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IPaaS: Confusion around cloud and on-premises app-integration

Experts consider iPaaS as the fastest growing integration middleware approach, though cloud capabilities remain confusing.

Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is poised to set the integration middleware market on fire -- just wait a bit. Predictions by IT industry researchers position iPaaS as the fastest-growing application integration approach over the next five years. Right now, however, there's some confusion about iPaaS on the business and CIO side, largely due to the complexity of cloud services and on-premises application integration, as well as providers' conflicting messages about iPaaS capabilities.

Figuring out which integration situations get value from iPaaS usage is a tough call for CIOs and cloud and application architects today -- one made harder by confusing information. Vendors and app experts are not "effectively communicating the real advantages of iPaaS when compared to traditional integration approaches," Ovum senior analyst Saurabh Sharma told me recently. Indeed, he said, some major players' definition of iPaaS includes "imaginary integration capabilities that no solution can ever deliver."

The hype surrounding cloud integration is louder than 76 trombones, drowning out the quiet truth that "very, very few mission-critical, complex-integration applications have even been considered for cloud migration," said Tom Nolle, cloud and IT consultant and president of CIMI Corp. "That means that most integration tasks are still dealing with largely static elements, or they're using directory-based integration of SOA components." In other words, the much-touted, huge market opportunity for iPaaS tools and services isn't a reality today, Nolle told me.

Ovum's research confirms Nolle's state-of-iPaaS statement: Only 6.9% of total global integration middleware spending was on iPaaS in 2012, Sharma said. But market researchers have great expectations for the growth of cloud-based integration platforms (including iPaaS). London-based Ovum sees a compound annual growth rate of 31% between 2012 and 2018, and a tally of $3.7 billion by the end of 2018. Gartner Inc. also sees a rosy future for iPaaS, predicting that 35% of large and midsized enterprises will be using some type of iPaaS offering.

More businesses will use iPaaS largely because major cloud and middleware vendors are on board, the latter including IBM Cast Iron, Dell Boomi, Informatica, MuleSoft and SnapLogic. These vendors are endorsing iPaaS usage for filling out existing integration capabilities. Also, Software as a Service vendors are partnering with these and other third-party iPaaS vendors to offer packaged integration solutions.

What's inside iPaaS?

Typically, the platform includes pre-built connectors, business rules, maps and transformations that enable faster development of integration flows, largely with drag-and-drop tools, Sharma said. Working together, these automated tools connect applications deployed across different environments. Some iPaaS solutions offer a connector development kit for the development of connectors for custom and legacy applications, and can also support mobile and social application integration scenarios. Lately, iPaaS releases have included capabilities for managing data quality and application programming interfaces.

A good use case for iPaaS is a business application portfolio that has a mix of on-premises, cloud and business-to-business (B2B) integration. Sharma suggested that iPaaS is a good fit for on-premises-to-on-premises integration, situations for which organizations have used heavy-weight and extensive approaches such as service-oriented architecture (SOA).

That doesn't mean that iPaaS should replace SOA, experts say. Sharma advised usage of traditional SOA for complex integration scenarios that involve low-latency messaging and data-intensive transactions within and between enterprises. A recent Gartner report counsels large businesses to use iPaaS for cloud services integration but keep the traditional, on-premises integration middleware stack, which would include SOA, enterprise service busses, managed field transfer andB2B gateway software.

Managing iPaaS

All this good news and advice about iPaaS is tempered by problems that its technologies aren't handling yet -- most importantly, managing multidimensional optimization. The crux, Nolle said, is that tracking applications residing in the cloud and users in the field is hard. These "two levels of don't know, compounded by the variables in connectivity that the uncertainty produces, is a major headache," Nolle said. Some iPaaS vendors, such as EnterpriseWeb, are addressing this issue today; but the problem is so complex that it will take technological and process leaps to solve it. "I don't think it's a matter of messages and transforms," Nolle said. "That we can build large-scale message systems and the algorithms is well-known." That won't be enough to cover multidimensionality challenges, which will increase as mobile proliferates the enterprise.

In spite of the benefits of iPaaS, the tough integration choices for CIOs and software architects aren't going away. The multidimensionality of systems and user behavior is one issue, but the big challenge will be choosing the mix of cloud and on-premises middleware to support application integration. to use iPaaS and Platform as a Service services from several vendors, because just one provider won't be able to cover all the functionality needed.

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