SaaS, Mobile Put Focus on Application Integration

    The technology sector is about to spend a lot more time talking about application integration for a very simple reason: SaaS and mobile devices.

    In the past five years or so, the technology sector’s discussed data integration as people struggled to manage all those data warehouses and data marts and data-whatsit and put that data to work in analytics and business intelligence systems.

    At the same time, enterprise application integration (EAI) fell out of favor as an approach and its enterprise service bus (ESB) became associated more with SOA.

    But this year, there will be a bigger focus on cloud and SaaS integration, and as a result, application integration will come front-and-center again.

    That’s because when businesses share data with a SaaS provider, they’re interacting with the application — and not a data warehouse. So you have to focus on integration at the application level.

    Now, for you CIOs out there, here’s a confession: When I started covering integration, it took me a long time and a lecture from a vendor to understand that application integration and data integration are really about the same thing: Sharing the data. I point this out because you should know that this issue can be very confusing for business people and possibly even IT folks who don’t deal with integration on a regular basis.

    But just because the focus is shifting to application integration doesn’t mean we’ll be talking about EAI and ESBs again.

    Business readers need to know that while you might be able to solve some SaaS integration with an ESB, SaaS providers and developers solve that integration with APIs, written in what’s called the RESTful style (it can be applied to different languages, but uses HTTP standards). API stands for application programming interface, which doesn’t really explain much, but is good to know.

    Here’s a simpler way to understand why REST APIs are so beloved on the Web. We know that anything with a lot of space — think a video, but it can also be true with code — takes up a lot of bandwidth, right? And smart developers want to avoid that — particularly for SaaS or mobile devices.

    REST APIs are much less cumbersome than their enterprise counterpart, SOAP/Web services and the enterprise service buses that share these services. To understand just how much difference there is, you can check out this sample code showing the same query in REST vs. SOAP/Web Services.

    Or you can just view this illustration, which explains the difference as if your data is Martin Lawrence. See how big SOAP is and how tiny REST is?

    That means you’re going to hear a lot about APIs this year. APIs are not new. Some people considered them as an alternative to ESBs at least as far back as 2001. But APIs came into their own with mobile apps and SaaS.

    What’s the point of this integration and development trivia? It’s the background for understanding two emerging integration challenges:  integrating enterprise data with SaaS (or vice versa) and opening up your own data to mobile devices.

    The way you manage these issues is by API. For many of you, that will mean investing in API management tools.

    In the coming days, I’ll be sharing more about these tools and the challenges of APIs.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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