We're examining the role and value of cloud services brokers with an emphasis on small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), regional businesses, and government, and looking for attaining the best results from a specialist cloud service brokerage role within these different types of organizations.
No two businesses have identical needs, and so specialized requirements need to be factored into the use of often commodity-type cloud services. An intermediary brokerage can help companies and government agencies make the best use of commodity and targeted IaaS clouds, and not fall prey to replacing an on-premises integration problem with a cloud complexity problem.
To learn more about the role and value of the specialist cloud services brokerage, we're joined by Todd Lyle, President of Duncan, LLC, a cloud services brokerage in Ohio, and Kevin Jackson, the Founder and CEO of GovCloud Network in Northern Virginia. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: How do we get regular companies to effectively start using these new cloud services?
Lyle: Through education. That’s our first step. The technology is clearly here, the three of us will agree. It's been here for quite some time now. The beauty of it is that we're able to extract bits and pieces for bundles, much like you get from your cell phone or your cable TV folks. You can pull those together through a cloud services brokerage.
You're renting these services. So you can expand and contract as necessary. To liken this to a utility environment, utility organizations that do electric and do power, you flip the switch on or turn the faucet on and off. It’s a metered service.
That's where you're going to get the largest return on your collective investment when you switch from a traditional IT environment on-premises, or even a private cloud, to the public cloud and the utility that this brings.
Gardner: Kevin you're involved more with government agencies. They've been using IT for an awfully long time. How is the adjustment to cloud models for them? Is it easier, is it better, or is it just a different type of approach, and therefore requires only adjustment?
Jackson: Thank you for bringing that up. Yes, I've been focused on providing advanced IT to the federal market and Fortune 500 businesses for quite a while. The advent of cloud computing and cloud services brokerages is a double-edged sword. At once, it provides a much greater agility with respect to the ability to leverage information technology.
You're going more from your implementation skills to a management of IT skills. This is a great transition across IT, and is something that cloud services brokerages can really aid. [See Jackson's recent blog on brokerages.]
Gardner: Todd, it sounds as if we're moving this from an implementation and a technology skill set into more of a procurement, governance, contracts, and creating the right service-level agreements (SLAs). These are, I think, new skills for many businesses. How is that coaching aspect of a cloud service’s brokerage coming out in the market? Is that something you are seeing a lot of demand for?
Lyle: It’s customer service, plain and simple. We hear about it all the time, but we also pass it off all the time. You have to be accessible. If you're a 69-year-old business owner and embracing a technology from that demographic, it’s going to be different than if you are 23 years old, different in the approach that you take with that person.
As we all get more tenured, we'll see more adaptability to new technologies in a workplace, but that’s a while out. That's the 35-and-younger crowd. If you go to 35-and-above, it's what Kevin mentioned -- changing the culture, changing the way things are procured within those cultures, and also centralizing command. That’s where the brokerage or the exchange comes into place for this. [See Lyle's video on cloud brokerages.]
Gardner: One of the things that’s interesting to me is that a lot of companies are now looking at this as not just as a way of switching from one type of IT, say a server under a desk, to another type of IT, a server in a cloud.
It’s forcing companies to reevaluate how they do business and think of themselves as a new process-management function, regardless of where the services reside. This also requires more than just how to write a contract. It's really how to do business transformation.
Does that play into the cloud services brokerage? Do you find yourselves coaching companies on business management?
Jackson: Absolutely. One of the things cloud services is bringing to the forefront is the rapidity of change. We're going from an environment where organizations expect a homogenous IT platform to where hybrid IT is really the norm. Change management is a key aspect of being able to have an organization take on change as a normal aspect of their business.
This is also driving business models. The more effective business models today are taking advantage of the parallel and global nature of cloud computing. This requires experience, and cloud services brokerages have the experience of dealing with different providers, different technologies, and different business models. This is where they provide a tremendous amount of value.
Different types of services
Gardner: Todd, this notion of being a change agent also raises the notion that we're not just talking about one type of cloud service. We're talking about software as a service (SaaS), bringing communications applications like e-mail and calendar into a web or mobile environment. We're talking about platform as a service (PaaS), if you're doing development and DevOps. We're talking about even some analytics nowadays, as people try to think about how to use big data and business intelligence (BI) in the cloud.
