Integration: The Cloud's Big Challenge
There's an elephant in the cloud. And that elephant is integration.
Although cloud evangelists are quick to point out the benefits of cloud computing technologies, enterprise leaders have identified integration as a major obstacle to successfully adopting and deploying Software as a Service (SaaS) and other web-based applications.
In a recent survey conducted by consulting firm Saugatuck Technology, 32% of respondents indicated that integration between SaaS and on-premises legacy applications is a top concern, second only to data security and privacy at 39%. Of the 270 executives surveyed by technology analyst Gartner, 56% cited integration as the primary reason for choosing to transition from a SaaS solution to an on-premises solution.
While SaaS applications promise greater flexibility and lower costs, they also present new challenges to the enterprise. With the procurement of each new SaaS application, enterprise data becomes segregated into cloud silos, a problem exacerbated by the increasing number of vendors in the SaaS market and the ease of obtaining such services.
The adoption of other cloud computing models such as Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and the growing popularity of mobile applications and social media platforms means that additional data and processes are also moving outside of the firewall and into the cloud. In light of these recent developments, enterprise leaders need to think about how their applications will talk to each other and devise effective strategies for integrating both within the cloud and between the cloud and enterprise.
Integration, of course, raises another set of questions. The following points are worth keeping in mind when considering cloud integration solutions:
- Security: remains a concern for cloud users and is complicated by the challenge of integration. A cloud integration solution must be capable of authenticating and authorizing access to resources, both in the cloud and on-premises. Moreover, it needs to be able to encrypt and store data (particularly in a multitenant environment) and comply to different regulations such as SSAE 16. With the growing number of SaaS applications, mobile apps and social media services that need to access enterprise data, there needs to be a secure means of connecting the cloud to the enterprise without compromising the firewall.
- Flexibility and Scalability: Point to point integration solutions can provide basic SaaS to SaaS connectivity, but they are not sophisticated or flexible enough to handle more complex scenarios. Cloud integration solutions must be able to support a variety of integration flows moving in both directions across the cloud and enterprise and scale up as the number of endpoints increases.
- Management: For enterprise users, SaaS applications offer convenience and ease of use while shifting the burden of maintenance and upgrades to the provider. The trade-off, however, is that users have much less visibility and control over their SaaS applications, especially when it comes to integration. Cloud integration solutions should include rich monitoring capabilities in order to provide the visibility and control over information flows and other performance attributes currently lacking in SaaS applications.
- Open Platform: Some SaaS vendors have started to offer out of the box connectors to address the integration challenges of deploying a cloud strategy. Unfortunately, as many system administrators who tackled integration challenges during the pre-cloud era are likely aware, using an integration solution from an application vendor limits the ability of enterprises to freely choose and manage the IT solutions that best fit their needs. Ideally, cloud integration solutions should be open platforms that allow enterprises to easily migrate on or off and seamlessly integrate their applications and data.
In spite of the daunting challenges of cloud integration, new solutions are on the rise. Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is a model of provisioning integration services as a standalone platform. iPaaS solutions can carry out a variety of integration patterns--not just point to point--and provide a secure means of accessing the enterprise. As a cloud-based solution, it also shares the flexibility and scalability of other cloud services. Perhaps most important of all, iPaaS serves as a central point of interaction for different applications and services across the cloud and enterprise. Although iPaaS is still in its early stages, it promises to meet, if not exceed the challenge of integrating in and with the cloud.