iPaaS: Integration for the Cloud Era

Integration platform as a service represents the next generation of application integration

No trend in the world of IT is having more impact on businesses than the move to cloud computing.  From enterprise applications like Salesforce.com, to infrastructure platforms like Amazon EC2, to social media services like Facebook and Twitter, the cloud is changing the IT landscape.  However, as companies move their applications en masse to the cloud, they are hitting a major roadblock for success, namely integration. While these same organizations have spent the last 15 years integrating their enterprise applications to break down the silos of information, they are now seeing a renewed problem of "cloud silos," which is becoming a major barrier for adoption.

This problem is not only impacting end-user organizations, but also for the providers of SaaS and cloud services as well. Because their customers are wary of creating new information silos and "spaghetti architectures" in the cloud, the integration problem is becoming the #1 blocker for new sales for these vendors. And when a new sale happens, integration becomes the most challenging and expensive component, sometimes even eclipsing the base subscription cost for the SaaS application.

This new set of integration problems requires a new platform for solving them. A new category is emerging called integration platform as a service (iPaaS). An iPaaS is a cloud integration platform, enabling connectivity to SaaS and cloud services and providing a secure method of accessing on-premise applications behind a firewall. iPaaS can solve the problem of cloud silos by providing businesses a way to integrate cloud-based services with each other as well as with on-premise enterprise applications. An iPaaS also offers a platform for SaaS and cloud vendors to build and host packaged integration solutions for their customers. Best of all, as a cloud service, these integrations can be deployed quickly, easily and with elastic capacity.

The emerging cloud architecture

Throughout the history of IT, new technologies have necessitated new software architectures.  Almost like clockwork, every decade brings a new trend that has ushered in a new architecture for the enterprise:  online transaction processing in the 1970s, client/server models in the 1980s, three-tier component computing in the 1990s, and SOA in the 2000s. 

With the emergence of the cloud as an underlying architectural topology in this decade, the structure of business systems is again undergoing a shift.

Cloud Integration Platform

 

The emerging IT software stack has three layers, each delivered on demand as a cloud service:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):  A virtualized environment on which systems can be deployed.  This provides the underlying computing resources for the deployment of enterprise systems.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Application infrastructure, both for the development of single applications and integration between multiple applications.   The middleware that enables the development of advanced applications.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS):  Application software.  This provides the user-facing applications that enable business.

Of these three layers of the stack, the first to emerge was software as a service.  In the early part of the 2000s the first SaaS applications emerged.  Salesforce.com was perhaps the most successful of the early SaaS provider.  The CRM market moved from a large and complex on-premise deployment to a cloud-based service at an unexpectedly rapid pace.  In the wake of salesforce.com’s success other CRM providers emerged followed by productivity applications such as email, conferencing, office tools and many more.  By the end of the decade, emerging SaaS offerings existed for almost every type of application with new competitors emerging every day.

Infrastructure as a service emerged next.  Services like Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and others emerged in the latter half of the decade.  The emergence of new technologies such as virtualization allowed shared data centers to achieve higher rates of resource utilization while offering dynamic expandability capacity and an avoidance of up front capital outlays.  In recent years the push towards infrastructure as a service has accelerated and a series of new competitors have emerged over the past few years. 

As IaaS and SaaS emerged and rapidly became a mainstay of many corporate IT environments, the only missing piece of the software stack was the platform layer.  The need to address this essential middle layer is central to the next step in the evolution of cloud services.

2011: The Year of PaaS

Gartner has called 2011 “the year of PaaS”.  As a rough outline of the software stack of the future has begun emerging, the standards upon which applications will be built in the cloud have remained relatively fluid.  Best practices have only just begun to be discerned.  However, the emergence of the software and infrastructure layers has necessitated a start of this process.

Within the category of platform as a service there are several components.  One surrounds application platform as a service (aPaaS).  These offerings range from container services to development tools to programming models and many more.  In recent years these elements of application platform as a service have slowly begun appearing in the market.  Offerings such as Force.com, Google App Engine, Heroku, Cloud Foundry, Microsoft Azure, and Engine Yard have recently begun to get some early adoption.  While the aPaas space is still relatively nascent, and adoption rates are still a fraction of what most analysts expect they will be in the future, aPaaS forms the foundation upon which many of today’s most popular SaaS applications have been built.

The piece of the puzzle that remains missing is a way to integrate across applications.  The emergence of a series of application platform elements without corresponding integration solutions is the genesis of the “cloud silos” problem.  As more applications move to this new architecture there is a growing need to link, integrate and orchestrate between these disparate components.  Developers require adapters for various applications, orchestration capabilities, flow management, and much more.  Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) fulfills this vital need.

iPaaS: The next generation of integration software

iPaaS platforms are now emerging, and CloudHub™ is leading the way.  iPaaS is the next generation integration platform for integrating cloud applications with one another and with on-premise and legacy applications.

