The (welcome) rise of the cloud middleman


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A new breed of managed services providers are gearing up to be the cloud brokers and integrators of the future

In any kind of business deal, a middleman can be either a blessing or curse. In the worst cases, he or she might gum up the works by making communication with vendors difficult and charge you a premium for the privilege of being inconvenienced. In the best cases, the middleman's expertise might save you time, money, and aggravation, and it could be well worth whatever margin he or she might apply to the deal. IT has historically been rife with middlemen of both varieties. Whether you're talking about VARs, MSPs, or other different kinds of businesses, repackaging and reselling others' gear and services is an enormous and well-entrenched industry.

It would seem that the cloud is a huge exception to that model. After all, the nature of the cloud is such that you're supposed to be able to sign up and instantaneously have the services you want available to you -- a reality that lends itself well to the direct sales model. However, I believe that resellers of cloud services or cloud brokers will have a great deal to offer as the cloud industry matures over the next three to five years.

Today, the average enterprise might use a handful of cloud services: perhaps as its CRM and a few Amazon EC2 instances to host a public website, maybe a hosted email or antispam platform. It's relatively clear at this point that the future will bring wider and wider adoption of cloud services as a means to do business. However, just as today's enterprises aren't getting those services from one cloud services provider, those of the future won't, either -- the difference is that there will be far, far more of them, and their services will play a much more critical role in the enterprise's success.

Although using cloud services may deliver on the often-made promises of allowing enterprise to deploy services much more quickly and efficiently, the fact that these services will come from a wide range of providers will create a substantial integration and support challenge. As a result, a real role is developing for companies that won't just resell, but also intelligently integrate disparate best-in-breed cloud services and deliver them as a single, supported service to their customers.

In fact, I predict these very companies will be the force behind really vaulting adoption of cloud services forward. In my experience, if you ask any nonregulated enterprise that hasn't embraced the use of the cloud yet why it hasn't done so, the issue of trust almost always percolates to the top of the answers. People have a difficult time trusting things they can't see. That's made all the worse by the fact that large cloud providers have relatively impersonal phone-based support mechanisms in place (if they have human-based support at all).

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