service, and because it can ensure that service levels are met by both parties. Therefore with the evolution of this role he imagines that there will be a requirement for the cloud service broker to “input product and feature enhancement requests to the cloud provider.”

So how can enterprises design private cloud services with a hybrid future in mind? Well Moulton believes that organisations need to work on their application interfaces that needs to be put in place “to make sure that the datasets can be exported from and imported to the business with zero impact on the business, and there needs to be an overall understanding of the entire IT strategy so that plans can be drawn up to leverage a hybrid model.”

Foss adds that organisations “need to retain control of strategy, architecture, contracting, audit and assurance, controls and measures because services need to work together under common approaches to security, data protection, operational risk management, business continuity, common billing, shared customer data, etc.”

CIOs therefore also need to ensure that more integration is possible. “CIOs need to ensure that they have a strong understanding of the maturing standards in this space, along with a plan that as they retire legacy applications and then move those applications either to a private or hybrid cloud,” he says. New applications should in his opinion impose as few restrictions on data mobility and integrity as possible. Foss agrees, and emphasises that the services should just work together.

Effectiveness and popularity

Moulton says that hybrid cloud services will always be defined by two factors: expediency and cost. However, if expediency is the top priority then this will outweigh an organisation’s need to contain costs.

Yet conversely when a business finds a way to reduce costs by implementing a hybrid cloud service approach, the focus on expediency is placed as a lower priority. In spite of this he thinks that the most popular cloud services “will serve either a case of expediency or cost.”

In response to the suggestion that early hybrid cloud services have been quite limited compared to those that comply with the newer standards, Moulton says that an organisation can influence the “further creation and expansion of hybrid cloud services” whenever it develops some develops ‘use cases’ for the delivery of new services.

He concludes that groups of companies operating in the same markets could also come together “to aggregate demand from across their vertical and in this way gain the creation of services that they all can benefit from using.” With this in mind it appears that IT could fulfil the role of a cloud service broker whose role shows some future promise in helping organisations and cloud providers to work closely together to create some new opportunities.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...