Ask any on-demand partisan about the integration issue, and you’ll hear two words: Web services. As SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Web services spread across enterprises and as on-demand providers outfit their offerings with Web services interfaces, data-level integration gets easier inside and outside the enterprise. But in most cases, Web services’ share of the integration pie remains small, which is one of the ideas behind Grand Central: Provide a complete services bus, which supports not only Web services but also legacy messaging protocols.
Grand Central, however, has more up its sleeve than helping on-demand providers and their customers to integrate. The company’s approach not only facilitates customization, it focuses on integrating hosted services before they touch the customer’s enterprise. “No one is going to buy a bunch of services and then buy a bunch of software to try to integrate them,” Minor says. For example, he adds, Grand Central routinely integrates Salesforce.com with ADP payroll processing so that a customer can cut commission checks without leaving the Salesforce.com environment.
As hosted integration gets more sophisticated, customers can also begin developing process-based applications on the host’s platform, an idea touted by Grand Central and by Salesforce.com with its sforce integration and application development platform. In fact, most on-demand providers — including Amazon and eBay, notes Salesforce.com’s Benioff — seem headed in this direction. Customers get a development environment in which they can create unique functionality that, unlike conventional enterprise apps, won’t break when a new version arrives.
Although the host’s API limits the functionality of such applications, the potential for hosted application development doesn’t stop with a handful of providers. As Eric Newcomer, CTO of enterprise integration company Iona, reminds us, one of the original ideas behind Web services was that applications could be built from components published as services across the Internet.
“I think we’re seeing an increase in interest in getting the components instead of the whole package,” Newcomer says. He also believes the reverse is true: Companies are trying to leverage their existing assets by service-enabling them and selling them on a subscription or pay-per-use plan.
For outside-the-firewall integration of multiple services on behalf of a single customer, federated identity management must be in. Grand Central offers this in Version 5.0.
But Todd Johnson of Jamcracker, whose Pivot Path solution helps on-demand providers handle user provisioning, cautions that properly integrating identity and security infrastructures among customers and hosted services is a tough problem — one that defeated more than a few first-wave ASPs.
In the end, the fear that an on-demand provider could fail remains the biggest single obstacle to large-scale enterprise adoption of software as a service. One can argue, as Grand Central’s Minor does, that on-demand providers can afford to invest in redundancy and uptime at levels individual enterprises can only dream of achieving. Maybe so, but customers must be confident that the provider is doing everything right with its architecture, core technologies, security, and choice of partners.