Editor's note: As the head of Dell's Boomi unit, Chris McNabb is in the business of providing the cloud service he describes here, referred to by Gartner and others as integration-platform-as-a-service.
If you haven't already started your organization's journey to the cloud, make no mistake -- you will. Over the last two years, the cloud has evolved from a somewhat risky way to lower costs to a highly reliable way to increase business agility and accelerate business processes.
And it's now deemed secure enough to encourage many organizations, including the US government, to adopt a "cloud-first" strategy for all IT growth. That's why, for instance, Gartner, in its Public Cloud Services forecast, sees the software-as-a-service market growing at a compound annual growth rate of 20.2% from 2011 through 2017, and annualized SaaS end-user spending growing from a base of $14.4 billion in 2011 to $45.6 billion in 2017.
So how do you embrace the cloud without disrupting existing business processes? How do you integrate SaaS-based CRM with your other marketing applications, or cloud-based HR with your accounting systems, or online collaboration with your existing project management solution?
[Want to learn more about who is offering an iPaaS? Read Informatica Adds Integration Options As Cloud Demand Multiplies.]
Traditional middleware, with its "hub-and-spoke" architecture, simply can't handle the complexities of the cloud. Channeling data from various applications (the spokes) through a central bus (the hub) works well for a limited set of applications in tightly controlled on-premises IT environments, but anyone who works with traditional middleware understands that these projects are complex and expensive, and they typically require a significant commitment of resources and months or even years of lead time.
In addition, the rise of hybrid IT, with its mix of on-premises and cloud environments, is making middleware impractical for many enterprise integration use cases. Why adopt the cloud for greater agility and cost savings only to suffer from long integration development cycles and high licensing, maintenance and support costs? And why rely on an architecture that was never designed to support the secure movement of data between on-premises and cloud environments -- and increases security risks?
Integration in the cloud
The alternative to traditional middleware is to perform integration across a cloud-based platform that supports the various integration scenarios presented by hybrid IT, including cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-on-premises, on-premises-to-on-premises, and B2B and EDI integration scenarios. Cloud-based integration, often referred to as integration platform as a service (iPaaS), replaces middleware's hub-and-spoke model with a distributed model that easily scales to meet today's high-volume requirements.
What are some of the advantages of cloud-based integration? First, it eliminates much of middleware's complexity. For instance, a visual design interface and prebuilt connectors between applications eliminates programming, while a cloud-based platform relieves organizations of the need to manage infrastructure and software. The result is dramatically faster and simpler integration projects.
Designed for the realities of today's highly distributed IT infrastructure, cloud-based integration supports common transport methods, standards-based web services, and universal translation capabilities for non-standard data formats. As a result, developers can get up to speed quickly on just one tool -- even a formal training course takes only three days -- and still support all of their organizations' use cases.
Cloud-based integration can also replace legacy ETL and batch data transfers with low-latency, near-real-time integration processing via web services and APIs, enabling far greater agility. Finally, with a single cloud-based integration platform, all active integrations can easily be managed and monitored using a single Web-based console.
Cloud-based integration is ready for prime time
As with any relatively new technology model, only time and experience can silence doubts related to reliability, scalability, and performance. However, the technology underlying cloud-based integration is already well proved, and even Internet-based latency is rarely an issue, because in real-time cloud-to-cloud integration scenarios, the amount of data that passes between apps at any given time is typically quite small. The resulting delay of only 1 to 2 seconds meets most business requirements. Today 17 competitors are included in Gartner's first iPaaS Magic Quadrant, which says that the "iPaaS market is poised to dramatically grow over the next five years." And based on published vendor statistics, iPaaS vendors have already supported more than 400 million customer integration processes a month.
In fact, companies are increasingly using iPaaS for mission-critical tasks. LinkedIn, for example, is automating its lead-to-cash process by integrating Salesforce.com Sales Cloud with Oracle E-Business Suite. It's also using its cloud-based integration platform to automatically bring multiple disparate data sources into Salesforce.com Sales Cloud to help the LinkedIn sales team identify high probability opportunities.
Similarly, GoPro is using iPaaS to quickly connect NetSuite with value-added networks and AS2 connections in order to meet the strict EDI compliance standards of large retailers that sell GoPro cameras. The solution also performs a SAP translation of XML data across a large volume of transactions to allow for complex movements of inventory within virtual locations.
Your inevitable journey to the cloud doesn't have to be fraught with missed flights, lost luggage, and unnecessary expenses. By considering an application integration strategy that was specifically designed for the cloud, you stand a much better chance of arriving at your destination on time, intact, and in solid financial shape.
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