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Managing the hybrid integration challenge

November 9, 2015

The days of the single vendor application suite is coming to an end. Enterprise software systems like ERP are getting too complex, too costly, and too restrictive for businesses to operate properly. This is an observation that analysts at Forrester and Gartner are reporting. As businesses increasingly experience the impact of the current digital technology revolution, enforcing a consolidated application environment reduces the organization’s ability to be agile and innovative. Through the use of modern technologies of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC), enterprises can disrupt existing business models and create new market opportunities. But to do this means combining existing on-premise applications with cloud and mobile systems, what is now being called hybrid integration, and that requires a new approach.

The hybrid integration challenge

What are the common integration challenges for organizations embarking on hybrid integration projects? According to research by one online community:

  • Most businesses have between two and ten integrations, but only a few have integration specialists.
  • The most common integrations involve enterprise software (e.g.,CRM, ERP).
  • Because of cost concerns, developers tend to build their own integrations, and are managing API integrations and service orchestrations manually.

As a result, integration projects are not run as effectively as they could be, and solutions get re-invented for each project.

From the perspective of a developer, analyst, or IT administrator/CIO, do you want to ask the same questions for each integration – what middleware and tools will be used? Wouldn’t it be easier to run on a platform where you could identify the source and target environments, and then select the integration components required?

If your business wants to introduce new business practices using SMAC technologies, how do you balance the needs of running the important legacy applications with developing new systems? This challenge of running day-to-day business IT operations as well as adding new systems has been called Bimodal IT. How do you manage traditional IT processes that follow Mode 1 – classic waterfall projects, incremental change, established techniques – with Mode 2 that involves hybrid integration – agile projects, adaptive change, innovative techniques?

A good solution would be one that is general enough, but has depth of functionality and a good set of tools for unusual situations.

The hybrid integration solution

Integration projects that employ traditional integration products have been costly and so complex they require a vendor consultant for even normal integration work. However, there are new integration solutions that offer cloud, on-premise and mobile integration, and have several advantages over traditional integration providers:

  • cost effective to start up,
  • pricing grows as integration needs grow,
  • quick to set up and change,
  • not heavy on IT resources.

These solutions are called Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).

“… cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual or across multiple organizations.”

Unlike traditional enterprise service bus approaches which use tight coupling of systems, iPaaS solutions allow for loose coupling which reduces the effort of maintenance and makes integrations more scalable.

How Flowgear handles hybrid integration

Flowgear is a good example of an iPaaS. It’s cloud-based and uses the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach to pricing – you only pay for what you use. In addition, Flowgear has other benefits:

  • has numerous pre-built connectors, and a wide variety of controls and connections for integration,
  • is not code heavy – you don’t have to be a developer to use it,
  • uses a graphical, model-based console which makes developing integrations and managing orchestrations easier, and eliminates the problem of code spaghetti,
  • compresses and encrypts data flows to reduce costs of data transfer and ensure security.

Where Flowgear handles hybrid integration well is with DropPoints – a Windows service installed on a machine (server or workstation) that enables Flowgear to access data sources that are not openly exposed to the Internet. An example of setting up a DropPoint was discussed in a previous blog post.

DropPoints perform the following functions:

  • allow data communication between disparate sources by creating an outbound connection to the Flowgear cloud,
  • usually do not require to changes firewall policies,
  • allow communication to be recovered if the connection get dropped,
  • enable communication for services that are not a web API (eg. COM),
  • provide secure integration for data source which are exposed to the Internet but not in a secured manner (eg. as HTTP).

Integration will be the new normal

The cloud is becoming the new normal, with predictions that cloud computing will be an established part of enterprise IT by 2020. Businesses are moving to the cloud for many reasons, including agility and lower costs, but it will take time and existing on-premise systems need to keep running. Managing this hybrid integration infrastructure will require a new approach to integration methodologies and tools.

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