When applications deploy into the cloud, it’s easy to forget that they often need to connect with the rest of the company’s IT framework to run correctly or to support workers and operating activities. Like any kind of “connection” activity, the complexity of the cloud computing integration platform rises faster than the number of applications or components deployed, and can explode out of control. For nearly every prospective or current cloud user, some form of cloud integration package will be needed.
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A company’s progress toward cloud computing integration starts with the assessment of the integration points progresses through the basic platform/tool assessment and eventually gets to the classic “bake-off” or comparison of one package with competitive alternatives. This progression is obviously needed to eventually select something, but to get the right “something,” it’s important to make the comparison based on the important features and not just “white noise” that’s intended to promote a specific product or approach. The basic requirement that the packages all support the buyer’s APIs and offer suitable templates for vertical and horizontal applications are a given. What’s beyond these basics?
The first point is what explicit support is provided by the platform for the cloud applications that are the target of integration? The best choice is a platform that supports the software package directly, the second best is one that supports the class of software being integrated (CRM, ERP, etc.), and the third is one that supports a horizontal integration strategy like SOA, SAML, etc. that is the basis for the software. This point of evaluation is particularly important for companies who run integrated applications from a single provider. Those will likely want to start by looking closely at that provider’s own cloud integration capabilities.
The second point is what kind of GUI is supported by the cloud integration platform? Some products will provide a drag-and-drop interface with a deeper layer of customization available as needed, and others may offer only one or the other. A simple GUI is nice, particularly for non-IT users, but it may not be flexible enough to address all integration needs, particularly as cloud commitment grows. A scripted or programmed interface is for IT professionals, and end users who want to drive their own cloud projects would likely need external professional services support to use a package based on one.
A third point, one often overlooked in considering a cloud computing integration package is the facilities available to secure the package and audit integration activity. Application integration can create massive and destructive security breaches, and a lack of a clear audit trail to track changes in application relationships not only compromises problem isolation and resolution, it can endanger audit/compliance status for the application, or even the whole IT environment.
The fourth point of consideration is the involvement of the integration platform vendor in emerging cloud integration projects. It’s a simple matter to go to the website of a cloud provider or cloud stack software vendor and get a list community projects they’re associated with. Examples of such projects for OpenStack can be found here. A cloud integration platform or tool should be up-to-date with the emerging developments in the cloud community, particularly any linked to integration and the emerging “DevOps” (Develop--ment/Operations) sector.
The community project connection raises the last of the points of consideration; the open source status of the integration platform. Most cloud computing is based at least loosely on software available in open-source form, and this means a potential savings in licensing fees for the cloud computing integration user. However, much of the open-source software available is unsupported, making it far less useful for businesses that drive cloud integration from their line departments instead of from IT. In some cases, cloud software may be either dual-licensed (a commercial version and an open source version are available), or there may be professional support services available from a third party.
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It would be tempting to say that all of these points of integration platform consideration are “must-haves,” but at the current stage of cloud integration maturity, that requirement may eliminate all the candidates. Further, every company is likely to value some of these points higher than others. The best strategy is to assess the value of each point given the company’s integration plans, and then pick a candidate who excels where the project’s needs are the greatest.
Finally, flexibility counts. Because of the early stage of cloud computing integration the market is in, it’s unrealistic to expect that a company would have a five-year track record to assess. Still, it may be useful to look at how each cloud integration platform has evolved over its available life, to determine whether the vendor has kept pace with market trends. Performance in the past is no guarantee of the future, but it’s a good indicator nevertheless.