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As organizations move beyond their initial Software as a Service (SaaS) deployments, they're recognizing the increasing need to integrate data and processes between the public cloud and their on-premises databases and applications.
In fact, according to a study by 451 Research, a New York City-based analyst organization, migration and integration together make up the second-largest cloud computing pain point cited by IT decision makers, behind only security. Not surprisingly, a variety of vendors have moved in to address the challenge of the cloud integration process.
"It's still early in this market, just like it's still early in cloud computing," said Bernard Golden, senior director of the cloud computing enterprise solutions group at Dell. "But there's take-up of these solutions." While it's still a nascent market, it's one that he expects to grow a lot.
"For most organizations, as soon as they start buying or subscribing to a SaaS solution, they're either going to be forced immediately to think about integration requirements or they should right away, because inevitably they will be adding something on to it. No one application sits in a vacuum," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKStrategies, a Wellesley, Mass.-based consulting firm.
"The whole purpose of hybrid cloud is to be able to manage integration as data transcends different execution venues," said Carl Lehmann, research manager for enterprise architecture, cloud integration and business process management at 451 Research.
Enter the cloud integration platform.
Cloud integration's second wave -- and the 'integration process'
Compared to the "connectors" that vendors develop to enable integrations, "cloud integration platforms are more programmable, more customizable to handle not only a wider assortment of off the shelf apps, but a huge assortment of custom apps that were developed within organizations," Kaplan said. "As a result, you employ a platform that can be applied to meet those unique requirements across a variety of application sets."
Cloud integration platforms become particularly important as enterprises begin to experience what Lehmann describes as "the second wave of cloud integration." He said that occurs when SaaS deployments accelerate and when cross-functional processes need to exchange data among several disparate on-premises and SaaS offerings, and when other applications are offloaded to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) clouds.
"Here, the challenges of 'any-point-to-any-point' enterprise orchestration and control must be addressed," Lehmann said. "Cloud computing and all its instantiations must be reconciled with on-premises IT applications and managed within the context of an enterprise's overall business strategy, processes and operation."
Chris Purpura, vice president and general manager for the CloudHub integration platform at MuleSoft Inc., agreed. "In the early days of SaaS, IT was not involved in purchases or initial implementations. Now IT is being asked to rationalize and integrate these departmental SaaS applications with the rest of the company," Purpura said. His company's average customer has at least 10 SaaS applications requiring connectivity and integration into existing systems.
The whole value proposition for cloud integration platforms is that they're easy to acquire, deploy and use, said Kaplan, of THINKStrategies. "Increasingly, they need to be able to fit into a preexisting environment and possibly interoperate with additional SaaS apps that might be added to that environment," he said.
In the past, cloud integration was often complex and costly, Kaplan said, adding, "It could become a barrier to the successful use of those apps if you can't move data across the organization." Today, however, cloud integration platforms are increasingly affordable, experts said.
Cloud integration technology also allows users to build "an integration process," Lehmann said. "The integration process includes a series of activities and tasks that can be based on rules and conditions that add value to the integration process, which then adds value to the integration platforms," he explained. "In many cases, companies see value from the technology."
Choosing a cloud integration platform provider
Cloud integration platform providers can be divided into two groups. "Most of the vendors offering hybrid cloud integration technology come from the middleware market, which has traditionally addressed how companies integrate data and applications," Lehmann said.
As an example, he cites Informatica, a well-known middleware technology used for data and application integration. "Informatica adapted its technology for the cloud a few years back, and they're now offering Informatica Cloud," he said.
Other companies born in the cloud are reacting specifically to the opportunity, he added. Two examples from this group: SnapLogic and Dell's Boomi Group.
Following is a partial list of cloud integration platform vendors
-- List courtesy of 451 Research
Regardless of whether the vendor is a traditional middleware player or born in the cloud, the technology can run on-premises, in the cloud or both. "It's becoming more common to develop the integration in the cloud, then run it on-premises or in the cloud, then report back to an admin console for performance monitoring and management, which can be either on-premises or in the cloud," Lehmann said. "It has elements that exist in both in most cases. The good vendors have the capacity to create an integration process and run it anywhere."
Many large enterprises have significant investments in various types of integration technology, and they want it to evolve to work on both sides of their firewalls, Lehmann continued. "That's what Informatica has been doing with Informatica Cloud. That's what Dell has done with its Boomi technology. The good platforms have a common code base that operates equally well on either side of the firewall," Lehmann said.
Purpura said MuleSoft's Anypoint Platform is the only platform that supports ground-to-cloud deployment (with integration and connectivity running inside the firewall), cloud-to-cloud deployment (running fully in the public cloud) or cloud-to-ground deployment (also running entirely in the public cloud).
Running a cloud integration platform
Running a cloud integration platform in the cloud offers the same benefits you might expect from any other type of SaaS. "One of the biggest issues for on-premises software is you have to find resources and assign someone to install and configure it, and nurse it along," said Golden, of Dell. "And then this kind of plumbing software runs into the same problem as other software: If it gets popular, you need more resources to run it on. You get into issues of not enough budget or room for it in the data center."
But many of those on-premises challenges -- including installing the platform and managing the integration process -- go away when companies use cloud integration technology as a service, Golden said.
"If the use cases are mostly SaaS-to-SaaS, then it really makes zero sense to bring the integration platform internal to the company, routing all data in and out of the firewall, etc.," Purpura said. "In most cases, we are starting to see more and more hybrid deployments, where the client splits the integration problem."
First, those customers will use on-premises integration to provide internal application program interfaces (APIs) for legacy systems, he said. "They will then use the cloud-based platform for building new applications that utilize SaaS or mobile, having those new services call the legacy service APIs running on the ground."
It's important for IT teams to take a hard look at the options a specific vendor offers, Kaplan said, listing them: "First, there's the scope of the platform capabilities. They are going to vary. Second is the deployment method. Third is the packaging and pricing associated with them. Fourth is the primary focus of those capabilities. Some may be focused on one type of app versus another."
Equally important, Kaplan said: Almost all players have established a network of third-party vendors that they created a federation around in terms of preconfigured integrations. "Look at the strength of that partner ecosystem," he advised.