Tell me a bit more about why being a change agent across these different models -- and not just a cloud implementer or integrator -- raises the value of this cloud service brokerage role?
Lyle: It’s a holistic approach. I've been talking to my team lately about being the Dale Carnegie of the cloud, hence the specialist cloud services brokerage, because it really does come down to personalities.
In a book that I've recently written called Grounding the Cloud, Basics and Brokerages, I talk about the human element. That's the personalities, expectations, and abilities of your workforce, not only your present workforce but your future workforce, which we discussed just a moment ago, as far as demographics were concerned.
It's constant change. Kevin said it, using a different term, but that's the world we live in. Some schools are doing this, where they're adding this to their MBA programs. It is a common set of skills that you must have, and it's managing personalities more than you're managing technology, in my opinion.
Gardner: Tell me a bit more about this book, Todd, it’s called Grounding the Cloud. When is it available and how can people learn more about it?
Lyle: It’s available now on Amazon, and they can find out more at www.groundingthecloud.org. This is a layman’s introduction to cloud computing, and so it helps business men and women get a better understanding of the cloud -- and how they could best maximize their time and their money, as it associates to their IT needs.
Gardner: Does the book get into this concept of the specialist cloud services brokerage (SCSB), as opposed to just a general brokerage, and getting at what's the difference?
Lyle: That’s an excellent question, Dana. There are a lot of perceptions, you have one as well, of what a cloud services brokerage is. But, at the end of the day -- and we've been talking about this in the entire discussion -- it's about the human element, our personalities, and how to make these changes so that the companies actually can speed up.
We discuss it here in the "flyover country," in Ohio. We meet in the book with Cleveland State University. We meet with Allen Black Enterprises, and then even with a small landscaping company to demonstrate how the cloud is being applied from six and seven users, all the way up to 25,000 users. And we're doing it here in the Midwest, where things tend to take a couple of years to change.
Gardner: How is a cloud services brokerage different from a systems integrator? It seems there's some commonality. But you are not just a channel, or reseller, you are really as much an advocate for the user.
Lyle: A specialist cloud services brokerage is going to be more like Underwriters Laboratories (UL). It’s going to go out, fielding all the different cloud flavors that are available, pick what they feel is best, and bring it together in a bundle. Then, the SCSB works with the entity to adapt to the culture and the change that's going to have to occur and the education within their particular businesses, as opposed to a very high-level vertical, where some things are just pushed out at an enterprise level.
Jackson: I see this cloud services brokerage and specialist cloud services brokerage as the new-age system integrator, because there are additional capabilities that are offered.
For example, you need a trusted third-party to monitor and report on adherence to SLAs. The provider is not going to do that. That’s a role for your cloud services brokerage. Also you need to maintain viable options for alternative cloud-service providers. The cloud services brokerage will identify your options and give you choices, should you need the change. A specialist cloud services brokerage also helps to ensure portability of your business process and data from one cloud service provider to another.
Management of change is more than a single aspect within the organization. It’s how to adapt with constant change and make sure that your enterprise has options and doesn't get locked into a single vendor.
Lyle: It comes to the point, Kevin, of building for constant change. You're exactly right.
Gardner: You raise an interesting point too, Kevin, that one shouldn’t get lulled into thinking that they can just make a move to the cloud, and it will all be done. This is going to be a constant set of moves, a journey, and you're going to want to avail yourself of the cloud services marketplace that’s emerging.
We're seeing prices driven down. We're seeing competition among commodity-level cloud services. I expect we'll see other kinds of market forces at work. You want to be agile and be able to take advantage of that in your total cost of computing.
Jackson: There's a broad range of providers in the marketplace, and that range expands daily. Similarly, there's a large range of requirements within any enterprise of any size. Brokers act as matchmakers, avoiding common mistakes, and also help the organizations, the SMBs in particular, implement best practices in their adoption of this new model.
Gardner: Also, when you have a brokerage as your advocate, they're keeping their eye on the cloud marketplace, so that you can keep your eye on your business and your vertical, too. Therefore, you're going to have somebody to tip you off when things change and they will be on the vanguard for deals. Is that something that comes up in your book, Todd, of the public service brokerage being an educated expert in a field where the business really wants to stick to its knitting?
