Virtualization

How to Integrate With the Cloud

Choosing the right integration solution

Today, you have a choice of where your integration technology resides. It can live in a cloud, be bolted into a rack in your data center, or install on a server in your data center like conventional software. There are good and bad points to each.

Using a SaaS integration service to integrate a SaaS application can be a highly effective, low-effort option. In this approach -- offered by Boomi, Informatica, Pervasive Software, and others -- the idea is to supply a multitenanted integration engine that will be shared by many, but behaves as if it were local. You get all the advantages of using a cloud-based service, such as no hardware or software footprint and pay-as-you-go pricing. Prices start at about $1,000 per month and goes up to roughly $5,000 per month depending upon the number of connections and data transferred.

But cloud-delivered integration has its downsides. First of all, SaaS integration has the same problem as SaaS in general: Its availability is in the hands of the provider. With integration, an outage may bring down multiple applications, and latency and performance issues may be beyond your control. You also need some way of dealing with interfaces that are not Port 80 compliant and, thus, can't transfer data outside the firewall. (Many on-demand integration providers still require a small piece of software that runs locally to deal with the Port 80 issue.) Additionally, while the pay-as-you-go pricing seems attractive, you may discover that purchasing integration software outright is actually more cost effective over the long haul.

The appliance approach to integration was brought to us by Cast Iron Systems as a way of providing its clients with preconfigured hardware and software solutions. Some configuration and/or programming may be required to meet your exact needs, but these integration-in-a-box solutions do arrive with the ability to connect to popular SaaS providers, such Salesforce.com, along with any number of local enterprise applications. Indeed, integration appliance vendors target the SaaS-to-enterprise integration space.

The advantage of an appliance-based approach is the ease of installation and configuration, as well as the price point, which begins at about $50,000 per appliance (not including yearly maintenance). The main drawback is that many appliances provide less robust integration than their software counterparts.

If you want more, you'll need to turn to good old EAI (enterprise application integration) software, which delivers a broad set of general-purpose integration capabilities, including SaaS-to-enterprise integration. IBM, Informatica Oracle, Software AG, and others offer integration software products with adapters that support hundreds of enterprise systems.

The biggest disadvantage of EAI software is the cost. You must maintain hardware and software in your data center, on top of paying as much as a half a million dollars for each license, with a yearly fee for program maintenance.

The great advantage of EAI software is maturity. This is typically fifth- or sixth-generation technology, well-tested and feature-rich. It can provide core integration services for internal systems as well as connectivity to the cloud. If you're already running a large enterprise IT operation, very likely EAI is already in place, so you're talking at most an incremental increase in licensing cost.

Complex data integration, with many sources and many targets, pretty much demands an EAI solution. But as cloud- and appliance-based solutions continue to improve, they will emerge as viable options as well.

Building a bridge to the cloud

The good news is that we've been working on the SaaS-to-enterprise integration problem for almost 10 years now. We know what works and what does not. Moreover, many single-purpose solutions that focus on cloud-to-enterprise integration, such as appliances and on-demand integration technology, have emerged to solve this problem at a relatively low cost.

But in approaching integration, you still need to think hard about your current business needs and what you'll require in the future. In fact, the richness of the API set may well be a key factor in determining which SaaS application you choose in the first place. Smart integration means greater business efficiency. If you ignore integration until data coherency becomes a problem, you'll spend time on workarounds or replacement solutions rather than reaping the benefits of greater business efficiency.

This article, "How to integrate with the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Read more about cloud computing in InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Channel.

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