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Nine things to expect from cloud service brokers

Cloud service brokers tackle a multitude of important tasks that can make or break a move to the cloud.

ORLANDO– The move to public and private cloud is a complex undertaking, merging a range of technical and business considerations and making cloud service brokers an important part of cloud adoption.

Although cloud tools, technologies and practices evolve at a rapid pace, cloud service brokers (CSB) play an important role, according to Dennis Smith, research director at Gartner, Inc., who discussed cloud management at length in his session here at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations and Management Summit this week.

A CSB is part negotiator, part IT planner, part consultant and part shopper -- but all play a major role in facilitating successful and cost-effective cloud adoption in the enterprise. Smith outlined nine major CSB tasks that impact almost every aspect of public, private and hybrid cloud initiatives:

1. Anticipate customer needs. A good CSB must understand what computing resources are required now and in the future. This might include the number of VMs, applications, performance requirements, user expectations, and future projections based on capacity planning. In-house CSBs can be more effective in this task on an ongoing basis. Outside CSBs may be expected to take on a regular consulting or collaborative process to understand the business' computing needs.

2. Map demand to supply. CSBs need a solid stable of computing providers to understand the supply of available computing resources. For a private cloud environment, this might involve a regular assessment of cloud utilization. For public cloud, this may include a comprehensive cost-to-availability index of public providers. Knowledge of supply should also include details such as costs, hypervisor or container compatibility and service level agreements (SLAs). This way, the CSB can assess the workload's demand and identify the cloud services that meet performance, compliance, availability, cost and other requirements most effectively.

3. Develop service catalogs. Organizations are systematically shifting to outside services such as Exchange Online or Office 365 rather than in-house application deployments. CSBs are typically responsible for identifying cost-effective cloud services and assembling comprehensive catalogs of those services for IT and user deployments. This task might involve SLA tracking, addressing downtime, comparing costs and so on.

4. Manage suppliers. CSBs are often responsible for supplier management. This normally includes negotiating supplier costs, arranging discounts for service commitments, conducting SLA-related discussions, handling regular SLA compliance activities, and even becoming involved in supplier problems or SLA enforcement responsibilities. The CSB will often make decisions to switch cloud providers or spearhead the push toward alternative providers.

5. Optimize business outcomes. A CSB doesn't just sell providers' services. The real value of the CSB is helping businesses make the best choices about cloud deployment. For example, a CSB should be able to tell the enterprise whether an in-house, private cloud, public cloud or other outsourced service will provide better availability and performance at a lower cost, while maintaining adequate regulatory compliance goals. This is where the rubber meets the road for CSBs, because the business must benefit from CSB activity.

6. Manage costs. Cloud services cost money, and they are not always less expensive than traditional workload deployments. Just consider the variety of Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 or S3 instances available to users. The CSB's understanding of workload demands, coupled with a comprehensive knowledge of services and suppliers, are critical to help the business manage cloud costs. For example, locating a workload that is chronically underutilizing an AWS instance might offer an opportunity to save money by moving to a smaller instance or even stopping the workload entirely.

7. Manage risk and compliance. Public and hybrid cloud computing poses some element of risk due to factors such as security breaches or regulatory compliance violations. For example, placing a data store on a storage instance located outside of the country might constitute a compliance violation. CSBs must assess the risk involved in using cloud resources and ensure that any cloud choices are consistent with the business' compliance requirements. This isn't a one-time task. CSBs should re-assess risk and compliance on a regular basis and make recommendations to maintain management and further improve business outcomes.

8. Develop and enforce policies. Cloud computing can be a highly automated process, and this requires clearly developed and enforced policies. Policies may define which workloads to locate on public or private clouds, who within the organization can utilize cloud resources, how much computing resources to allocate, regional location parameters, performance expectations and other operational issues. CSBs play a role in policy creation and enforcement, helping to ensure the cloud resources -- as well as costs and compliance -- are optimized for the enterprise.

9. Source suppliers. New cloud resources are constantly springing up. New offerings provide opportunities for cost savings, performance improvements, risk mitigation, and alternatives when other vendor problems arise. For example, a major in-house data center downsizing might make it necessary to relocate some workloads in the cloud. This means the CSB needs to maintain insight into the market and add to the stable of new suppliers as appropriate candidates emerge.

About the author:
Stephen J. Bigelow is the senior technology editor of the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected]


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