Lyle: Absolutely. That’s the primary goal, both at a strategic level, when you're deciding what products to use -- the Rackspaces, the Microsofts, the RightSignatures, etc. -- all the way down to the tactical one of the daily operation. When I leave the company, how soon can we lock Todd out? How soon can we lock him down or lock him out? It becomes a security issue at a very granular level. Because it's metered, you turn it off, you turn Todd off, you save his data, and put it someplace else.
That’s a role that, requires command and control and oversight, and that's a responsibility. You're part butler. You're looking out for the day-to-day, the minute issues. Then you get up to a very high level. You're like UL. You're keeping an eye on everything that’s occurring. UL comes to mind because they do things that are tactile and those things that you can't touch, and definitely the cloud is something you can’t touch.
Jackson: Actually, I believe it represents the embracing of a cooperative model of my consumers of this information technology, but embracing with open eyes. This is particularly of interest within the federal marketplace, because federal procurement executives have to stop their adversarial attitude toward industry. Cloud services brokerages and specialist cloud services brokerages sit at the same the table with these consumers.
Lyle: Kevin, your point is very well taken. I'll go one step further. We were talking up and down the scales, strategic down to the daily operations. One of the challenges that we have to overcome is the signatories, the senior executives, that make these decisions. They're in a different age group and they're used to doing things a certain way.
That being said, getting legislation to be changed at the federal level, directives being pushed down, will make the difference, because they do know how to take orders. I know I'm speaking frankly, but what's going to have to occur for us to see some significant change within the next five years is being told how the procurement process is going to happen.
You're taking the feather; I'm taking the stick, but it’s going to take both of those to accomplish that task at the federal level.
Gardner: We know that Duncan, LLC is a specialized cloud services brokerage. Kevin, tell us a little bit about the GovCloud Network. What is your organization, and how do you align with cloud brokerages?
Jackson: GovCloud Network is a specialty consultancy that helps organizations modify or change their mission and business processes in order to take advantage of this new style of system integrator.
Earlier, I said that the key to transition in a cloud is adopting and adapting to the parallel nature and a global nature of cloud computing. This requires a second look at your existing business processes and your existing mission processes to do things in different ways. That's what GovCloud Network allows. It helps you redesign your business and mission processes for this constant change and this new model.
Notion of governance
Gardner: I'd like to go back to this notion of governance. It seems to me, Todd, that when you have different parts of your company procuring cloud services, sometimes this is referred to as shadow IT. They're not doing it in concert, through a gatekeeper like a cloud broker. Not only is there a potential redundancy of efforts in labor and work in process, but there is this governance and security risk, because one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.
Let's address this issue about better security from better governance by having a common brokerage gatekeeper, rather than having different aspects of your company out buying and using cloud services independently.
Lyle: We're your trusted adviser. We’re also very much a trusted member of your team when you bring us into the fold. We provide oversight. We're big brother, if you want to look at it that way, but big brother is important when you are dealing with your business and your business resources. You don’t want to leave a window open at night. You certainly don't want to leave your network open.
There's a lot going on in today's world, a lot of transition, the NSA and everything we worry about. It's important to have somebody providing command and control. We don’t sit there and stare at a monitor all day. We use systems that watch this, but we can tell when there's an increase or decrease out of the norm of activities within your organization.
It really doesn't matter how big or how small, there are systems that allow us to monitor this and give a heads up. If you're part of a leadership team, you’d be notified that again Todd Lyle has left an open window. But if you don't know that Todd even has the window, then that’s even a bigger concern. That comes down to the leadership again -- how you want to manage your entity.
We all want to feel free to make decisions, but there are too many benefits available to us, transparent benefits, as Kevin put it, to using the cloud and hiding in plain sight, maximizing e-mail at 100,000 plus users. Those are all good things but they require oversight.
It's almost like an aviation model, where you have your ground control and your flight crew. Everybody on that team is providing oversight to the other. Ultimately, you have your control tower that's watching that, and the control tower, both in the air and on the ground, is your cloud services brokerage.
Jackson: It’s important to understand that cloud computing is the industrialization of information technology. You're going from an age where the IT infrastructure is a hand-designed and built work of art to where your IT infrastructure is a highly automated assembly-line platform that requires real-time monitoring and metering. Your specialist cloud services brokerage actually helps you in that transition and operations within this highly automated environment.
