How to match cloud integration tools to business needs

Cloud expert Jeff Kaplan offers advice on how to evaluate cloud integration tools for both cloud and on-premise applications.

Application program interfaces (APIs) are the primary mechanism for ensuring the basic interoperability across multiple Software as a Service (SaaS) applications today, according to Jeffrey Kaplan, founder and managing director of ThinkStrategies, a consulting and research firm. The rise of more robust and plentiful APIs provides a means to easily interconnect multiple applications in the cloud in a way that wasn't possible in the traditional on-premises world.

In this podcast, Kaplan connects the dots between APIs and the rise of new approaches to integration, including Integration as a Service, integration access issues, app stores, new types of partnerships between vendors, third-party service providers and businesses. “The real measure of success for an API is not only how often it's deployed by customers; but how many partners and strategic allies are taking advantage of it within the partner ecosystem of that service provider or SaaS vendor,” Kaplan said.

API strength attracts partners and customers, according to Kaplan.  Today, a businesses’ success is a reflection of their ability to interoperate and integrate multiple, integrated solutions across their customer base.

Cloud providers and vendors with strong API portfolios and expertise are developing services for integration. Businesses or third-party service providers could use Integration as a Service on a pay-as-you-go basis to ensure the scalability of integration capabilities over time, Kaplan said. Tune in

as Kaplan provides more information about Integration as a Service and other API and application integration decision-making in this podcast.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of a podcast on choosing cloud application integration solutions by Jeffrey M. Kaplan, managing director of the THINKstrategies cloud consulting firm. This transcript has been edited for clarity and editorial style.

Jan Stafford: Welcome to Choosing Cloud Application Integration Solutions, a podcast on SearchCloudApplications.com, a TechTarget site. Our speaker is ThinkStrategies' founder and managing director, Jeff Kaplan. Founded in 2001, ThinkStrategies is an independent strategic consulting firm, focused on software as a service, or SaaS, cloud computing, managed services and other innovative technology service solutions.

I'm your moderator Jan Stafford, executive editor of Search Cloud Applications. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.
 
Kaplan: Pleasure to be with you, Jan.

Stafford: So, let's get started in talking some about application integration in the cloud and deciding which type of integration solutions to use. First off, what are the primary differences between solutions for integrating solutions through cloud and on-premise app?

Kaplan: Well, the most important difference in this brave new world of the cloud is the growing reliance on application program interfaces,[or] APIs, as the primary mechanism for ensuring the basic interoperability across multiple software as a service or SaaS applications. And those APIs are becoming more and more robust, and more and more plentiful. So, the opportunities to more easily interconnect multiple applications have become a reality in the cloud in a way that wasn't possible in the traditional on-premises world.

Stafford: So are there obvious situations in which a certain type of solution is used, say an open source solution like Jitterbit, or cloud delivered integration like Boomi or Pervasive, or more mature enterprise class solutions by IBM and others?

Kaplan: Yeah, absolutely. And it really has to do with the intensity, if you will, of the integration task that is being overcome when an organization is deploying a variety of cloud [or] SaaS solutions. And in some cases, a simple API may be all that's necessary. But in many cases, especially when it comes to a couple of these who are using enterprise-class business applications across their organization and in tandem with legacy on-premises applications and data sources, depending upon the use case and business process, there's going to be a need for varying kinds of cloud integration tools and connectors and, even in some cases, platforms to satisfy their needs.

So the kinds of solutions that you mention, and the kind the vendors that you identified, are all finding a growing demand for their services and solutions, because in fact, more and more organizations are adding to their operations this new generation of cloud services and software as a service solutions, on top of the legacy systems and software they already had in place.

Stafford: Looking at the best practices for choosing the right type of integration solution, are there particular tools or practices that are must?

