The Middleware Revolution: Cloud Is Changing Integration Solutions

    Are we really done with the application stack?

    Ross Mason, CTO and co-founder of MuleSoft, thinks SaaS’s growing adoption is effectively ending the traditional application stack. But more than that, he says the cloud is revolutionizing middleware and the importance of integration.

    “One of the trends there that I’ve written about is what SaaS is doing to applications is completely disintegrating the application stack,” Mason told me during a recent interview about SaaS and mobile integration. “So one of the reasons you’re seeing more integration in 2013 as we adopt more SaaS, the integration points multiply.”

    What this means is that integration becomes even more important. In a November article for GigaOm, Mason wrote that SaaS can magnify the pain of integrating applications since there are more applications to integrate.

    “If everyone has the same applications, the integration between those apps is where you get your competitive advantage,” he said. “There’s a lot of leverage that can be had out of SaaS but you still have to connect back to the enterprises, and the lines of business often miss that but the CIOs really understand it.”

    For enterprises, SaaS and mobile mean adjusting to external APIs, possibly even open APIs, because that’s how the Web handles integration, said Mason.

    Just as businesses are moving to SaaS applications, integration vendors are quickly adapting their solutions for API management. MuleSoft’s ESB solution, Mule, now includes a management console for APIs, and the company also offers a CloudHub, a cloud-based integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) — which basically is a fancy way of saying developers, systems integrators and SaaS vendors can use the product to build their own connectors.

    The company recently took a big step toward establishing itself as a go-to resource for APIs and, by extension, API integration, when it opened the free API community site, APIHub. It will serve as a repository for APIs, with the goal being to become the GitHub of APIs. Mason said the APIHub already has almost 40 percent more APIs listed than the independent site Programmable Web, which has long served as an API repository. The APIHub also requires developers to include documentation so that the APIs will be easier to find and use, he added.

    But ESB companies aren’t the only ones retooling for APIs. In addition to pure-play companies such as Apigee, Layer 7 and Mashery, many established middleware vendors are entering the marketplace.

    One niche group that’s revamping and rebranding for API management is SOA governance. Both ESBs and SOA governance heritages make sense — after all, APIs are basically services, written in RESTful.

    Along with traditional vendors and API pure-plays, a “cottage industry” of start-ups are entering the SaaS integration market, industry watcher and IT Business Edge blogger Mike Vizard wrote recently for Programmable Web. While they are using different marketing tactics and business models to “sell” integration, they essentially rely on APIs to do the work.

    Are we entering the era of APIs as the new middleware? And more precisely, is middleware the next -as-a-service offering?

    It depends. Right now, some SaaS vendors package their own integration, usually by using one of the integration platforms as a tool for development and deployment of the actual integration. Other vendors are happy to let you figure it out. And so far, system integrators haven’t played heavily in the SaaS integration space — although vendors such as MuleSoft and IBM’s Cast Iron hope to change that.

    And you can count on managing the integration yourself if you want to connect with more unusual legacy systems.

    But for middleware vendors, the market is already evolving toward the cloud. Enterprise middleware vendors have focused on connecting heavyweight applications. Their challenge will be to adjust to the lightweight integration of the Web — a shift that Mason contends requires rethinking the entire platform, end-to-end.

    “What you’re seeing is a radical shift in middleware in general,” he said. “The folks who are looking at SaaS integration, because it’s still early days, have typically either done application integration or data integration, so you still have people who are thinking about integration.”

    MuleSoft’s solution is unique in that it is the only unified, complete platform for doing on-premise and in-the-cloud integration, according to Mason — although I suspect other vendors will be ready to contest that. Even so, this year’s development roadmap includes adding more enterprise features to CloudHub. The reason? Developers tend to stop at the API, and most tool designs reflect that.

    “An API is never going to be enough because you need to put in the logic to bind the API to something else, whether it’s a database, another system, or a set of system,” he said. “When people create APIs, it’s not the end story. You actually need to connect with those users. It’s a bit like a business relationship. An API is not a lot different from publishing a B2B gateway. …

    “Our platform is making it much easier to create enterprise-grade APIs with full governance and authorizational concerns built in. That’s what we’re focused on in the next six months in terms of what we’re releasing.”

    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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