Q&A: Cloud Integration Challenges and Best Practices

What is cloud integration, and what dangers can you avoid by following best practices?

Cloud computing is more popular than ever, but with it comes a host of new problems. In this interview with Rick Nucci, CTO of Boomi, we explore the challenges of cloud integration and the best practices that can help IT tackle these problems.

Enterprise Strategies: What does "cloud integration" mean? What are you integrating -- applications, storage, something else -- and what are you integrating these items with (on-premise apps, each other)?

Rick Nucci: Most often, we are integrating one or more software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications with one or more on-premise applications resident behind the customer’s firewall. Enterprises with this environment are considered “hybrid enterprises.” We are helping to automate one or more key business processes, such as “lead to cash.”

How is cloud integration different from traditional middleware?

Traditional middleware products were built before cloud was prevalent. They typically are traditional integration server products that have connectors or adaptors built to connect applications together. A number of them have added or will add new connectors for SaaS applications such as salesforce.com.

However, key concerns from IT -- as they focus on their cloud strategy -- are not addressed in these solutions, such as (1) automatic upgrades, (2) governance of data as it pertains to integration and movement of data between various clouds and on-premise applications, and (3) centralized development and operations to ensure external compliance, and scalably manage integration infrastructure for an ever-growing number of clouds in use by an organization.

What is the difference between a single-tenant approach and a multi-tenant approach to cloud integration?

Single-tenant integration really just moves the traditional IT problems companies face today into a new data center. By architecting a multi-tenant integration solution, users naturally benefit from the collective intelligence of the community (a recent example being Boomi Suggest) because everyone is using one highly scalable and secure instance of the platform, as well as benefit from rapid innovation and product improvement only possible by a true SaaS offering. ISVs, for example, can centrally develop, deploy, and manage integrations across all of their customers from one central platform versus having to remotely manage the integration configuration at the endpoints of where they are running.

What factors should IT consider when choosing an approach?

Most importantly, consider your cloud strategy. If you are beginning to implement SaaS applications or cloud services in various divisions in your enterprise, consider an integration platform built with this environment in mind (the hybrid enterprise). A hybrid enterprise is one that uses both on-premise and cloud-based applications. For example, a company may use an on-premise database along with a cloud-based CRM system (such as salesforce.com). IT departments must consider how the organization is using cloud and on-premise as a whole and then develop a strategy (e.g., an integration platform that works in both environments) that meets all needs.

Are there applications/data that have to be maintained on-premise? How does the integration work there?

Customers need to have the option of deploying the integrations they have built so that they can run anywhere. Customers will typically run integration runtime environments on premise when choosing to integrate their SaaS/cloud apps with on-premise apps located behind their firewalls so they can keep the on-premise assets securely behind the firewall and avoid opening the firewall or introducing concepts into the DMZ.

Have there been any improvements in how semantic differences between applications are resolved? Any movement on standards?

Standards are progressing at the infrastructure level, such as how cloud images can be provisioned across clouds, scaled up, and scaled down. In addition, standards for identity and single sign-on help SaaS deployments succeed in larger enterprises. There has been no significant standardization progress on things such as master data due primarily to the complexity of normalizing the data across verticals and company sizes.

What are the common mistakes IT makes when undertaking a cloud integration project?

It is key that the integration project is thought of as a business process enabler and explained that way to the project stakeholders. By designing the integration in this context, the true value of the integration will be apparent, and the complexity of the project will be apparent and rationalized from the beginning.

What best practices can you recommend to avoid those mistakes?

Besides the above, also be sure to consider the full range of what is required to be done if custom coding the integration is being considered. Custom coding involves writing code to integrate applications vs. using an integration platform. This is often a tempting path, but the maintenance cost of this project will always outweigh the intial build of the integration. Cloud integration platforms, due to their multi-tenancy, are optimal approaches to ensure the integrations remain operational, even as the apps being connected are upgraded or changed by the SaaS ISVs themselves. Custom-coded solutions must also contemplate governance capabilities, as it is critical to have traceability of all data as it leaves the enterprise.

What products or services does Boomi offer for cloud integration?

Boomi AtomSphere is an integration cloud that connects providers and consumers of SaaS and on-premise applications via a pure SaaS integration platform that does not require software or appliances. ISVs and businesses alike benefit by connecting to the industry's largest network of SaaS, PaaS, on-premise, and cloud computing environments in a seamless and fully self-service model. Leading SaaS vendors including salesforce.com, NetSuite, RightNow, Intuit, Marketo, Taleo, and Zuora use AtomSphere to accelerate time to market, increase sales, and eliminate the headaches associated with integration.

Must Read Articles