Have Cloud Customers Now Got The Edge Over Their Suppliers?

With its 2015 purchase of cloud brokerage player Gravitant, IBM is ready to play in this new space – but what is the message for the UK public sector?

Posted 8 August 2016 by Gary Flood

Could G-Cloud users just been given a huge commercial advantage?

In November last year, IBM announced it had purchased Austin, Texas based Gravitant, a privately-held company that develops cloud-based software to enable organisations to easily plan, buy and manage – or “broker” – software and computing services from multiple suppliers across hybrid clouds.

That acquisition means IBM now has the means to help CIOs better manage any mixed private and public cloud environments so they can be integrated and digitally managed as one for greater performance and efficiency.

At the time, Big Blue said it planned to integrate Gravitant and what it brings to the table into its Global Technology Services unit, while its cloud teams plan to add its functionality into new Software-as-a-Service offerings, extending the company’s growing hybrid cloud solutions and capabilities.

But what’s happened since – and how is Cloud Brokerage relevant, if at all, to the public sector? THINK Digital Partners met with IBM’s Christy Lally, who leads all Gravitant and Cloud Brokerage work for UK and Ireland.

What is Cloud Brokerage, Christy? How would you define it?

Right now, CIOs in both the public and the commercial sectors are either thinking about moving to cloud and so are in the early stages of such a move, or have already made significant investment into such a transition – putting their data, their applications, their workload in the cloud, be that in Amazon Web Services, the likes of Azure and so forth.

What a Broker brings to this process is help you assess how you should do all this. Say you are just starting out: there has to be the right strong business case for moving to cloud; some workloads and applications may not be best to move at all as they may work very well where they are, so why would you move them? We can now help any customer in the early stage of their journey to cloud with both a complete rationale to help build the internal business case for a cloud move, as well as a phased approach on how to best get there.

Meanwhile, if you have already started – perhaps have several cloud providers and have spent a lot of money on cloud already – where a Cloud Brokerage service like ours can help is in terms of optimising all this cloud environment. After all, how do you know you are not paying too much? Got the right application on the right cloud? The right deal on an on-going basis? What are your policies for enabling your business to spin up cloud provision? A Broker enables you to optimise the deployment and usage of cloud capability across your entire organisation.

Sounds useful, thank you. What was interesting about adding Gravitant into the IBM cloud portfolio, Christy?

Gravitant is ultimately a tool we can use at every stage of the entire Cloud Brokerage process. For example, it’s got great capability around planning, i.e. how you are going to define which workloads or application to move to cloud and what the approach should be – and once all that’s decided, which cloud providers are you actually going to use, which is the best one to match with those requirements?

Secondly, the Gravitant tool provides the ability to configure and define a virtual datacentre. Think of it as giving you a ‘bill of materials’ before you actually buy anything, so you have great visibility of what you should be procuring. Even better, you can procure all that directly out of the tool’s built-in catalogue.

The final piece in the puzzle is the cloud management side – management of your new service providers, the building, spend from various departments, all via the software’s analytics capability. Put all this together, and you end up with a truly ‘end-to-end’ approach that enables single-payment management of the entire IT broker function, delivering the CIO complete clarity of what you’re provisioning, using – and what it’s costing you.

Is there a market for such Cloud Brokerage help in the UK right now?

I think there is still some education work being done; it’s very much early stages. The concept is very new, but I would say it is the start of a very fast growing trend.

What is the relevance of Cloud Brokerage for the public sector, Christy? Or is this really more for private sector enterprises?

It’s highly relevant. The government, quite rightly, is trying to optimise the use of cloud and with G-Cloud process is trying to offer a wide range of providers to provide the services that are required. That’s really the same objective as Brokerage’s objective. Plus, at IBM, our approach to brokerage is like a living, breathing RFP and tender process. Too many public sector organisations spend a lot of time and expense with IT procurement; they go to an RFI, they go to an RFP, they end up down selecting after subsequent workshops etc., and then, based on what seems to be the right fit, they then deploy.

That’s a very linear process with requirements up-front, then you funnel down, and eventually you get the right solution. The approach we take with Brokerage is to do effectively a dynamic RFI and RFP process… you are able to go back through a number of iterations, rebalance requirements as you need to through the discovery phases, and therefore the resulting output is more like your optimum solution.

Equally, in local government, those guys are facing the same challenges at a different scale and they could really benefit from applying the same thinking here.

So what then ultimately is your message to the public sector IT professional around Cloud Brokerage right now?

The call to action is that Cloud Brokerage will help make sure you get the most out of Cloud investment – delivering a complete view as to why, how, when, where, and which workloads and applications should be moved to the cloud.

But maybe more importantly, it puts you in a position of strength vis-a-vis the vendors. You can go back to any provider and say, ‘Look, it costs us x to work with you, but we know that there are other cloud suppliers who can map to our requirements who are cheaper.’ It puts you in a very strong negotiation position, and on a permanent basis, too.

It’s almost like giving yourself the cloud equivalent of a price comparison site which is always scanning and trawling the entire market to find out the best solutions are for you as a cloud customer. And that gives the cloud buying CIO enormous power they just never have had before previously have not had.

There are a number of supporting resources and guides you can download to find out more about Cloud Brokerage Services and IBM’s role in this emerging market: you can start off by finding our more about Gravitant here and check out this informative graphic