There’s no question that Cloud Computing, enabled by the maturity of the web, has become the latest computing platform and is here to stay. One of the key reasons behind its universal appeal is that the cloud offers real benefits to both business and IT constituents.
Business users were first attracted to cloud applications (Software-as-a-Service) from vendors like salesforce.com, Concur and SuccessFactors because they were easy to provision, easy to manage, easy to use and offered a “pay as you go” subscription licensing model. More recently, Amazon.com burst onto the scenes with its Amazon Web Services (AWS) (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) offerings, providing similar benefits to IT managers and allowing them to do more with less.
Of course, cloud infrastructure is not very useful without software applications that run on top of them, and cloud applications are not very valuable without access to the critical corporate data that is typically locked away in various on premise systems. So for cloud applications to offer maximum value to their users, they need to provide a simple mechanism to import or load external data, export or replicate their data for reporting or analysis purposes, and to keep their data synchronized with on premise applications.
That brings us to cloud integration. Excluding hand-coding, or outsourcing to a third party consulting company, there are three types of technologies and approaches for cloud integration that customers can license:
- Traditional enterprise integration tools deployed on premise with special connectors to access cloud based applications. This is a typical approach for IT organizations who have already standardized on an integration tool for integrating their enterprise applications, and now looking to extend that capability to include cloud applications. Many integration vendors are also providing subscription based licensing options to help customers license their technologies for term-based projects. Examples include data integration technologies like Informatica’s PowerCenter product, message based EAI/ESB technologies, and appliance based integration tools.
- Traditional enterprise integration tools hosted in the cloud. This approach is similar to the first option, except that the equipment for installing the integration software is hosted by a third party provider so that the customer does not have to worry about procuring and managing the hardware, or installing the integration software. This is a good fit for IT organizations or systems integrators who have the skills and resources to build integration jobs and manage them on behalf of their end users or customers, but who would like to avoid installing separate hardware in their customer’s environment. It is a good fit for cloud-to-cloud integrations, but requires a secure VPN tunnel to access on-premise data. An example of a hosted integration technology is Informatica’s PowerCenter Cloud Edition on Amazon EC2. Customers can bring their own license or simply go to AWS and license the Informatica software by the hour.
- Integration-as-a-Service or On Demand Integration offerings - These are SaaS applications that are designed to deliver integration securely over the internet, and are able to integrate cloud applications to on-premise systems, cloud-to-cloud applications, or on-premise to on-premise applications without requiring the users to setup a VPN connection or provide any special access through their firewall. This approach is a good fit for companies who care the most about ease of use, ease of maintenance, time to deployment, and are on a tight budget. It is appealing to small and mid-sized companies, as well as large enterprises with a departmental application deployment. It is also a good fit for companies who plan to use their SaaS Administrator or Business Analyst as the primary resource for managing and maintaining their integration work. A good example is Informatica’s On Demand Integration Services.
No single approach is a perfect fit for all scenarios, and the right approach for any company will depend on some of the following factors:
- Who will build and maintain integration jobs – In-house IT resources, the application administrator/business analyst or both?
- The scope and complexity of the project – Is it a pilot project, a small departmental project or a strategic enterprise deployment?
- The size of the company – what is their budget for an integration tool and do they prefer a buy vs lease approach?
The cloud integration market is still evolving, and many vendors and analysts are using “cloud integration” terminology to refer to very different types of solutions for integrating cloud applications to on premise systems. Customers who are in the market for a cloud integration solution need to do their homework, and make sure they clearly understand their priorities and what’s most important for their company based on their resource availability, budget, and technical aptitude. They should ask the vendor for a proof-of-concept in their own environment to validate things like self provisioning, no coding, ease of use and time to deployment. Pick a solution and a vendor that can best satisfy your short term needs, but also one that can grow with your requirements.
Just like Cloud Computing, Cloud Integration is about simplifying and democratizing technology so that it could be adopted by a much broader audience. If you still think of integration as an obscure and complex science that can only be managed by highly skilled IT resources, think again. You will be surprised by the advancements that the industry has made in this area, and we are still in the first inning…