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Top considerations for choosing a cloud service broker

The decision to move to the cloud may be a clear one for some organizations, but selecting a cloud service broker can be challenging.

Moving SOA projects into the cloud makes sense to meet business needs, but finding the right cloud product for the development and deployment can be a challenge. Enter cloud service brokers, which are categorized in three different ways, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology: service intermediation, service arbitrage and service aggregation. No matter the category, however, experts advise carefully examining the broker's offerings prior to engagement.

"The most important consideration is: Is the cloud broker really a broker?" said Mike Constable, cloud management sales lead at global consultancy Capgemini. For example, the cloud service broker should not only provide cloud services choices, but also additional services that will support developers, he said.

Cloud service brokers aren't software

One misconception about cloud brokers is they are a technical notion; but they are actually roles played by organizations that act as middlemen between various providers and enterprises to help them select the right services, much like an insurance broker, according to Claude Baudoin, senior consultant at Arlington, Massachusetts-based IT consultancy Cutter Consortium.

A broker is more than just reselling a service.
Mike ConstableCapgemini

Cloud service brokers are still immature, according to Baudoin. While this may be more of a management and governance issue than a developer issue, one thing to consider is whether or not the broker can offer the benefits expected, including the ability to use other cloud services, he said.

"If the broker has its own processes of developing interfaces to different providers, or is not agile or the architecture is not flexible enough to develop a new interface in a matter of days or weeks, that blocks you from using a new provider until the broker has developed an interface," Baudoin said.

Lock-in is a big concern when moving SOA projects to the cloud, and brokers can either be a help or a hindrance. "You don't want to write something inside the enterprise that interacts with the cloud provider … and require a major expense if you decide to migrate to another provider, create a hybrid cloud, or use a multi-provider cloud," he said.

Make sure the cloud service broker understands project needs

Another problem that may arise is the cloud service broker not having a concept of the different project stages, e.g., development, staging, production and lifecycle management, according to Paul Fremantle, chief technology officer and co-founder of Mountain View, California-based software company WSO2. While small organizations and simple workflows can get away with using a cloud service that's upload-only, transactional, complex and mission-critical projects that need thorough testing need lifecycle management, he said.

"It's a hole in a lot of cloud brokers today," he added. Other capabilities that companies need to consider include integration with API management and analytics, he said.

Check for the real value-add

In fact, one of the biggest holes in cloud brokers could be that they aren't providing enough benefits to developers. Brokers that simply aggregate cloud services don't provide enough value to make them worthwhile, according to Austin Park, senior vice president and CTO at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin-based technology firm Paragon Development Systems. "The value in aggregation has to go beyond into better control and better orchestration," he said.

Security is also another consideration that a cloud service broker should be able to assist with, Park said. "You want to have an overarching security strategy from the cloud service broker," he added.

Park also advised making sure the broker could provide support, which can be a big value-add when, for example, a platform as a service project goes awry. The support offered should be enablement, not necessarily traditional support, he added.

"A broker is more than just reselling a service," Constable said. Brokers need to also provide things like architectural design services to help developers pull their projects into the cloud and support those projects through their lifecycles.

Of course, the final question for most developers is whether or not a broker really is necessary. "Some [developers] are perfectly happy finding the stack [and] isolating the interface to the cloud provider," Baudoin said. If the code is isolated enough and architecturally separated from the rest of the program, it will be easy enough to change providers down the road, sans broker, he added.

Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She focuses on feature articles for a variety of technology and business-focused publications, as well as case studies and white papers for business-to-business technology companies.

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This was first published in July 2014

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