The Unique and Not-So-Unique Challenges of Cloud Integration

Loraine Lawson

Marty Colburn, CTO at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, explored the possibility of using cloud computing to supplement his on-premise infrastructure, but he found vendors were too skittish about explaining their architecture. Immediately, it raised questions about integration problems, he says in a recent CIO.com article. "Without that, how can you tell how to build integration? We're not into buying a black box."


Colburn's experience is just one of many included in "Cloud Computing: What CIOs Need to Know About Integration," an excellent article written by CIO.com senior editor Kim Nash. Real CIOs and CTOs shared their cloud computing experiences with Nash, and it truly is a must-read article, even if you aren't considering cloud computing.


If that seems like a silly thing to say, then consider this morality tale Nash includes in her article: Don Goin, a CIO at an auto loan company, had no interest in cloud computing or SaaS, but the marketing department signed up for Salesforce.com's CRM solution without his approval. Before he knew what hit him, they were using Force.com's development platform to build a business intelligence tool, and, of course, it didn't comply with the company's IT data requirements. Goin had to step in and suddenly found himself involved in a cloud integration project. Goin told Nash:

If business users adopt these things, we CIOs are challenged in IT to figure out how to integrate [them] with the rest of our world.

The article also includes some success stories. I've written quite a lot about SaaS integration services and a bit about cloud integration, but I really haven't read a ton about strictly cloud computing or infrastructure-as-a-service integration. So, I found it fascinating to read how some companies are handling cloud integration. For example, I was surprised to learn one company uses Microsoft's BizTalk Server as a data hub for information stored via the cloud-so, essentially, the data is sent on-premise, where it's integrated and managed-and then sent back to the cloud.


Another company uses the Lawson S3 payroll, invoicing and financial suite for data integration, using it as a hub to synchronizing off-site systems.


It's also worth noting that many companies are opting to custom-build integration. One IT executive shrugged off the task, pointing out he'd have to solve integration for on-premise apps anyway, but I have to wonder how that will affect the cost of cloud integration down the line, particularly if that custom integration breaks due to changing APIs or what-have-you.


Another issue that's discussed is network connectivity. Bay and Bay CIO Rob Adams told Nash it's going to be the weakest link. Oddly, you don't see a lot about this in discussions about SaaS or cloud computing, but it's starting to gain more attention as cloud providers experience down time and customers complain about lost data. Frankly, given the inherent flaws in the Internet's infrastructure, I'm not sure why isn't more of a sticking point anyway.


Nash also talked with analyst Judith Hurwitz, noted analyst and author of "Cloud Computing for Dummies," whom I've also interviewed about cloud integration issues. As always, Hurwitz provides a broader context on issues such as standards and cloud integration.


IT Business Edge blogger Arthur Cole's recent post adds another dimension to this discussion. Cole suggests an open cloud platform, complete with open source movement for the cloud, could be the key to avoiding what could become a major interoperability and integration obstacle.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 20, 2010 3:53 PM Lori MacVittie Lori MacVittie  says:

Ah yes. Data integration is almost certainly cloud's Achilles heel. And very few folks are really looking at what that means, let alone how to solve it.

Great article, Lorraine. This is a subject that needs a lot more exploration and a few good solutions.



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