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The Enterprise's Shifting Center of Gravity

The Enterprise's Shifting Center of Gravity

As the future of the cloud unfolds before our eyes, enterprises will need to nimbly adjust to new realities, new partners and new services. The older point-to-point methods of IT integration, even for internal business processes, are slow, brittle, costly, complex and hard to manage. Flexibility is a must.

By Dana Gardner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
06/13/11 5:00 AM PT

Enterprise application integration (EAI) as a function is moving out of the enterprise and into the cloud. So-called Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) has popped up on the edge of the enterprise. But true cloud integration as a neutral, full service, and entirely cloud-based offering has been mostly only a vision.

Yet if businesses need to change rapidly as the cloud era unfolds, to gain and use new partners and new services, then new and flexible integration capabilities across and between extended applications and services are essential.

The older point-to-point methods of IT integration, even for internal business processes, are slow, brittle, costly, complex and hard to manage. Into this opportunity for a new breed of cloud integration services steps MuleSoft, a market-leading, open source enterprise service bus (ESB) provider, which aims to create a true cloud integration platform called "Mule iON."

MuleSoft proposes nothing short of an iPaaS service that spans Software as a Service (SaaS) to legacy, SaaS to SaaS, and cloud to cloud integration. In other words, all of the above, when it comes to integrations outside of the enterprise.

BriefingsDirect recently learned more about MuleSoft iON, how it works and its pending general availability in the summer of 2011. There's also the potential for an expanding iON marketplace that will provide integration patterns as shared cloud applications, with the likelihood of spawning constellations of associated business to business ecosystems.

Explaining the reality for a full-service cloud-based integration platform solution are two executives from MuleSoft, Ross Mason, chief technology officer and founder; and Ali Sadat, the vice president of Mule iON at MuleSoft. They are interviewed by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.


Listen to the podcast (39:23 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Dana Gardner: It strikes me that the number of integrations that need to be supported are further and further toward the edge -- and then ultimately outside the organization.

Ross Mason: We describe it internally as the center of the enterprise gravity is shifting. The Web is the most powerful computing resource we've had in the information age, and it's starting to drag the data away from the enterprise outside into the platform itself. What this means for enterprises is, like it or not, any company of any size, has some if not most of its data now outside of the firewall.

I'm not talking about the Fortune 2,000. They still have 95 percent of their data behind the firewall, but they're also changing. But, for all of the enterprises and for forward-thinking CIOs, this is a very big and important difference in the way that you run your IT infrastructure and data management and security and everything else.

It turns a lot of things on its head. The firewall is constructed to keep everything within. What's happening is the rest of the world is innovating at a faster speed, and we need to take advantage of that inside enterprises in order to compete and win in our respective businesses.

There are a number of drivers in the marketplace pushing us toward integration as a service and particularly iPaaS. First of all, if we look back 15 years, integration became a focal point for enterprises, because applications were siloing their data in their own databases and for business to be more effective, they have to get that data out of those silos and into a more operational context, where they could do extended business processes, etc.

What we're seeing with cloud, and in particular the new wave of SaaS applications, is that we're doing a lot of the same mistakes for the same behaviors that we did 10 years ago in the enterprise. Every new SaaS application becomes a new data silo in the cloud and it's creating an integration challenge for anyone that has the data across multiple SaaS providers.

And it's not just SaaS. The adoption of SaaS is one key thing, but also the adoption of cloud and hybrid computing models means that our data also no longer lives behind the firewall. Couple that with the drivers around mobile computing that are enabling our workforce and consumers, when they are on the go, again, outside of the firewall.

Add the next social media networks and you have a wealth of new information about your employees, customers, and consumers, available through things like LinkedIn and Facebook. You've also got the big data explosion. The rise of things like Hadoop for managing unstructured data has meant that we end up pushing more data outside of our firewalls to third party services that help us understand our data better.

There are four key drivers: the adoption of SaaS applications; the movements by using more cloud and hybrid models; mobile is driving a need to have data outside of the enterprise; and then social media and also big data together are redefining where we find and how we read our information.

Gardner: It also appears that there will be a reinforcing effect here. The more that enterprises use cloud services, the more they'll need to integrate. The more they integrate, the more capable and powerful the cloud services, and so on and so on. I guess we could anticipate a fairly rapid uptake in the need for these external integrations.

