I recently interviewed Ilan Sehayek, CTO of the open-source data integration company Jitterbit. Jitterbit does a lot of cloud integration work, largely with Salesforce.com, and Sehayek said he'd noticed that some of his customers are moving entirely to the cloud.
Mind you, we're not talking a mass movement-in fact, he mentioned three companies, one in retail, one in health care, and one in the energy sector. But what is interesting is that the companies moving to the cloud fit a profile:
In short, they're exactly the kinds of companies that do innovative things, are featured as success stories in magazines like InFlight and CIO, and generally lead to phone calls from your CEO or CFO, saying, "Will this work for us?"
In a report from last year-recently made available for free on B-Eye Network-the 451 Group observed that the most successful SaaS company-Salesforce.com-started with small businesses, then moved up to mid-market and eventually gained acceptance in Global 2000 enterprises.
This strikes me as an astute observation of SaaS' adoption in general, and I couldn't help but think how different this is from the SOA adoption story-which the same report notes is usually carried out only in large enterprises.
And, despite the lengthy discussions about SOA's strategic business value, many of those companies moved to SOA in an effort to simplify their integration issues. Survey results show this remains a key payoff for SOA. Perhaps that's part of the reason small and mid-sized companies aren't rushing to embrace an architectural overhaul-maybe they just don't have the same integration challenges of large companies.
But if they continue down the SaaS road, they may.
The integration story for SaaS is still unfolding. For the most part, Salesforce has dominated the SaaS scene, so it's not hard to find a solution to integrate with Salesforce, whatever your needs. "There are thousands of third-party companies who have integrated their small application in with Salesforce," IT analyst Judith Hurwitz, co-author of Cloud Computing for Dummies, recently told me.
That's fine, but as SaaS and cloud computing expand beyond Salesforce, the integration story becomes more complex. Companies have to start asking questions like, how do we manage all these cloud resources and what happens if I need to move out of a proprietary cloud solution, according to Hurwitz:
"What happens if suddenly the performance that was pretty good just collapses? How can I get out of it? And that is a big issue, and that's the reason why you're starting to see some support for standard APIs .... If the environment is where you're building very customized code based on a platform-as-a-service proprietary language and then you want to move it somewhere else, you've really tied yourself to that platform and moving could be difficult."
It's tempting to just believe that the integration challenges will all be ironed out by standards. But that's probably faulty logic. In a recent column, SOA and cloud computing blogger David Linthicum expressed doubts about solving data interoperability problems by committee. Data interoperability isn't that hard to solve, Linthicum says:
"Don't create yet another standards organization to look at this by committee. They take too long, and this is something that's needed in 2010 to drive cloud computing adoption. Instead, the larger cloud computing providers should focus on this behind the scenes and create a working standard enabling technology to solve the data interoperability problem. If the larger providers are all on the same page, believe me, the smaller providers will quickly follow."
But I would add that it's going to take more than waiting for providers to "do the right thing." After all, when you're the big dog on the block, sharing is seldom in your best interest. I think the change will come when user organizations push back and ask hard questions about integration, before they come on board with a cloud provider.
And I think it will take IT being proactive. Traditionally, though, it's the business units that make these deals-and integration is the least of their concerns, until there's a problem. IT has got to make business units aware of these issues sooner, rather than later. And, business IT may soon have an ally for more interoperability and integration support, if the federal government does, indeed, mandate more cloud computing.
Ironically enough, one way to tackle SaaS integration and obtain the most value from the cloud may trace back to SOA, according to Hurwitz:
"I believe a service-oriented approach is really critical, because if you look at it, any way you want to move away from monolithic approaches, you don't get the reuse, it's much harder to change. So the world is moving toward service orientation and if you think about cloud computing, in most situations, you're not just looking at sort of one approach and one application, one environment, you're really looking across things like what platform of services do I want. You want to make sure that the services are designed so as you change, as your environment changes, you're able to take advantage of new innovations, new platforms and, if it's designed in a service-oriented way, you have the ability to pick it up, it's a cohesive service with well-defined interfaces."