The future of the integration cloud… it’s already here

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In the Netflix, Uber and Amazon-dominated cloud era, digital transformation is becoming a necessity for any business seeking to survive - let alone thrive and grow. That’s why the vision and promise shown by Salesforce, with its plans for the new integration cloud through the acquisition of MuleSoft, is a great move and it’s one we enthusiastically support.

The best news for distributed IT teams, though? The integration cloud is already available today. In fact, it’s been here for more than a decade and is something we have pioneered, nurtured and grown.

In today’s digital economy and, more specifically, the digital era of cloud computing we now live in, it’s all about driving tech-enabled change so your organisation can not only survive, but thrive in hybrid IT. It’s here where integration platform as a service (iPaaS) comes to the forefront.

For integration cloud providers, success comes when they focus on customers, listen to what they need, and build a unified platform that helps them meet their most important business goals in an agile and simple way. By doing these exact things, we have found there are four core characteristics essential to a successful cloud integration model. It must be cloud-native, open, low-code and provide a unified platform of capabilities that address the full scope of integration challenges facing today’s digital businesses.

Cloud-native

The vast majority of IT is moving to the cloud, not surprising given that the economic reasons for doing so are clear. The cloud eliminates massive capital costs and all the complexities of maintaining software on your own. But cloud-washed – defined as on-premise software rebranded as cloud software – simply won’t do for those organisations truly looking change the speed and trajectory of their business. By providing cloud-native solutions, you deliver the full benefits of the cloud to customers.

Looking at the Salesforce acquisition, as far as applications go, Salesforce is virtually synonymous with cloud-native. This makes its move towards MuleSoft even more interesting given that it’s an on-premise integration tool based on old enterprise service bus (ESB) models.

Open

An integration cloud is the core technology for connecting all the applications and data sources. Implicit in this role is that an integration cloud is open and vendor neutral.

No business can afford vendor lock-in for integration but when, such in Salesforce’s case, an acquisition is made and an organisation needs to get a return on its investment. How can a business balance its corporate needs with the needs of its customers to have freedom of choice in selecting best-of-breed applications? And how can that business support applications from other vendors in the ecosystem (in this case, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, to name just a few)? These are the reasons why open cloud is so vital.

Low-code

In many regards, low-code is perhaps the essential capability of modern integration cloud. There are certainly other options out there – tonnes of old legacy and new ESBs, for example. However, where these fall foul of iPaaS is their speed. Worrying news for those opting for ESB solutions considering speed is one of the core requirement of today’s digital business – if you can’t move fast, you will fail.

It’s interesting then, that Salesforce, with its low-code/high productivity approach, has opted for MuleSoft which traditionally needs custom ‘heavy’ coding. While this coding provides an extra degree of control, which is certainly appealing for an organisation of Salesforce’s size, it also dramatically slows productivity, increases costs and introduces all kinds of complexities – something that needs to be carefully considered by businesses looking to employ an integration provider.

Unified

Core integration – connecting applications to other applications – is where it should all start for integration cloud. However, just connecting siloed cloud SaaS applications or on-premise data isn’t enough for businesses – the full end-to-end workflow needs to be considered.

Not only that, but people also need to be brought into the equation. As part of this, it needs to be possible for businesses to manage their data and synchronisation among applications, allowing workers access to the information they need. This is where integration providers need to offer the tools (such as API creation, mastering data and B2B management capabilities) to enable customers to take advantage of access to data and the ability to quickly gather and share information with partners and stakeholders on demand.

Only when integration cloud providers offer all of these characteristics can their customers start to build the connected business – by unlocking the data to improve operational efficiencies and automate workflows.

It is becoming ever more clear to organisations that, when done right, integration cloud is not only a strategic tool that can aid productivity and agility, but this technology has become enterprise-critical if they want to compete in the current business landscape.

Picking the right vendor can also really make a difference for a business and it’s critical to get it right. As an applications company, Salesforce has a history of struggling to integrate technologies that fall outside its core business and technology strategy. Potentially worrying given that MuleSoft certainly is not a technology germane to Salesforce DNA. Alongside this, MuleSoft’s approach is focused only on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which, while important, are only a part of the entire integration puzzle our customers are trying to solve. With all of this in mind, we will be waiting to see when and how Salesforce can bring its version of the integration cloud together with interest.

From our side of the fence, though, the future remains the integration cloud. It’s just that it started 10 years ago...

Steve Wood, Chief Product Officer, Dell Boomi
Image Credit: Chaiyapop Bhumiwat / Shutterstock