Platform as a Service: Expert advice for selecting a PaaS vendor
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Using integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) to oversee governance, in addition to both cloud and on-premises integration, has generated a lot of buzz in some circles. Despite its somewhat nascent state, iPaaS is considered one of the main approaches to Software as a Service integration and may not be far from "stepping into its own."
However, some experts, like Ovum Senior Analyst Saurabh Sharma, say iPaaS is not even close to being the go-to method for application integration. As the cloud continues to mature, other experts say there could be a greater push for the platform.
In this Q&A, Glenn Weinstein, chief technology officer of cloud broker Appirio, discusses how iPaaS has progressed over the years and some hurdles architects may face when using the technology.
How has iPaaS evolved over the years?
Glenn Weinstein: When we first started doing Saleforce implementations seven years ago they were primarily self-contained implementations. They were typically direct swap outs [of] legacy CRM [customer relationship management]systems for cloud-based CRM systems. Pretty quickly -- I'd say within the past five years -- a significant portion, if not a majority, of project work, as well as our strategy work, involves integrating cloud systems into a larger enterprise application landscape.
We have more than 350 projects going at any one given time that don't involve integration with a pretty significant degree to back-end systems, to back-end databases, to customer-facing portals, to data services, to data warehouses. It has become the really challenging part of deploying cloud in the enterprise. The applications by and large, function per function, can take care of themselves. There is a fairly direct activity to swap function for function for an application.
I think you'll see not only vendors move towards iPaaS, but you'll see the integration development community pushing that momentum.
chief technology officer, Appirio
Vendors have really matured. You see companies like Informatics starting to really push cloud-based integration solutions over on-premises solutions. There is the emergence of Cast Iron and Boomi as very legitimate enterprise-class integration platforms, as well as a whole host of mid-tier vendors in the integration space. The workflow when I started out was to install a server, install an Oracle database and have it become part of the on-premises landscape. Now, that is no longer a given on projects. We frequently work with customers to implement not only the applications, but also the integration backbone in a completely public cloud-hosted environment.
What are some obstacles architects face when implementing iPaaS? How can these challenges be overcome?
Weinstein: The most important thing architects need to look out for when implementing iPaaS is scalability of their model, both on the size of individual transactions as well as the overall pace of transactions per hour. In both cases, you have to be careful not to make improper assumptions about what your iPaaS can handle. You have to have a certain amount of knowledge and familiarity and experience with the iPaaS platform in order to use it to its fullest effect.
The fact that cloud-based integration platforms are outside the firewall can require early planning upfront [in] the customer security phase. It can, for some companies, be a different pattern than what they are used to. In the case of iPaaS, you typically have transactions that are initiated inside the firewall. You definitely want to involve your security team early and your proposed design to avoid any nasty surprises.
Not to stretch things too much, but it's also important to be clear [and] up front with vendors that offer both on-premises and cloud-based platforms [on] which platform you are planning to use. People can sometimes mix up what features and functions are available on-premises versus cloud-based versions of their own product. You want to state right up front what your intentions are.
Is iPaaS the most used integration approach for enterprise architects today?
Weinstein: Appirio may be a bit [of a]self-selected group because by definition we are working with enterprises that are favorable to the public cloud and have at least shown an interest in building a strategy around it. Even with our customer base, I'm still not sure I would call it a majority. I would [say] a strong proportion of our customer base is interested in -- and moving forward with -- cloud-based integration platforms. That said, even in our customer base, we often see significant legacy on-premises integration backbones.
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In the spirit of incremental progress, a pretty typical approach is to implement the cloud-based application and integrate it with the existing integration backbone. If nothing else, replace the current business processes that flow through that integration backbone. Then, [look] for new opportunities to build new types of integrations to unlock new areas of value or implement new business processes that maybe we didn't know existed, and try to put those on cloud-based integration platforms.
I think we are still in the early days of significant-sized companies moving entirely to an integration Platform as a Service. You do see that with smaller companies, and Appirio is an example of that; we are 100% cloud, including our entire integration infrastructure.
What is the future for iPaaS?
Weinstein: I think we'll see rapid growth in [the] popularity of iPaaS. Integration developers want to work in modern platforms that are rapidly evolving. I think you'll see not only vendors move towards iPaaS, but you'll see the integration development community pushing that momentum. I also think you'll see greater adoption by vendors, especially SaaS vendors, in more and more robust Web service [application programing interfaces] APIs. In particular, those that can handle greater batch data scenarios. That makes them iPaaS-friendly and that is going to be increasingly important criteria for your API in the future. That applies for all vendors, not just SaaS vendors.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Maxine Giza is the associate site editor for SearchSOA.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.