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Cloud service brokers must differentiate as cloud market matures

The role of the cloud service broker is changing. Brokers must work closely with cloud providers, while also differentiating their services to appeal to customers.

With the cloud market still in its infancy, cloud service brokers models have emerged as a middle layer between the cloud provider and buyer to help customers struggling with the early stages of adopting a cloud strategy.

The cloud landscape is changing, with many different infrastructures and options emerging to accommodate different customers. As the cloud market matures, the cloud service broker's role must evolve. Rather than facilitate the selection of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options and the customers' move to the cloud, a cloud service broker must offer more dynamic services across all infrastructure, integration and application options.

Cloud brokers must build relationships with cloud providers, customers

The current cloud-service-broker model comes in different flavors. Some brokers specialize in public cloud IaaS options, while others offer unified provisioning, billing and contract management with multiple Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. Others specialize in the integration of services between the different SaaS providers, according to a recent Forrester Research report, entitled "Cloud Brokers Become Change Agents."

Companies express pain points -- either an infrastructure or application problem -- and want to purchase cloud solutions to solve these specific issues.

Stefan Ried
Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

These dedicated business models should give way to a more "unified" cloud service broker as the cloud market matures, wrote Stefan Ried, Ph.D., lead author of the report and principal analyst for Forrester Research. The report also predicted that these unified cloud service brokers will emerge from a consolidation of services by 2015.

Until now, cloud service brokers have modeled their services to meet the immediate needs of their customers, but those customers are evolving in how they adopt cloud services.

"Companies express pain points -- either an infrastructure or application problem -- and want to purchase cloud solutions to solve these specific issues," said Forrester Research's Ried in an interview.   

Cloud service brokers must be a trusted partner to the customer while maintaining strong ties with cloud providers, said Glenn Weinstein, chief technology officer of Appirio, a cloud service broker that offers its 300 enterprise customers cloud services and platforms from public cloud providers Google, Amazon, Salesforce and Workday.

Appirio works with its public cloud partners via consulting or technology partnerships. "We are recommending their services based on the customer's needs," Weinstein said, noting that their cloud provider partners recommend Appirio to prospective customers looking for a partner to do complex implementations.

"When [cloud providers and cloud service brokers] are working with large enterprises, there typically is a great deal of implantation work," he said.

Cloud service brokers should focus on cloud federation, said Weinstein, as some customers are usually shopping for more than one public cloud solution or application.

Cloud implementation and federation across multiple countries is still a problem for customers. Cloud brokers can frame their services to address future business opportunities by serving as a negotiator for the customer with many different cloud environments, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. 

Cloud service brokers should support hybrid cloud environments

Cloud brokers also have a unique opportunity to help buyers take advantage of their existing IT infrastructure, while leveraging cloud provider offerings as needed, Forrester's Ried noted. A mature cloud service broker helps customers see the value in cloud provider offerings while maximizing existing resources.

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Cloud brokers should also focus on helping customers save money, Ried said, pointing out that many enterprise customers are paying for cloud services when they still have plenty of room on their existing servers.

"It is important for the unified [cloud service] brokers to understand what happens on-premises," Ried said. "[Cloud service brokers] can turn spare servers into private cloud environments, and use cloud bursting to public clouds -- like Amazon -- to help with specific workloads for their customers."

Cloud providers: The new cloud brokers? 

Customers are already changing up their cloud strategy decisions, and providers may be taking on some cloud brokerage responsibilities in the future, Nolle said. As cloud literacy increases, customers may not value the "middleman" cloud broker role.

"I think that all major cloud providers will be getting into the business of cloud federation, and enterprises will even begin acting as their own cloud broker," he said.

As providers and enterprises try to broker cloud services on their own pure-play cloud service, brokers will realign their relationships and differentiate their abilities and offerings from cloud providers.

Cloud brokerage models will start to emerge within large cloud provider portfolios in the next three years, Forrester's Ried said, noting that Microsoft already has a broad portfolio of SaaS and IaaS products and could be a candidate for unified cloud brokerage. 

"Unified cloud brokers won't suddenly be on the market," he said. "Existing cloud providers can add a brokerage service to their business to make their cloud services more attractive." 

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.

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