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Field Report: Appliance-based Integration Offers a Shortcut to Salesforce.com

Northeastern University deploys Cast Iron's integration appliance to link PeopleSoft, DB2 and an on-demand sales force automation application.

Until a few months ago, Northeastern University in Boston relied on a central development office for all fund-raising. To free each college to pursue fund raising on its own, the University decided to decentralize by setting up separate teams on Salesforce.com. The challenge for Information Services (IS) was linking up Salesforce with PeopleSoft financial applications and an underlying DB2 database. One more thing: IS had to complete the project within 100 days.

"We weren't going to go off and buy a middleware integration platform to do this because we faced such a tight timeline," says IS director Rick Mickool. "We use [IBM] MQ Series, but we don't use their orchestration application. We looked at [Microsoft] BizTalk, but the short time frame made that impractical."

Mickool learned about the Cast Iron Systems integration appliance from Salesforce.com, so Mickool took a demo appliance for a trial run. "We wanted to get familiar with the interface, do a few basic data integrations from flat files and create a connection to PeopleSoft and DB2," he says. "We discovered that it was incredibly fast and straightforward. There was a lot of power to do integration with PeopleSoft, but it also gave us a platform we could build our whole integration strategy around."

Cast Iron's Salesforce.com appliance costs about $125,000, but Mickool opted for the vendor's subscription-based plan, which ranges from $3,000 to $7,000 per month depending on the number of integration endpoints. Northeastern opted for two multi-endpoint boxes for redundancy. The project got underway last November, and the IS directory says, "We were up and doing integration within two days, and my integration architect handled the majority of the project within a few weeks."

There are more than 100 student, registration, financial and other systems at Northeastern running on everything from SQL Server, Oracle, .Net, and Java to IDMS and Cobol, so Mickool sees a bright future for the appliance-based approach. Contrasting the appliance with conventional custom development, he says it cuts would-be two-week projects down to half a day.

"This is going to be much more than just Salesforce.com integration for alumni development," he says. "A Web service can be an endpoint on the box, so you can do integration from Web service to Web service or a Web service to anything in our enterprise -- Salesforce, databases, flat files, message queues, e-mail, FRP, you name it."