Cloud computing's missing link

Independent cloud-based services help you integrate SaaS apps with locally installed software

We've all heard the usual objection to cloud computing: "Why the hell should I cede responsibility for security and availability to someone else?" But it's a straw man argument because enterprises do it all the time.

ADP handles payroll for a huge swath of American business; corporations outsource enormous chunks of IT to the big consultancies. Either you trust a service provider, whether it's Amazon Web Services or KPMG, or you don't.

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So after trust, what's the biggest cloud issue? I would argue that it's integration -- at least for the area of cloud computing known as SaaS (software as a service). Naturally, you start by evaluating the features and usability of a SaaS application as you would any other app. If it measures up, the next question is: How well can you integrate the SaaS app's data and processes with the apps already running in your data center?

Application integration is seldom trivial. First you need to get the data integration right, so data about customers, products, and so on can be shared, synced, and reconciled. Then you need to worry about process integration -- when a payment clears in one app, for example, a pick-and-pack order kicks off in another. EAI vendors have been supplying middleware solutions to these problems for decades.

Bob Moul, CEO of Boomi, argues that the best way to integrate locally installed apps with SaaS apps is to enlist a cloud-based middleware provider. His AtomSphere integration platform is a type of SaaS play in itself, with an easy Web interface that enables customers to map data, transform it, and integrate processes among locally installed and cloud-based applications.

As with conventional EAI software, you get a library of connectors for specific applications and the ability to orchestrate processes across apps. Because AtomSphere lives in the cloud, however, you can avoid a key pitfall of locally installed EAI -- application versioning that breaks integrations -- because Boomi monitors those changes and updates its connectors to match.

Not surprisingly, a lot of Boomi's business comes from Salesforce engagements. Along with being the most popular SaaS app, Salesforce sports an API that is "very mature, very robust, very well designed and built," says Moul. In addition, Boomi lists 21 other SaaS partners, so if you integrate with, say, NetSuite, you can share data easily with the SaaS HR provider Workday, for example.

According to Moul, SaaS applications have evolved from outside-the-firewall silos to agents of change in the next phase in integration. "SaaS has brought us new API maturity. Multitenacy forced APIs to expose customizations in metadata," he says.

Boomi isn't the only company in the integration-as-a service space. Informatica and Pervasive both have offerings, and Moul expects other more conventional EAI providers to jump in. I can also imagine that, as with conventional EAI software, cloud-based solutions will have many of the same lock-in liabilities. But it's exciting to see this space heating up a bit. As SaaS providers integrate more closely with each other and integration between customers and providers gets easier, one more barrier to cloud computing will fall.

This article, "Cloud computing's missing link," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and follow the latest developments on cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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