B2B Integration Gets Strategic in the Cloud
A more strategic approach to cloud B2B integration is emerging.
I came from a family of farmers - and not the milk-cows and raise-organic-chicken kind of farmers. My family, on both sides, were tobacco farmers, which meant hard, dirty work. Tobacco stains your hands, and the dry leaves from a stripping room dust your hair, your lungs. You don't stop when you're tired; you stop when it's done.
It's hard to shake that kind of earth-bound experience, even when you talk about something as insanely high-tech as the cloud and as esoteric as integration.
Maybe that's why I appreciate Hollis Tibbetts' appeal for pragmatism in integration - particularly when it comes to the cloud.
Tibbetts is a 20-year veteran of the middleware and integration space
. He's worked for a number of integration companies, most of which have been acquired by big names like Software AG, BEA/Oracle and SAP.
Cloud-based integration solutions can be confusing. In a series of recent articles, Tibbetts takes Gartner to task for compounding the confusion in a recent report on iPaaS solutions. The problem is that Gartner's defining an emerging market of solutions that, frankly, don't exist yet.
In an effort to simplify cloud-based integration, Tibbetts breaks it down for you: Cloud-based integration is software that runs "as a service" in the cloud, he explains. You subscribe to it or you pay as you use it. What you get in return are connectors for applications, data sources or data files. And, basically, if you want cloud-based integration, you have four options:
- Application integration. This is a good option for delivering small transactions in near-real time, he writes. "These integrations are typically business process oriented - that is to say, as soon as something happens' in the originating application, for example, when a customer orders a product, it triggers the integration platform to do something - for example, submit the credit card charge to the payments system." MuleSoft's iON is an example of this type of cloud-based integration.
- Data integration. Just as with on-premise systems, data integration is typically done in batches, meaning you move the data between systems on a schedule, whether it's every few minutes or once a month, he writes. You can do a number of things to the data as you move it - but it's all about moving large amounts of data. This is the approach that's usually used to make sure your Salesforce data is shared with some other application, either on-premise or in the cloud. This is where most cloud-based integration offerings fall, including Dell-Boomi, IBM's WebSphere Cast Iron and Informatica.
- Federated data integration - aka, enterprise information integration. This is good for fetching information for a management dashboard so you have the latest data, but you wouldn't use it to run "big historical data reports with information from multiple places," he says. As I understand it, this is increasingly called data virtualization/federation. For instance, Composite Software was once known as an EII solution, but now markets itself as a data virtualization and federation solution and, yes, offers cloud integration.
- Managed File Transfer. Use this when you have files - not data, but files - that you want to manage, monitor, track and transfer to somewhere else. It's a few evolutionary steps beyond FTP (file transfer protocol). This is where B2B integration vendors typically fit in. Examples are Hubspan, Ipswitch, TIBCO and IBM Sterling.
Those are your options; the trick, of course, is figuring out who fits where. Vendors tend to "cloud-wash" solutions these days, describe them in ways that confound and amaze. Beware if solutions promise more than the vendor - or, really, any vendor - can deliver. Instead, focus on what's pragmatic, hard-working and, yes, maybe a little stained from hard work over the years, because while cloud may be new, the integration options, it seems, are not.