Mason: We think we might be a bit early in carving out the iPaaS market, but the response we're hearing, even from our largest organizers, is that most have lots of needs around cloud integration, even if it's just to help homogenize departmental applications. We've been blown away at MuleSoft at the demand for iON already.

The open source model is absolutely critical, and the reason is that one of the biggest concerns for anyone adopting technology is, who am I getting into bed with? If I buy from Amazon, ultimately, I'm getting into there with Amazon and their whole computing model, and it's not an easy thing to get out.

With integration, it's even more of a concern for people. We've looked through the vendor lock-in of the 1990s and 2000s, and people are a little bit gun-shy from the experiences they had with the product vendors like Atria and IBM and Oracle.

When they start thinking about IaaS or the cloud, then having a platform that's open and freely available and that they can migrate off or on to and manage themselves is extremely important. Open source, and particularly MuleSoft and the Mule ESB, provides that platform.

Gardner: Ali, how do you see iPaaS process enablement happening?

Ali Sadat: It's a pretty interesting problem that comes up. The patterns and the integrations that you need to do now are getting, in a sense, much more complex, and it's definitely a challenge for a lot of folks to deal with it.

We're talking not only to cloud-to-cloud or enterprise-to-enterprise, but now extending it beyond the enterprise to the various cloud and the direction of data can flow either from the enterprise to the cloud or from the cloud to the enterprise. The problems are getting a little more challenging to solve.

The other thing that we're seeing out there is that a lot of different application programming interfaces (APIs) are popping up -- more and more every day. There are all kinds of different technologies either being exposed to traditional web services or REST-based Web services.

We're seeing quite a few APIs. By some accounts, we're in the thousands or tens of thousands right now. In terms of APIs, they're going to be exposed out there for folks who are trying to figure out and how to integrate.

Gardner: What do you propose for that?

Sadat: It's something a hybrid world, and I think the answer to that is a hybrid model, but it needs to be very seamless from the IT perspective.

If I want to do a real-time integration between Salesforce and an SAP, how do I enable that? If I poke holes from my firewall that's going to definitely expose all kinds of security breaches that my network security folks are not going to like that. So how do I enable that? This is where iON comes into play.

We're going to sit there in a cloud, open up a secure public channel where Salesforce can post events to iON, and then via a secured connection back to the enterprise, we can deliver that directly to SAP. We can do on the reverse side too. This is something that the traditional TIBCOs and WedMethods of of the world weren't designed to solve and they weren't even thinking about this problem when they designed and developed that application.

The difference between integration running on-premise or in the cloud shouldn't matter as much, and the tooling should be the same. So, it should be able to support both a cloud-based management, and also be able to manage and drive us in the enterprise, and set up on-premise tools.

One of the things you'll see about iON is a lot of familiar components. If you have been a Mule user or Mule ESB user, you will see that at the heart of iON itself. What we're providing now is the ability to be able to deploy your solutions, your integration applications to a cloud and be able to manage it there, but we also are going to give you the capability to be able to integrate back into the enterprise.

Gardner: Why not just use what Salesforce provides you and let that be the integration point? Why would you separate the integration cloud capability?

Sadat: Integration, as a whole, is much better served by neutral party than just going by any one of the application vendors. You can certainly write custom code to do it, and then people have been doing it, but they've seen over and over that that doesn't necessarily work.

Having a neutral platform that speaks to APIs on both sides is very important. You're not going to find Salesforce, for example, adopting SAP APIs, and vice versa. So, having that neutral platform is very important. Then, having that platform and being able to carry out all the kinds of different integration patterns that you need is also important.

We do understand the on-premise side of it. We understand the cloud side of the problem. We're in a unique position to bring those two together.

Gardner: Ross, please define for me what you consider the top requirements for this unique new neutral standalone integration cloud?

Mason: I'll start with the must-haves on the PaaS itself. In my mind the whole point of working with a PaaS is not just to do integration, but it's for a provider, such as MuleSoft, to take all the headache and hard work out of the architecture as well.

For me, a true PaaS would allow a customer to buy a service level agreement (SLA) for the integration applications. That means we are not thinking about CPUs, about architecture, or I/O or memory usage, and just defining the kind of characteristics they want from their application. That would be my Holy Grail of why a PaaS is so much better?

