In his book "Grounding the Cloud: Basics and Brokerages," author Todd D. Lyle describes aspects of cloud computing in an accessible way that nearly anyone can understand. In this excerpt, he explains the role of cloud services brokers, and how they can ease your transition into the cloud with their knowledge and expertise.

A cloud services broker (CSB) is a middleman, a liaison between technology and business. There are both internal and external cloud services brokerages. Currently most CSB are external, meaning that they work outside of your business; they are like a Real Estate Broker or Insurance Agent - a third party that you may engage. There is also the internal CSB. We are just beginning to find these in public sector (government) agencies and very large businesses.

When it comes to the external CSB, the three types of cloud service brokers Forrester differentiates between are: simple cloud broker, full infrastructure broker and SaaS broker. The simple cloud broker is able to provide a mass of knowledge and help within one cloud segment, either Infrastructure (IaaS) or Platform (PaaS) services. The full infrastructure broker is able to provide service across public, private, and hybrid clouds and can offer a wide range of services. A SaaS broker researches SaaS providers and is able to offer presale suggestions and after-the-sale services such as unified billing, service level agreement, monitoring, and contract management. Forrester foresees a single company might deliver more than one type of cloud brokerage model.

Gartner believes that there are four areas of expertise. Gartner’s list includes:

  • Aggregator: A broker that bundles cloud services and offers them to clients.
  • Integrator: Brokers that are highly technical and who merge (bundle) services from a variety of cloud providers to create a net-new business product.
  • Governor: Brokers that ensure that the cloud provider chosen is appropriate and has the ability to treat the data in accordance with regulations and practices for specific country and industry guidelines.
  • Customizer: Brokers that create extensions to existing cloud services to perform a specific task and then ensure that the extensions work correctly.

While each definition discussed here exhibits similar characteristics, each has its own take on the responsibilities and approach to providing brokerage services. I believe that the analysts, experts, and the lack of standardization have contributed to the relatively slow embrace of the cloud’s full potential.

In addition to valuing their expertise, you must find a level of trust with your CSB as you would any other member of your business team. Your CSB should work hand in hand with you and learn all of your specific needs with respect to your business requirements. They should advise you of performance, costs, security, risks, and standards unique to your business and industry. A CSB should be up to date on all regulations, privacy issues and case law that may impact your business.

Considering our reliance on information technology it is surprising that most companies do not have their business resources aligned to address their IT dependence. Roughly a quarter of the world’s workplaces report that they do not have enough finances or staff to keep pace with their in-house IT requirements.

Dropping down another layer in the world of cloud services brokerages, you will find brokerages that specialize in managing the human element of technology - also known as the soft side of IT. This is something every business has to deal with no matter the industry, size, or specific IT requirements. Dealing with the human element is the core strength of a specialist cloud services brokerage (SCSB).

A SCSB has a fiduciary responsibility to their consumer, and in today’s economic environment they should recognize the lack of resources available to most of us. They should work with you to design a cloud strategy that addresses the lifecycle of your current hardware and software and its support.

Your CSB should be proactive in addressing your business-essential systems before your systems run out of warranty or support. They will assist with procuring cloud-based solutions that ease your capital outlay and demand on the human element.

A specialist cloud services brokerage should coordinate all aspects of your IT ecosystem by providing cloud-scale provisioning, unified management and unified billing, service level agreement management, and accessible customer support.

A SCSB will lift the burden of dealing with cloud services providers, vendors, and technicians. With a SCSB you have someone middle-manning the situation, proactively addressing your specific business needs so that you don’t find yourself holding a help ticket or waiting on an Email response.

Picture Ben Franklin attempting to harness electricity from a lightning-filled sky. The key tied to his kite was the middleman between electricity and the ground. Similarly, a specialist cloud services brokerage can be the key to your business finding success in the cloud. The SCSB exists to help businesses consume cloud solutions by adding value, reducing risk, and increasing your understanding of the cloud while enhancing the services delivered.

Once you have established that you are ready to take the first steps to the cloud and decide you are going to use some assistance in getting there, you need to be prepared. You should consider the goals you want to achieve prior to hiring a SCSB or any other consultant for that matter. I have provided a list of questions at the back of this book that can help you determine your objectives and thus will aid you in finding the best SCSB to assist in creating your ecosystem.

A specialist cloud services brokerage should be an expert in analyzing your business and working with you to identify what cloud solutions will best meet your requirements. Another added value of an SCSB is that its cloud architects continuously search for and scour cloud options. They play with the hardware, middleware, and software so that the SCSB can bring you the best solutions at utility pricing. Think of a SCSB as one part Underwriters Laboratories as they certify, validate, test, inspect, audit, advise and train and one part butler as they provide attention and ongoing care. Once your SCSB has heard your goals and worked with you to select the appropriate providers they will bundle your services for ease of consumption.

A specialist cloud services brokerage can help you put together your cloud strategy with consideration to continuity planning and risk management. Moreover, your SCSB will remain vigilant in monitoring your metered cloud services. Your SCSB is there to ensure that when an employee leaves your organization, you can quickly lock them out or down and stop paying for that individual’s related usage. This kind of oversight provides the continuity and stability that is required to keep your ecosystem in step with the daily happenings of your business. The SCSB is your concierge to the cloud.