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A More Practical View of Cloud Brokers

The conventional view of cloud brokers misses the need to enforce policies and ensure compliance

The conventional view of cloud brokers misses the need to enforce policies and ensure compliance

During a dinner at VMworld organized by Lilac Schoenbeck of BMC, we had the chance to chat up cloud and related issues with Kia Behnia, CTO at BMC. Discussion turned, naturally I think, to process. That could be because BMC is heavily invested in automating and orchestrating processes. Despite the nomenclature used (business process management) for IT this is a focus on operational process automation, though eventually IT will have to raise the bar and focus on the more businessy aspects of IT and operations.

cloudbrokerviews Alex Williams postulated the decreasing need for IT in an increasingly cloudy world. On the surface this generally seems to be an accurate observation. After all, when business users can provision applications a la SaaS to serve their needs do you really need IT? Even in cases where you're deploying a fairly simple web site, the process has become so abstracted as to comprise the push of a button, dragging some components after specifying a template, and voila! Web site deployed, no IT necessary.

While from a technical difficulty perspective this may be true (and if we say it is, it is for only the smallest of organizations) there are many responsibilities of IT that are simply overlooked and, as we all know, underappreciated for what they provide, not the least of which is being able to understand the technical implications of regulations and requirements like HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and SOX – all of which have some technical aspect to them and need to be enforced, well, with technology.

See, choosing a cloud deployment environment is not just about "will this workload run in cloud X". It's far more complex than that, with many more variables that are often hidden from the end-user, a.k.a. the business peoples. Yes, cost is important. Yes, performance is important. And these are characteristics we may be able to gather with a cloud broker. But what we can't know is whether or not a particular cloud will be able to enforce other policies – those handed down by governments around the globe and those put into writing by the organization itself.

Imagine the horror of a CxO upon discovering an errant employee with a credit card has just violated a regulation that will result in Severe Financial Penalties or worse – jail. These are serious issues that conventional views of cloud brokers simply do not take into account. It's one thing to violate an organizational policy regarding e-mailing confidential data to your Gmail account, it's quite another to violate some of the government regulations that govern not only data at rest but in flight.


Thus, it seems a more practical view of cloud brokers is necessary; a view that enables such solutions to not only consider performance and price, but ability to adhere to and enforce corporate and regulatory polices. Such a data center hosted cloud broker would be able to take into consideration these very important factors when making decisions regarding the optimal deployment environment for a given application. That may be a public cloud, it may be a private cloud – it may be a dynamic data center. The resulting decision (and options) are not nearly as important as the ability for IT to ensure that the technical aspects of policies are included in the decision making process.

And it must be IT that codifies those requirements into a policy that can be leveraged by the  broker and ultimately the end-user to help make deployment decisions. Business users, when faced with requirements for web application firewalls in PCI-DSS, for example, or ensuring a default "deny all" policy on firewalls and routers, are unlikely able to evaluate public cloud offerings for ability to meet such requirements. That's the role of IT, and even wearing rainbow-colored cloud glasses can't eliminate the very real and important role IT has to play here.

The role of IT may be changing, transforming, but it is no way being eliminated or decreasing in importance. In fact, given the nature of today's environments and threat landscape, the importance of IT in helping to determine deployment locations that at a minimum meet organizational and regulatory requirements is paramount to enabling business users to have more control over their own destiny, as it were.

So while cloud brokers currently appear to be external services, often provided by SIs with a vested interest in cloud migration and the services they bring to the table, ultimately these beasts will become enterprise-deployed services capable of making policy-based decisions that include the technical details and requirements of application deployment along with the more businessy details such as costs.

The role of IT will never really be eliminated. It will morph, it will transform, it will expand and contract over time. But business and operational regulations cannot be encapsulated into policies without IT. And for those applications that cannot be deployed into public environments without violating those policies, there needs to be a controlled, local environment into which they can be deployed.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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