Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly remembere! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Cloud computing – balancing flexibility with complexity

balance2In the “Cloud Computing without the hype – an executive guide” Lustratus report, available at no charge from the Lustratus store, one of the trade-offs I touch on is flexibility against complexity.

To be more accurate, flexibility in this case refers to the ability to serve many different use cases as opposed to a specific one.

This is an important consideration for any company looking to start using Cloud Computing. Basically, there are three primary Cloud service models; Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). In really simple terms, an IaaS cloud provides the user with virtual infrastructure (eg storage space, server, etc), PaaS offers a virtual platform where the user can run home-developed applications (eg a virtual server with an application server, database and development tools) and SaaS provides access to third-party supplied applications running in the cloud.

The decision of which is the most appropriate choice is often a trade-off. The attraction of SaaS is that it is a turn-key option – the applications are all ready to roll, and the user just uses them. This is pretty simple, but the user can only use those applications supplied. There is no ability to build new applications to do other things. Hence this approach is specific to the particular business problem addressed by the packaged application.

PaaS offers more flexibility of usage. A user builds the applications that will run in the cloud, and can therefore serve the needs of many different business needs. However, this requires a lot of development and testing work, and flexibility is restricted by the pre-packaged platform and tools offered by the PaaS provider. So, if the platform is WebSphere with DB2, and the user wants to build a .NET application for Windows, then tough.

IaaS offers the most flexibility, in that it effectively offers the infrastructure pieces and the user can then use them in any way necessary. However, of course, in this option the user is left with all the work. It is like being supplied with the raw hardware and having to develop all the necessary pieces to deliver the project.

So, when companies are looking at their Cloud strategies, it is important to consider how to balance this tradeoff between complexity/effort and flexibility/applicability.