Integrating applications up in the cloud is an important step forward in the drive for ultra-agile, services-oriented IT.
There's no shortage of enterprise-class software applications available as cloud-based services, a.k.a. SaaS. Indeed, it's many a startup company, these days, that can get off to a flying start with essentially no IT infrastructure to its name. Beyond some laptops, a LAN, and connection to the Web, the cloud provides it all. Accounting system? No problem. Billing? Check. Collaboration? You got it. The list of "cloudy" apps grows daily.
As we all know, established companies are availing themselves of SaaS, too. Marketing may see an opportunity to use an on-demand analytics service, sales a CRM platform, and HR yet another service in the cloud. No need to call in IT, just whip out that credit card, and you're live.
Unfortunately, services in the cloud tend to be islands unto themselves, proverbial silos of function and data. Moving information among them and in and out of legacy apps is often left to manual or batch processes. Ideally, the enterprise would like the ability to weave disparate services together to make composite apps that operate in real-time. When a salesperson books some business out in the field, don't just update the CRM system. Run a credit check, too, and alert the order processing system, and perhaps advise financial accounting, as well.
Who, or what, though, is going to do all the stitching required? A sophisticated enterprise might be able to do this work itself, on a one-off basis, but that would be costly and difficult, to say the least.
More appealing would be some kind of integration platform, itself available for all SaaS providers to use as just another service in the cloud. It would make it relatively easy to knit together transactions from any number of different SaaS sources, and it would monitor the resulting composite transactions to make sure each one gets executed reliably and on-time.
That, in a nutshell, is what open-source middleware provider MuleSoft is out to do with iON, a cloud-based integration platform launched last year. It is not merely a hosted version of the company's middleware code, says Chris Purpura, vice president of business development and iON's general manager. Instead, it is an attempt to "productize integration" by offering a library of pre-built "connectors" that have been designed to get data in and out of specific SaaS services.
Such an approach is viable, Purpura tells me, largely because "80 percent of the integrations that customers want to do are the same," involving well understood combinations of services.
Mulesoft is not the only player in this game, but it has a good leg up, based on the popularity of its Mulesoft software. That lightweight enterprise service bus (ESB) package has been deployed in 3,200 production systems run by customers including eBay, Amazon, and HP, which sponsors this site.
It's early days in the cloud, SaaS, and what's being called iPaaS, or integration-platform-as-a-service. But already, one sees a glimmer of what John Seely Brown and John Hagel of Deloitte's Center for the Edge years ago dubbed the "service grid." This they envision as a global landscape of cloud-based services that companies will consume as needed and contribute to in the form of specialized services that expose their own core competencies for others to consume.
Key to this grid's success will be a framework of meta-services that will help with defining and discovering business services, with securing, metering, and billing for their usage, and with routing messages across them, a.k.a. integration.
Your thoughts on, or experiences with, app integration in the cloud?