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Making cloud-to-cloud integration strategy, tools decisions

Cloud expert Jeff Kaplan delivers in-depth advice on cloud-to-cloud integration, as well as tool and services selection criteria.

Cloud expert Jeff Kaplan delivers in-depth advice on cloud-to-cloud integration use cases, as well as tool and services selection and the risks of using multiple clouds, in this podcast. Tailored for enterprise architects, CIOs and cloud decision makers, this interview explores when and when not to use multiple cloud providers, as well as evaluation tips for choosing automated integration products. Kaplan, managing director of consulting firm Think Strategies, also advised on managing data flows in integrated cloud environments, must-have integration tool capabilities, and other challenges involved in integrating disparate clouds.

Editor's note: Following is a transcript of a podcast on cloud-to-cloud integration by Jeffrey M. Kaplan, managing director of the Think Strategies cloud consulting firm. This transcript has been edited for clarity and editorial style.

Welcome to Cloud to Cloud Integration, a podcast on SearchCloudApplications, a TechTarget site. Our speaker is Think Strategies' founder and managing director Jeff Kaplan. Founded in 2001, Think Strategies is an independent strategic consulting firm focused on software as a service (SaaS), cloud computing, managed services and other innovative technology service solutions.

I'm your moderator Jan Stafford, executive editor of SearchCloudApplications. Welcome to our podcast studio, Jeff.

Jeff Kaplan: Hey, it's a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Let's get started with our questions. First one is pretty basic, what is cloud-to-cloud integration and what are the most common use cases for it?

Kaplan: Well there are a lot of clouds out there as you are probably well aware, and our listeners as well are probably being deluged with offers to use a variety of those cloud services that seem to multiply every day. And obviously as they take advantage of these new and more powerful cloud services, they want to be sure they can pull together the various applications and data that are being generated and reside across those various clouds, and thus there's a need for integration, not only across clouds, but with their legacy or on-premises applications, systems and data, as well.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages for a company in using a hybrid approach with multiple cloud vendors?

Kaplan: Well obviously, the more clouds you use, the more complicated the integration process becomes. But in today's world, where there are a lot of players who are offering differing cloud services for different purposes, there are in fact many organizations who are trying to take advantage of best-of-breed cloud service providers as opposed to possibly singling out a strategic service provider to meet all of their objectives. So the tradeoff of course is that they have to determine how much integration work they want to do in between to pull the various third-party resources together.

So when is a single vendor approach to the cloud not appropriate?

Kaplan: Well it all depends upon your level of comfort when it comes to relying on a single vendor for any purpose, whether it's for your cloud services, for your hardware or software needs, or something in between. And what we've told our clients is that they need to take a careful look at how they allocate their cloud service requirements across an assortment of service providers.

There are a number of providers who are trying to position themselves as strategic service providers in the cloud environment. And there are others who are focusing in on specific niches to meet the particular needs of specific industries, or for specific kinds of applications or use cases. So it really depends upon the requirements of the enterprise, as well as their comfort level in terms of the level of dependency they want to have on a single vendor.

Could you give some examples of price of services for automated cloud-to-cloud integration?

Kaplan: Well pricing is a question that comes up very often and it's going to vary widely depending upon the kind of applications and services and data you're trying to integrate. Now I should say data sources you're trying to integrate. So I'm not going to be able to give you a specific price point, because in fact there are a variety of variables that are going to come into play. But maybe it is useful to talk about those variables so people understand the pricing algorithm, if you will, that they need to take into consideration. And that algorithm is based upon a couple of considerations.

First of all, the way in which integration happens can vary across a variety of environments. Integration can happen of simply taking advantage of an application program interface, an API. It can happen taking into consideration standalone connectors in integration software. Or it could even happen at the platform level by using a growing assortment of platform as a service alternatives to pull together various applications, as well.

On top of those technological and software integration tools, if you will, sits a widening array of integration service providers, namely professional service companies, systems integrators, and other companies who are basically the arms and legs of the integration marketplace who are adding their own professional service fees where those happen to be appropriate.

So for the decision makers, they have to take a look at the nature of the integration challenge they face and determine the proper technology, software and skills they require in order to overcome that integration requirement.

Beyond price, what are the most important selection criteria for cloud-to-cloud integration services or products? What are the must-haves?

Kaplan: Well, the more things change, the more they remain the same. And in the case of the cloud, what we're talking about is the same kind of criteria that you would use between almost any other technology or software area.

First and foremost, you want to find a proven solution that has already been utilized in the marketplace and has demonstrated that it can in fact bridge the gap between the cloud services you're trying to integrate, and has met that need in a scale-able fashion. Because what we're seeing in today's market is that many companies will start small in their use of a cloud service and then incrementally grow their deployment, and, therefore, having a scale-able integration tool or service at your disposal is going to be important, and having one that caters to the specific needs of that integration requirement, that is, if it has to do with an industry-specific application or service, or possibly an application to an application requirement.

Again, finding the right kind of integration tool backed, by the way, by an established -- or at the very least financially viable -- integration service provider, because you don't want to be relying on a tool that may be supported by a vendor that could be going away any time soon. So these are criteria that are not new, but they are even more important in the world of the cloud.

Are there inherent risks in integrating multiple parts of clouds and cloud services? I know interoperability used to be a big issue. Is it still? What about increased risk of data straying or not getting where it should?

Kaplan: Well there's always a risk when you are trying to pull together multiple services, multiple data sources, multiple software applications and systems. The way we like to talk about it at Think Strategies is that integration issues don't go away in the cloud. In some ways, they can become more complicated, because, again, we're relying on a wider array of best-of-breed types of solutions in many cases. But what we also believe is that the nature of the integration problem can be simpler, because the industry as a whole has recognized that it needs to comply with some de facto standards set around APIs and Open Stack-style configurations or architectures.

So, as we put it, the line between the dots, or, more specifically, the distance between the dots, has been narrowed in the cloud. So integration tasks that may have taken months, or even years, now can be completed in days or weeks.

Are there other key concerns in cloud-to-cloud integration that we missed so far? Are there other crucial do's and don'ts that our listeners -- who are CIOs, enterprise architects and developers -- should know?

Kaplan: Yeah, I think one important consideration is the nature of the integration use case. That is, there are going to be cases in which the application requirements are more transactional in nature and [are] more dynamic, versus those where they could be more batch-oriented, so to speak, and static. And in those cases, you're going to need different kinds of integration tools to support one versus the other. So taking a look at the nature of the business process being supported is just as important as the nature of the cloud services being integrated.

I was wondering one more thing, Jeff. Does the location of the cloud providers make a difference when you're choosing if you're choosing to use multiple cloud services?

Kaplan: Well, [are] you referring to the geographic location of those cloud services providers?


Kaplan: It can, in a sense that what we're finding is that there are certain geographic considerations that need to be taken into account.

First of all, from the point of view of security of course, there are many countries that they're very concerned about data leaving their nationalistic borders. Secondly, there are countries who have an affinity towards certain kinds of architectural configurations for their cloud services that might vary from region to region. So those kinds of things can be a complicating factor. And of course, the variance in terms of integration skills across geographies can also impact the ability of an organization to successfully integrate cloud to cloud environments on a global basis.

Thanks, Jeff. That was great information in this podcast. Thank you so much.

Kaplan: My pleasure. Thanks again for having me.

This is Jan Stafford, executive editor of SearchCloudApps, signing off on today's podcast, Cloud to Cloud Integration, with our speaker, Think Strategies' founder and managing director Jeff Kaplan. Thank you for joining us.

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