A cloud broker can be a cloud provider's best friend

Lisa Sampson, Feature Writer

As enterprises expand their use of cloud services, cloud brokers will be essential to helping providers deliver those services to their customers. In fact, Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2015, most cloud computing customers will rely on a cloud broker to handle a diverse range of services, from discounted pricing to custom application monitoring.

A cloud broker is an intermediary organization that simplifies the relationship between a cloud provider and its customers, in much the same way that a car dealer functions between a car manufacturer and a car buyer, said Daryl Plummer, a vice president and fellow at Gartner. Cloud brokers aggregate, integrate and customize services for customers, which is something that cloud providers often struggle with.

"Without an intermediary between cloud provider and cloud consumer, there's just too much work, time and expense," said Plummer. "Cloud providers offer so many services from so many places that they have little, if any, hope of managing everything for every customer."

He pointed out that a single enterprise might use Google Apps for email, Salesforce.com for sales and lead management and Amazon Web Services for platform services. A cloud broker makes it easier for each of these providers to deliver value to their customers while also enabling the customer to coordinate these services.

The three roles of the cloud broker: aggregation, integration, customization

In a new Gartner report, "Cloud Services Brokerage is Dominated by Three Primary Roles" Plummer and three other analysts identified three key roles that a cloud broker plays in helping cloud providers deliver services to their customers:

  • Aggregation: A cloud broker can bundle many individual services together and present them as a unified service. For instance, by partnering with a cloud broker, a provider can offer a unified billing service or unified cloud provisioning.
  • Integration: An enterprise will often rely on a cloud broker to bring integrate multiple services, collectively providing new functionality. The cloud broker can help move data into the cloud and integrate the customer's network with the provider's network.
  • Customization: A cloud broker often customizes cloud services for individual customers, usually around the network edge because cloud services can only be changed by the cloud provider.

Benefits to cloud providers

While a cloud broker arranges services for cloud computing customers, it can also be an essential partner to providers. An engaged broker can help keep a relationship between provider and customer active. A broker can also implement services and solutions that may not be part of the provider's core business -- service-level agreements (SLAs), customized user interface design, or using cloud application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate, for example, the customer's business applications with a mobility solution offered by its cloud provider.

A cloud broker can combine the buying power of multiple enterprises, negotiating better prices for its clients while delivering more customers to the provider. "When a broker is doing work for hundreds of customers, they can aggregate pricing, and lower prices usually mean more business for the cloud provider," said Plummer.

Cloud services can meet [customer] requirements very well, but challenges with security, integration and complexity need to be managed carefully, and this is where the broker can really add value.

Andrew Greenway
Global Cloud Program Lead, Accenture

Many cloud providers will find themselves working with independent cloud brokers to facilitate relationships with enterprise customers. Appirio, for example, serves as a cloud broker for enterprise customers that use cloud services and platforms from Google, Amazon, Salesforce and Workday.

Verizon recently acquired CloudSwitch, a software company whose products offer some cloud broker functionality, in order to help its customers migrate securely to Verizon's Terremark cloud services, according to Chris Gesell, chief innovation and strategy officer at Terremark. He said CloudSwitch will enable multi-cloud connections for Terremark cloud customers, which he sees as valuable to both providers and clients.

By partnering with Google, Amazon, Rackspace and Salesforce -- as well as using Terremark's homegrown platform -- Verizon will serve as a cloud broker and connect enterprises to the appropriate services whether they need infrastructure, software, platform or specific customizations, Gesell said.

Cloud brokers can help with security concerns

Security in the cloud continues to worry cloud providers, brokers and customers alike. According to Greg Young, a security analyst at Gartner, intrusion detection and firewalls help mitigate threats, but system administrators say their inability to monitor and remedy cloud security problems before they hit the network is their biggest problem.

Cloud brokers can work out the monitoring and security requirements in the cloud or on the customer's premises. This takes part of the security burden off the cloud provider, which typically has neither the time nor the resources to address all the security concerns of individual customers.

Customers want information about a provider's security practices and certifications, according to Gartner's cloud broker research note. Brokers can manage security concerns and negotiate with managed security providers for both cloud providers and their customers. Gartner offered Apigee as an example of a provider of cloud API monitoring that can help customers view and address security concerns.

"Providers have to be sensitive to security issues," said Andrew Greenway, global cloud program lead at Accenture, an international IT consulting and systems integration firm. Accenture recently started serving as both a cloud broker and provider to a large insurance company, for which Accenture created a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based claims processing application paired with aggregated infrastructure capacity. 

"Our clients are under huge pressure to respond to business requirements for greater speed and agility. Cloud services can meet those requirements very well, but challenges with security, integration and complexity need to be managed carefully, and this is where the broker can really add value," Greenway said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Lisa Sampson, Feature Writer.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: Cloud data security: Use a third party or do the job yourself? or view the full guide: Understanding the cloud service broker model

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