Gardner: Todd, we spoke earlier about how we're moving from implementation to procurement. We've also talked about governance being important, SLAs, and managing a contract across variety of different organizations that are providing cloud type services. It seems to me that we're talking about financial types of relations.
How does the cloud services brokerage help the financial people in a company. Maybe it's an individual who wears many hats, but you could think of them as akin to a chief financial officer, even though that might not be their title?
What is it that we are doing with the cloud services brokerage that is of a special interest and value to the financial people? Is it unified billing or is it one throat to choke? How does that work?
Lyle: Both, and then some. Ultimately it's unified billing and unified management from daily operations. It's helping people understand that we're moving from a capitalized expense, the server, the software, things that are tactile that we are used to touching. We're used to being able to count them and we like to see our stuff.
So it's transitioning and letting go, especially for the people who watch the money. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the organizations that we work for. Part of that is communicating, educating, and helping the CFO-type person understand the transition not only from the CAPEX to the OPEX, because they get that, but also how you're going to correlate it to productivity.
It's letting them know to be patient. It's going to take a couple months for your metering to level up. We have some statistics and we can read into that. It's holding their hand, helping them out. That's a very big deal as far as that's concerned.
Gardner: Let's start to think about how to get started. Obviously, every company is different. They're going to be at a different place in terms of maturity, in their own IT, never mind the transition to cloud types of activities. Would you recommend the book as a starting point? Do you have some other materials or references? How do you help that education process get going. I'm thinking about organizations that are really at the very beginning?
Lyle: We've created a gateway cloud in our book, not to confuse the cloud story. Ultimately, we have to take in consideration our economy, the world economy today. We're still very slow to move forward.
There are some activities occurring that are forcing us to make change. Our contracts may be running out. Software like XP is no longer supported. So we may be forced into making a change. That's when it's time to engage a cloud services brokerage or a specialist cloud services brokerage.
Go out and buy the book. It's available on Amazon. It gives you a breakdown, and you can do an assessment of your organization as it currently is and it will help you map your network. Then, it will help you reach out to a cloud services brokerage, if you are so inclined, through points of interest for request for proposal or request for information.
The fun part is, it gives you a recipe using Rackspace, Jungle Disk, and gotomeeting.com, where you get to build a baby cloud. Then, you can go out and play with it.
You want to begin with three points: file sharing, remote access, and email. You can be the lighthouse or you can be a dry-cleaners, but every organization needs file sharing, remote access, and email. We open-sourced this recipe or what we call the industrial bundle for small businesses.
It's not daunting. We’ve got some time yet, but I would encourage you to get a handle on where your infrastructure is today, digest that information, go out and play with the gateway cloud that we've created, and reach out to us if you are so inclined.
We’d love for you to use one of our organizations, but ultimately know that there are people out there to help you. This book was written for us, not for the technical person. It is not in geek speak. This is written for the layperson. I've been told it’s entertaining, which is the most important part, because you’re going to read it then.
Jackson: I would urge SMBs to take the plunge. Cloud can be scary to some, but there is very little risk and there is much to gain for any SMB. The using, leveraging, taking advantage of the cloud gateway that Todd mentioned is a very good, low risk, and high reward path towards the cloud.
Gardner: I would agree with both of what you all said. The notion of a proof of concept and dipping your toe in. You don't have to buy it all at once, but find an area of your company where you’re going to be forced to make a change anyway and then to your point, Kevin, do it now. Take the plunge earlier rather than later.
Jackson: Before you're forced.
Gardner: Before you’re forced, but you want to look at a tactical benefit and where to work toward strategic benefit, but there is going to be some really large changes happening in what these cloud providers can do in a fairly short amount of time.
We're moving from discrete apps into the entire desktop, so a full PC experience as a service. That’s going to be very attractive to people. They're going to need to make some changes to get there. But rather than thinking about services discreetly, more and more of what they're looking for is going to be coming as the entire IT services experience, and more analytics capabilities mixed into that. So I am glad to hear you both explaining how to do it, managed at a proof-of-concept level. But I would say do it sooner rather than later.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Duncan, LLC.
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