One marketing buzzword is iPaaS (integration platform as a service), for a suite of cloud services enabling customers to develop, execute and govern integration flows between disparate applications. Under the cloud-based iPaaS integration model, customers drive the development and deployment of integrations without installing or managing any hardware or middleware. The iPaaS allows businesses to achieve integration without big investment into skills or licensed middleware software. iPaaS used to be regarded as an integration tool for cloud-based software applications, used mainly by small to mid-sized business. In the meantime, however, a hybrid type of iPaaS, i.e. Hybrid-IT iPaaS, that connects cloud to on-premise, is becoming increasingly popular. Additionally, large enterprises explore ways of integrating iPaaS into the existing IT estate.
Prior to the emergence of cloud computing, integration could be categorized as either internal or business to business (B2B). Internal integration requirements were serviced through an on-premises middleware platform and typically utilized a service bus to manage exchange of data between systems. B2B integration was serviced through EDI gateways or value-added network (VAN). The advent of SaaS applications created a new kind of demand which was met through cloud-based integration. Since their emergence, many such services have also developed the capability to integrate legacy or on-premises applications, as well as function as EDI gateways.
The following essential features were proposed by one marketing company:
- Deployed on a multi-tenant, elastic cloud infrastructure
- Subscription model pricing (operating expense, not capital expenditure)
- No software development (required connectors should already be available)
- Users do not perform deployment or manage the platform itself
- Presence of integration management & monitoring features
The emergence of this sector led to new cloud-based business process management tools that do not need to build integration layers – since those are now a separate service.
Drivers of growth include the need to integrate mobile app capabilities with proliferating API publishing resources and the growth in demand for the Internet of things functionalities as more ‘things’ connect to the Internet. The integration market has a variety of players, such as application designers, systems integrators, cloud vendor, network service providers and development service providers. These include, IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and MuleSoft. Whilst many of these focus on integrating APIs and other online services, smaller iPaaS providers like Cloudreach or DSYNC focused purely on integration services with cloud environments.
Integration, of course, raises another set of questions. The following points are worth keeping in mind when considering cloud integration solutions:
- Security: remains a concern for cloud users and is complicated by the challenge of integration. A cloud integration solution must be capable of authenticating and authorizing access to resources, both in the cloud and on-premises. Moreover, it needs to be able to encrypt and store data (particularly in a multitenant environment) and comply with different regulations such as SSAE 16. With the growing number of SaaS applications, mobile apps and social media services that need to access enterprise data, there must be a secure means of connecting the cloud to the enterprise without compromising the firewall.
- Flexibility and Scalability: Point to point integration solutions can provide basic SaaS to SaaS connectivity, but they are not sophisticated or flexible enough to handle more complex scenarios. Cloud integration solutions must be able to support a variety of integration flows moving in both directions across the cloud and enterprise and scale up as the number of endpoints increases.
- Management: For enterprise users, SaaS applications offer convenience and ease of use while shifting the burden of maintenance and upgrades to the provider. The trade-off, however, is that users have much less visibility and control over their SaaS applications, especially when it comes to integration. Cloud integration solutions should include rich monitoring capabilities in order to provide the visibility and control over information flows and other performance attributes currently lacking in SaaS applications.
- Open Platform: Some SaaS vendors have started to offer out of the box connectors to address the integration challenges of deploying a cloud strategy. Unfortunately, as many system administrators who tackled integration challenges during the pre-cloud era are likely aware, using an integration solution from an application vendor limits the ability of enterprises to freely choose and manage the IT solutions that best fit their needs. Ideally, cloud integration solutions should be open platforms that allow enterprises to easily migrate on or off and seamlessly integrate their applications and data.
In spite of the daunting challenges of cloud integration, new solutions are on the rise. Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is a model of provisioning integration services as a standalone platform. iPaaS solutions can carry out a variety of integration patterns–not just point to point–and provide a secure means of accessing the enterprise. As a cloud-based solution, it also shares the flexibility and scalability of other cloud services. Perhaps most important of all, iPaaS serves as a central point of interaction for different applications and services across the cloud and enterprise. Although iPaaS is still in its early stages, it promises to meet, if not exceed, the challenge of cloud integration.