First came the immense libraries of application adapters and connectors, from the likes of Informatica, Tibco, Progress Software, and Sterling Commerce. Then the enterprise service bus proved to be a great invention for translating exchanges between running applications, using a messaging structure that was already resident in the enterprise to activate connections rather than build each one point-to-point separately.
Why can't we build a service bus that connects everything to everything, using the Internet as the connective tissue? At one time, Grand Central Communications, the firm started by Cnet founder Halsey Minor, promised to do this, but it was too far ahead of its time, had limited means to tackle an endless problem, and suffered from too little ammunition to throw at a huge, ongoing business problem.
On the other hand, if you sit down with Gaurav Dhillon, co-founder of Informatica, you realize he's thinking along the Internet as service bus lines. The TCP/IP network is the message bus and an Internet server can act as an integration hub, not just for many applications at one company but for hundreds of applications at thousands of companies. To do this, the adapters and connectors need to be carefully cataloged as to version and release, and the difficulties of reaching the connector and forging a customer connector must be minimized.
His firm pursuing this goal is SnapLogic, and while generating 63 or so connectors to the most commonly used applications -- PeopleSoft, SAP, Siebel Systems, Salesforce.com CRM -- he's less focused on what his firm can accomplish by itself in building the library than what application suppliers might accomplish if they brought their own connectors to his hub.
The Apple App Store model "is absolutely the right model. We are implementing a (previously) rigid idea in a new way," he says. Everyone goes to one place to get software known to work with the device they're using. That software can be updated through a central source, and each version can be tracked and made available, as the customer needs. If enough people use the hub, apps start to flow into it as the best distribution point.
All of this sounds a little optimistic. The business world is infinitely more varied than the family of technical lookalikes known as the iOS devices. If Dhillon has made it as easy as he says to produce "snaps" or links between an enterprise application and his hub, then this will prove an experiment worth watching.
In the meantime, I'll maintain that if the cloud has generated an integration problem, then somewhere in the cloud lies part or most of the solution.