Choosing the right cloud connector for application integration

Many architects are turning to cloud connectors to connect on-premise applications to cloud-based software. Choosing the right one can be a challenge.

A plethora of on-premises applications that need to connect to cloud-based software, or Software as a Service,

leaves architects scrutinizing their options. The newest -- and, according to experts, best -- way to connect these applications is through a cloud-based connector, an Integration as a Service layer that provides translation and syncing capabilities. Heavy-hitters like IBM and Dell offer their own, but don't discount lesser-known cloud connectors. Experts recommend that architects evaluate how the connector will be used before settling on one.

The hard truth of integration is that there are a wide variety of standards that need to be supported, said Martijn Linssen, founder of We Wire People, a technology consulting firm. "There's no easy answer to that," he said. "It's not something you can decide in a few weeks."

Linssen recommended examining business requirements that correlate with the integration. For example, architects may need to link enterprise resource planning systems to cloud-based customer relationship management, as well as other software that may be on-premise or in the cloud.

Dell's Boomi, Informatica Cloud and IBM's WebSphere Cast Iron Live are all about cloud-based integration (CBI). While CBIs are sophisticated, they can also present a simplified environment, said Stefan Ried, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "They connect your customer records on an account to your customers' [records] in your SAP system," he said. "They do nothing more."

IaaS and CBIs may not be robust enough for some companies, however. Situations that require more than just data matching, such as dynamic routing or sophisticated processing scenarios, require more of a Platform as a Service (PaaS) approach, according to Ried. For example, a company may need to route debt records for Brazil to one software program, while those for Canada or the United States go to another. "If you do things like … inspecting or changing data, those integration-centric PaaS [solutions] are the best choice," he said. MuleSoft, Tibco, Cordsys and others all provide PaaS business logic functionality, Ried added.

More of the connectivity does require sophistication, Ried said. Applications like master data management (MDM) as cloud-based services can manage conflicts and duplicates in data. "It's not a technical problem; it's a logical problem that MDM addresses, getting rid of outdated data … you're not just looking at a connector but solving problems in a sophisticated way with MDM," he said.

Companies are also reconsidering how the software appears to the user, and how much of the interaction with programs is between other programs as opposed to being between a user and the program, Ried said. "For example, if you look at Salesforce.com, it has something like 800 million transactions per day, but about half are not human beings sitting in front of a [Web] browser. Half are machines talking to Salesforce.com," he added.

From these types of interactions, new applications, like call center applications, are natural outgrowths. These require sophisticated connections to software like Salesforce.com. Architects can try this manually using Java or .NET, or they can use a cloud connector like Cordys, Ried said. "You can take the capabilities and connect to the APIs of those platforms, creating connectivity to the applications very easily," he said.

Another consideration is whether the connector can be put in the hands of business users and scale over time, said Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research, a research and advisory firm. "In the case of Salesforce.com," she added, "where I'm configuring instead of customizing, [one should ask ] can I give the business analyst a GUI interface so that if people need to make changes, it's not a costly effort every time?" Any integrators used should be able to adapt as business needs change, without requiring extensive coding efforts, according to Wettemann.

Wettemann advised shopping around for connectors, and examining what vendors can offer in terms of prebuilt adapters to connect what is already running on-site and in the cloud. "At this point, you should be able to find a cloud integration vendor that can do 80 percent [of the integration] with out-of-the-box adapters," she said.

Review vendor references, particularly in the areas of latency and scalability, Wettemann said. Because there is a variety of options, architects can hone in on those that specialize in their types of projects, she said.

Finally, expect a relatively quick implementation and ROI. "You should be able to get payback from your integration investment in under six months," Wettemann said. "Particularly in the cloud, you want to get your ROI so that you have that money to take advantage of what might be the next opportunity to get value from your integration."

This was first published in September 2012

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