Kaplan: Yeah. What we recommend our clients to are a couple of things. First of all, they have to take a good look at the nature of the business process they're trying to support. There are cases where they need to move data from one application to another in a high velocity, high transaction kind of environment that's going to require a certain kind of integration tool or platform to support the intensity of that business process. As opposed to possibly one that entails more periodic or batch-oriented data sharing that doesn't have the same kind of intensity, or even complexity, associated with it. So the first thing is to look at the nature of the business process being supported, and of course the associated applications and data sources that need to be connected.

The next thing is to take a look at which of the solution providers and solutions that are available have the greatest track record of success. There's nothing that's more important, in fact, than taking a look at their record in solving the problems that you're trying to face in similar kinds of business environments and, most likely, in similar industry types of environments as well. So it's a question of being sure that the solution has proven itself in a similar business process or corporate environment as the one that you are going to be trying to solve as you're looking at these integration requirements.

Now, the final and most important thing of course is making sure that the vendor supplying that solution is also financially viable and isn't likely to go away any time soon, because you don't want to be depending upon cloud integration tools or platforms and then find that the service provider isn't there to help you as your needs evolve.
 
Stafford: You were talking about APIs earlier and went into [detail] about evaluating the strength of an organization or a SaaS vendor's APIs. What are some criteria, or what are ways that you know that an API is a strong one, or if it's flexible enough, or has the qualities that are going to work for you?

Kaplan: Well that's a great question, and in fact, I probably should have even included that in the criteria that I mentioned previously, because the real measure of success for an API is not only how often it's deployed by customers, but how many partners and strategic allies are taking advantage of it within the partner ecosystem of that service provider or SaaS vendor.

So those vendors and service providers who have built the broadest and deepest third party relationships have tended to do so because, in part, of the strength of their APIs. And looking at their success as a community is a reflection of their ability to inter-operate and integrate their mutual solutions across their customer base.

Stafford: So what do you see coming soon that's interesting in cloud apps or local apps integration, [or any] new types of integration solutions that might be emerging?

Kaplan: Well there are a couple of interesting trends in the marketplace. The first one is we are hearing more and more about the idea of APIs and integration as a service. So, it's the ability to actually acquire that integration functionality as a service itself and be able to deploy it on a pay-as-you-go basis in such a way that it further alleviates the complexity, but also helps to ensure the scalability of that integration capability over time. So that's one interesting trend.

Another interesting trend is, of course as we move into this world of multidimensional on-premises and on-demand capability across the legacy and cloud alternatives that are available, their needs to be a greater control over access and utilization of these resources. And integration and access management, along with security, are all becoming more and more intertwined as business issues and concerns. So you're going to see an overlap, if you will, and a interoperability as well, across what has been seen as three distinct areas of functionality in the past, that are becoming more and more interrelated as we move into this more dynamic world of the cloud.

And closely related to that, by the way, is a growing assortment of app stores. They're just not only all for the ease of use and convenience of being able to find apps that you find appealing online and to procure them easily, but behind the scenes having these apps certified, if you will, because they have proven to have the right kind of APIs and integration capabilities to make them inter-operate and work well together. So there are some very interesting trends around the convergence across these various segments of the market that makes integration a very interesting and pivotal piece of the overall competitive landscape.

Stafford: And that's sort of [the] occasion of [where] those applications can help alleviate the problem of shadow likely right, because you could just require employees to just use those applications.

Kaplan: Absolutely, and that's one reason why you're seeing more and more IT organizations trying to deploy app stores within the organization, so that they can pre-certify the applications that meet their business criteria, whether they be based upon their functional capabilities, their integration capabilities, their security capabilities, or their scalability capabilities. And integration certainly is among the more important checklist items that they're taking into consideration.

Stafford: Thank you, Jeff. I've enjoyed our conversation today about application integration in the cloud, just some really fascinating things going on.

Kaplan: It's a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for having me.
 
Stafford: Sure. This is Jan Stafford -- I've been your moderator for the podcast Choosing Cloud Application Integrations Solutions with Jeff Kaplan, Think Strategies' founder and managing director. Thank you for joining us today, and have a good one.

This was first published in July 2014

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