There are many essential elements of an iPaaS solution. First and foremost it must have a robust set of connectors for SaaS and cloud services, with an ability to quickly add more as new services emerge in the fast-changing environment of cloud technologies. It should also recognize that most organizations will have a mix of on-premise and cloud-based assets, and provide a secure method of integrating with existing on-premise applications and infrastructure, including legacy systems (e.g., CICS, AS400). In contrast with inflexible "black box" SaaS integration tools currently on the market, an iPaaS should be open enough that integration solutions can be built and customized to address the nuances of typical SaaS integration scenarios. Developers must also be able to use familiar tools and processes to build and configure integration-style applications, without changing the way they work.

In addition to meeting developer needs, there are essential “nuts and bolts” requirements for an iPaaS.  Such solutions absolutely must be based on a robust core integration engine and be highly available, reliable, and secure. There must be good management tools to understand the performance of applications, monitor them and provide auditing and alerts. Finally, it must allow for seamless and transparent ramp-up of more capacity as the demand grows.

Despite a dearth of existing iPaaS offerings, Gartner sees iPaaS emerging as the next-generation integration technology, gradually replacing traditional forms of integration middleware. In coming years, iPaaS will provide the last essential component to realizing the benefits of a cloud architecture.

Even as this new architecture takes shape, however, the transition will not be immediate.  Businesses have generations of existing systems that must integrate with these new services.  These legacy applications must be accounted for in any new architecture.  A seamless transition is required.  According to Gartner “Users should plan for a gradual shift from on-premises IT architectures toward a hybrid model in which these architectures coexist and interoperate with public cloud-based architectures.”  While the evolution will not immediate, businesses need to begin the transition process today.

CloudHub: the world’s first iPaaS

CloudHub is the first iPaaS offering to fulfill this vital need.  It is a fully cloud-based solution, enabling customers to take advantage of the economics and elasticity of the cloud for their integration infrastructure. While existing integration services have attempted to put ad hoc integration at the hands of non-technical people using "black-box" UI tools, this approach is limited to very simple integration scenarios and provides little to no visibility into performance or problems at runtime. In contrast, CloudHub, with the leading Mule technology at its core, provides a true platform for developers to build packaged integration applications (iApps), putting specific integration solutions in the hands of end-user customers. The platform is open enough that iApps can be customized by technical people to address even complex integration scenarios, but the iApps themselves are simple enough for non-technical personnel to configure and administer on their own.

With CloudHub, developers can be up and running in hours, while ensuring that they have the scalability, flexibility and manageability that thousands of leading enterprises have come to expect from Mule. CloudHub offers users a library of out-of-the-box cloud connectors to integrate with popular SaaS offerings, cloud services, and social media platforms. At the same time, CloudHub provides a secure gateway to enterprise, allowing application teams to integrate and orchestrate their enterprise applications along with their cloud-based services.The platform is architected with ultimate high availability and reliability in mind, and also gives IT staff full manageability and visibility into flows, messages and other services. Of course, as a cloud service, end-users get the full benefits of the cloud, including multi-tenant isolation for data security and integrity, elasticity to scale with demand, the convenience of self-service sign-up and provisioning, and a cost-effective pay-as-you-grow model.

The iPaaS approach offered by CloudHub offers "no-brainer" benefits for SaaS vendors, system integrators, and end-user organizations alike. SaaS vendors can address their #1 barrier to sales: integration. With the CloudHub platform, there is no need to develop, maintain, or support custom integration code. Some SaaS vendors may offer iApps as an add-on service to their core offering, creating an incremental revenue stream, increasing customer stickiness and lowering customer churn. Finally, with CloudHub, SaaS vendors gain a critical edge over competitors, as they can dramatically reduce implementation times and offer the fastest "go-live."

For systems integrators, CloudHub can eliminate the most time-consuming and repetitive part of client implementations: the integration with other systems. With CloudHub, integrators create competitive differentiation through faster implementation times and more robust cloud integration solutions. The CloudHub integration platform helps system integrators to deliver business value to clients, rather than writing custom code, and can help to deepen relationships with clients through iApp subscriptions, which are inherently sticky.

Finally, for end-user organizations, CloudHub represents a major improvement over custom point-to-point integration, as the platform offers tested, reliable, and supported off-the-shelf iApps and connectors. Organizations that use CloudHub solutions avoid the maintenance costs and headaches associated with spaghetti integration architecture. They gain visibility and control into the integration performance, and the integration itself can easily scale and change with business demand.

Sign up for CloudHub today - as a fully self-service platform with no cost to start, there is nothing to risk or lose.