Cloud data integration focuses business-IT tensions

Cloud data integration platforms contested territory in struggle between IT and the business. As experimental cloud data integration projects become operationalized, will business and IT harmonize?

A patchy and wary movement towards cloud computing in UK corporate IT is proving contested territory between IT and the business. Data integration is a hot zone in the general business-IT contest and, within that, cloud platforms for integration are sensitive spots.

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Gartner research fellow Steve Prentice, in a briefing to TechTarget’s UK websites, underlined the temptation of cloud as a way for senior business leaders “to take IT out of the organization.” Counter to that is an increasing wariness of cloud among CIOs. "Uptake is seriously lagging in this over-hyped area," he said. "Everyone wants to appear forward thinking when filling in surveys. But 'What's happened to cloud?' is a common question among enterprise software vendors. Users are not that keen."

For business executives with IT budgets, and who are confronting an IT landscape of a mix of cloud and on-premise applications, integration is imperative. If there is a way of avoiding the IT department by reaching into the cloud to do the integration itself between, for example, a Salesforce.com instance and in-house database resources, they will be tempted.

But, as such developments mature, and experimental cloud data integration projects become operationalized, business and IT are tending to harmonize, said Girish Pancha, chief product officer at Boston-based data integration firm Informatica.

While this line of evolution is logical, what is the practice among UK corporate organizations? How rapid and consistent is cloud application adoption? How are companies and other organizations integrating data held in cloud and on-premises systems? To what extent are the business and IT sides of the house coming together on cloud applications and data integration?

Ollie Ross, head of research at blue chip member organization The Corporate IT Forum said that with "any new development, cloud is the first option to be considered.”

"What the cloud does offer organisations is a risk-free way of trying something out in terms of innovation or collaboration," Ross said. As an example of that she cited a 2011 implementation of Sabisu's cloud-based integration platform by Sabic, a chemical manufacturer. This allowed the sharing of data across organizational boundaries, and was a runner-up at the forum's "Real IT" awards in March 2012. A project outcome, according to the awards documentation, was that real- time data is presented, at Sabic, through a single TV screen. "This replaces dozens of ERP screens reviewed hourly, and has significantly improved the management of the plant."

Ross confirmed that, among the UK corporate organizations that the forum represents, she is "not getting the feeling that IT people are trying to claw back [from the business]. I'm not sensing antagonism. “

"Indeed there is quite a surge of enthusiasm about concept of 'IT lite', supporting business agility," she said.

However, an intra-forum workshop on "Managing the Transition to Cloud-based Service Delivery," held in January 2012, revealed, according to an output report, that "many potential cloud customers remain concerned about the effective transition of services and processes and the upholding and prioritization of service levels, and are wary of the possible risks, from the history and financial risk of who is offering it, to ongoing client concerns about where data is being held and its security."

As for data integration in the cloud, Ross said: "The management and integration of data -- the access to and bringing together of different data elements from disparate sources to create accessible and usable information -- is a hardening business priority. As organisations develop their data strategies they look for the most effective means of delivery and implementation. If cloud supports a requirement for cross-functional or cross-organisational information sharing or collaboration; if it fulfils a need for real-time reporting or flexible capacity, if it delivers the right service at the right price, then organisations are adopting cloud capabilities."

However, she added, "Security concerns are still high on the list. You just can't take risks with data. Technically based arguments that cloud environments are actually more secure are irrelevant because this is about liability."

Cloud isn’t driving IT strategies, she concluded, "but the ‘end’ justifies the ‘means’, and in the management information and business intelligence space, cloud is in the early stages of making the transition from ‘in theory’ to ‘in practice.’"

Yves de Montcheuil, vice president of marketing at Los Altos, Calif.-based data and application integration supplier Talend, also confirmed that the agility of cloud data integration is a huge plus for pilot or experimental projects. He also confirmed, that, in his experience as a vendor, cloud data integration platforms are mostly being used to tie together cloud applications with on-premise applications, as opposed to cloud-to-cloud.

One US Talend customer, which he could not name, has a development team that chose to provision a virtual machine in a private cloud rather than wait for a physical server, which would have taken two to three months, as opposed to two hours.

As a general rule he recommended doing integration as close to the data as possible. That way you "save on bandwidth and data transfer." The latter is often overlooked, he said. But this is not a dogma for cloud. "In the future, [data integration] will be hybrid."

Architecturally hybrid, and organisationally hybrid also, as Prentice, Pancha and Ross have suggested. Cloud data integration platforms are likely to be sensitive areas as IT and the business wield competing budgets -- competing, but ultimately, hopefully, collaborating.

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