Almost a year ago, I was deep in conversation with other members of the Clouderati discussing (philosophically, I might add) where the future of cloud computing and the associated services might lead and, more importantly, what that may mean for the next generation of enterprise CIOs.
You may be aware of my enterprise background and recent experience in delivering business-aligned IT transformation (which included cloud, lots of it) and, it’s no secret that based on that very experience, I’ve written numerous blog posts that allude to the challenges that today’s crop of enterprise CIOs face when trying to identify, select, procure and manage cloud services to augment or replace their current in-house offerings.
You may not be aware that during the aforementioned Clouderati conversation, I offered the following two suggestions as food for thought:
As businesses demand even more agility, the next generation of Enterprise CIOs will be much more akin to service aggregators than those who managed the traditional but very complex, “buy long and buy for peak” software contracts.
As the number of truly attractive cloud services increases, and the security, reliability and cost barriers to their adoption decreases, we will see a growing demand for a “Cloud Concierge”, almost a new generation of SI, who acts as a single point of knowledge for the new CIO, helping deliver a range of fit-for-purpose solutions.
(* In fact, I mention the concept of CIOs-as-service-aggregators in this post from November 2010)
Last week, the folks at NIST (who appear to have either been nominated or nominated themselves as the digitized equivalent of the Custodian Of The Two Holy Mosques) released their Cloud Computing Reference Architecture document, which now includes a section on “Cloud Brokers”.
Despite my obvious (yet short-lived) joy at seeing something I had espoused turn up in something as powerful as a NIST document (yawn), I have a really hard time with the word “Broker” in the context of how NIST have tried to define it.
For me, it somewhat stereotypically conjures up pinstriped yuppies sipping bottles of Dom Perignon, vastly overpaid, incredibly indulgent, annoyingly arrogant and probably not the best mental poster child for an already over cloud-washed and double-dip recession fearing buying public.
Yet, let’s be sure to give credit where credit is due (pardon the pun).
If you spend a few minutes reading the NIST definition, they’ve done a pretty good job at explaining the specifics of what their “Cloud Broker” might do:
Service Intermediation: A cloud broker enhances a given service by improving some specific capability and providing value-added services to cloud consumers. The improvement can be managing access to cloud services, identity management, performance reporting, enhanced security, etc.
Service Aggregation: A cloud broker combines and integrates multiple services into one or more new services. The broker provides data integration and ensures the secure data movement between the cloud consumer and multiple cloud providers.
Service Arbitrage: Service arbitrage is similar to service aggregation except that the services being aggregated are not fixed. Service arbitrage means a broker has the flexibility to choose services from multiple agencies. The cloud broker, for example, can use a credit-scoring service to measure and select an agency with the best score.
If I remove the myriad of technical, commercial and operational fundamentals that appear to have been glossed over, look objectively at the above, and substitute the word “Broker” for “Concierge”, it is much easier for me to understand, and further embellish, how this might logically work by simply considering what the Concierge at a hotel might do for its guests – typically the Concierge has a great deal of local knowledge of all services in the area, can source quickly, efficiently and usually from a list of known, trusted and proven suppliers.
They provide the guests with their expertise, on tap, 24×7, usually for little or no charge.
OK, so I concede that I might be simply dealing with semantics or I may be taking the word “Broker” too literally, but I prefer to view it this way because it is easier for me to mentally relate to something I have experienced and I am familiar with (Concierge), versus something I have never experienced (Broker).
In addition, I think we are a VERY long way from their being something that even comes close to being able to called a viable “Brokering” service. Cross-cloud management and governance tools such as enStratus & Rightscale are fantastic at what they do. SpotCloud was (is) a brilliant idea but way too early to market to grab widespread adoption today (hello, Zimory?).
None of these solutions, in my opinion, meet the magical definitions set forth above. Sure, they may be used as part of a toolset, but they don’t cover the full spectrum of cloud services, from IaaS to SaaS – nobody does (except the usual suspects who’d sell your Grandmother for a recurring yearly Cloudwash fee).
As NIST states in the opening paragraph of their Cloud Broker description:
As cloud computing evolves, the integration of cloud services can be too complex for cloud consumers to manage.
I would apply the same logic to their definitions….