For integration, you need that, plus you need deep expertise in that integration itself. Ali just mentioned that people do a lot of their own point to points and SaaS providers do their own point integrations as well.

We spend a lot of money in the enterprise to integrate applications. You do want a specialist there, and you want someone who is independent and will adopt any API that makes sense for the enterprise in a neutral way.

We're never going to be pushing our own customer relationship management (CRM) application. We're not going to be pushing our own enterprise resource planning (ERP). So, we're a very good choice for being able to pull data from whichever application you're using. Neutrality is very important.

Finally, going back to the open-source thing again, open source is hugely important, because I want to know that if I build an integration on a Switzerland platform, I can still take that away and run it behind my firewall and still get support. Or, I just want to take it away and run it and manage it myself.

With iON, that's the promise. You'll be able to take these integration apps and the integration flows that you build, and run them anywhere. We're trying to be very transparent on how you can use the platform and how you can migrate on as well as off. That's very important.

Gardner: You've come out on May 23 with the announcement about iON and describing what you intend.

Sadat: That's correct. We started with our private beta, which is coming to an end. As you mentioned, we're now releasing a public beta. Pretty much anybody can come in, sign up, and get going in a true cloud fashion.

We're allowing ourselves a couple months before the general availability to take in feedback during the beta release. We're going to be actively working with the beta community members to use the product and tell us what they think and what they'd like changed.

One of the other things we're doing soon after the general availability is releasing a series of iON applications that we'll be building and releasing. These will be both things that we'll offer as ways to monetize certain integrations, but also as reference applications for partners and developers to look at, be able to mimic, and then be able to build their own applications on top of it.

Gardner: What is it they are going to get?

Sadat: At the core of it, they get Mule. That's pretty essential, and there's a whole lot of reasons why they do that. They get a whole series of connectors and various transports they can use. One of the things that they do get with iON is the whole concept of this virtual execution environment sitting in the cloud. They don't have to worry about downloading and installing Mule ESB. It's automatically provided. We'll scale it out, monitor it, and provide all that capability in the cloud for them.

They just need to focus on their application, the integration problems that they want to solve, and use our newly released Mule Studio to orchestrate these integrations in a graphical environment. Once they're ready, they push it out to iON, and they execute it. They can then manage and monitor all the various flows that are going through the process.

The platform itself will have a pretty simple pricing model. It's going to be composed of couple of different dimensions. As you need to scale out your application, you can run more of these units of work. You'll be able to handle the volume and throughout that you need, but we are also going to be tracking events. So this is, in Mule terminology, equivalent to a transaction. Platform users will be able to buy those in select quantities and then be able to get charged for any overage that they have.

Also, partners and ISVs today don't have a whole lot of choices in terms of being able to build and embed OEM services in a cloud fashion into various applications or technologies that they are building. So, iON is going to provide that platform for them.

One of the key things of the platform itself is that it is very embeddable. Everything is going to be exposed as a series of APIs. SIs and SaaS providers can easily embed that in their own application and even put their own UI on top of it, so that underneath it it says iON, but on top, it's their own look and feel, seamlessly integrated into their own applications and solutions. This is going to be a huge part of iON.

Gardner: Looking at the future how does the mobile trend in particular affect the need for a neutral third-party integration capability?

Mason: Mobile consumers are consuming data, basically. The mobile application model has changed, because now you get data from the server and you render on the device itself. That's pretty different from the way we've been building applications up till fairly recently.

What that means is that you need to have that data available as a service somewhere for those applications to pick it up. An iPaaS is a perfect way of doing that, because it becomes the focal point where it can bring data in, combine it in different ways, publish it, scrub it, and push it out to any type of consumer. It's not just mobile, but it's also point-of-sale devices, the browser, and other applications consuming that data.

Mobile is one piece, because it must have an API to grab the data from, but it's not the only piece. There are lots of other embedded devices in cars, medical equipment, and everything else.

If you think about that web, it needs to talk to a centralized location, which is no one enterprise. The enterprise needs to be able to share its data with integration outside of its own firewall in order to create these applications.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: Mulesoft sponsored this podcast.


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