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Establish a self-service cloud brokerage from scratch

Make developers and admins happier with a self-service portal that delivers an in-house marketplace of approved cloud tools and services.

Development teams in a rush to provision cloud services and meet deadlines are often irritated by the long, drawn-out process they encounter at the IT service desk.

Administrators can institute a self-service cloud brokerage -- an internal portal with point-and-click cloud provisioning tools -- to empower developers to build cloud services and free the company's service desk to deal with other tasks. However, you don't get self-service cloud provisioning out of the box; it requires a coordinated and concerted effort to get up and running.

Once these in-house marketplaces are instituted and maintained correctly, they deliver many benefits. Learn how to transform from a centralized IT service desk to a self-service cloud broker, and gain developer productivity, better service delivery, secure access and governance and cost management. A cloud services brokerage also helps break down siloes between roles, such as the IT service desk and the procurement department.

BYO cloud brokerage: The basics

It takes experience with cloud economics, service management platform configuration, user experience, security and cloud management skills to set up and provision the components of a self-service cloud brokerage. Most businesses lack the cloud and business expertise for the task and must bring in a professional services firm to build it.

The components of a self-service cloud services brokerage include cloud management platforms such as CloudBolt or cloudtamer.io. The cloud management provider should offer self-service features, customizable reporting and APIs for integration into other backend systems such as project management and financial applications.

Some brokerages bypass a cloud management provider and rely on a service management platform, such as ServiceNow or Cherwell, for governance and services management. ServiceNow can be an expensive investment, and admins and developers with the skills necessary to use the platform are heavily in demand. It can also be a complex platform to manage. On the other hand, Cherwell provides a low-code alternative. These types of tools can be simpler to use for nondevelopers but they have their drawbacks, including less customization.

Consider integrating a cloud cost management service, such as CloudCheckr, into this internal brokerage too. Putting budget and expense management in place can help the business as you scale up the cloud brokerage implementation.

Security depends on the existing enterprise cloud security measures. For example, if you use Active Directory or even a cloud access security broker, you'll integrate the cloud self-service portal into this security setup just like you would any other enterprise cloud application.

Behind every cloud brokerage is an extensible reporting framework that enables you to design, generate and publish reports to a custom dashboard for IT, business and financial stakeholders. Take the time upfront to develop monitoring and granular reporting on cloud services consumption, capacity and other information. For example, brokerage users and their managers need alerts about spending. IT staff also need to continuously monitor cloud performance, even if the cloud is self-service for provisioning and operation.

Pros and cons of cloud brokerage

A self-service cloud brokerage can take some of the workload off of the IT service desk. Authorized users can provision the services they need within a few clicks. Of course, this won't eliminate administrative tasks entirely. IT operations teams still need to plan for the proper maintenance of the portal. An admin must track and fix access issues and monitor service consumption across the user community. A brokerage is the result of a lot of integration, and as such, components will break and require fixes. If your organization hired an outside firm to build the broker portal, ensure there's also a service contract in place, or train up internal staff to manage it.

The time it takes to create a self-service cloud brokerage depends on the organization. Smaller, more agile companies and business units can treat it like any other project. In fact, an iterative development cycle can help organizations fine-tune the features and UX of their broker portal until they get the right match for their needs.  Larger, more monolithic companies may face opposition as departments seek to understand the implications of self-service, from a cultural standpoint, procurement control or other issue. Success requires a degree of operational, governance and cloud cost management maturity, as well as investments in documentation and training for users, operations staff and stakeholders.

Operations also requires more than technical skills. To create brokerage reporting and alerts, you must gather requirements from the cloud team, business unit heads, IT, security and other interested stakeholders informed about the technological and financial health of an enterprise's cloud applications and services. For example, if a cloud broker portal serves multiple development teams across the corporation, cost allocation matters. Each team has a different budget for cloud services, so it makes business sense to set up budget thresholds and then have them trigger alerts to the user, their manager and even their finance representative as the team consumes cloud services for projects.

Another consideration is the scope of this self-service cloud brokerage project. Internal cloud brokers can manage more than development and test environments, but enterprises seem to shy away from allowing them in production due to security and compliance concerns. Flexible deployment models -- a major benefit of these brokerages -- don't mean as much in production as they do in dev and test. Developers need the flexibility to spin up and take down cloud services to meet project needs. That's not the case for production workloads, which tend to be stable and long-running.

Public cloud vs. self-service

While the public cloud is renowned for its self-service model, businesses can benefit by erecting a cloud brokerage layer on top of these platforms. For example, with the organization acting as the broker, authorized users provision cloud services from a set catalog of services. You govern who can tap into the services and restrict which services they access, even tailoring the options by department or role.

You can also build a service catalog that includes authorized products from multiple cloud service providers, all available from a single provisioning interface.

The pricing in an internal broker catalog reflects what your organization pays, which can differ from the standard list price. As such, a brokerage gives your authorized users the same, if not better, consumer-like experience with the public cloud. You can govern the UX with corporate-standard interfaces you control, unlike the ever-growing AWS dashboard.

Admins can also add specialized tech support behind a self-service cloud brokerage. People can pick up a phone and ask questions of their colleagues, unlike the approach they have to take to reach support technicians through your cloud provider.

Cloud brokerage use cases

As alluded to above, test and development environments are a classic use case for self-service cloud brokerages. Breaking down the bureaucracy that comes with provisioning cloud storage in large corporate environments can help speed time to market, and taking away workflow obstacles can boost developer morale.

A brokerage can also ensure employees comply with corporate standards for databases and other backend applications. For example, your business has a standard database, and you don't want cloud users to implement Amazon Relational Database Service, or another cloud-native database for their projects. You can restrict access to those services through the self-service cloud brokerage and funnel users to your approved, on-premises database.

As organizations tap into cloud services for workloads such as analytics and high-performance computing, it means complex -- and expensive -- workstation setups. A self-service cloud brokerage could give authorized users the independence to provision, set up and access these specialized applications on their own, without the need for intervention from IT.

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