Is Integration Platform as a Service the Next Big Thing?

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As Federal agencies migrate applications to the cloud, data integration can be a major stumbling block that prevents them from reaping the benefits of cloud services. While agencies are putting more applications in cloud environments, often the underlying technologies connecting these applications are still on-premise. As a result, information technology teams must spend time provisioning and maintaining their middleware infrastructure to avoid performance bottlenecks.

However, now Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) technologies are emerging that are making integration of applications easier via API-led connectivity. Established software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Software AG provide solutions in the space, but other vendors such as Informatica, Dell Boomi, and MuleSoft also are leading the charge, according to Gartner.

For example, the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Chief Financial Officer increased the speed at which different program offices could access SAP data by working with MuleSoft to develop reusable SAP API interfaces. As a result, USDA achieved increased project delivery speed by 20 times. The agency is creating a shared services platform for these APIs to be used across other Federal agencies, according to MuleSoft.

Current approaches of moving applications to the cloud have their limitations. Lifting and shifting applications as-is causes service disruptions and increases costs. Starting from scratch is expensive and time-consuming. Building a bridge between on-premise and cloud applications, via ground to cloud point-to-point custom interfaces does not allow for scalability across applications or clouds. Every time developers need to connect new software as a service (SaaS) applications or cloud services, they can’t reuse any of the work done for the previous integration, Matt Serna, MuleSoft’s director of industry and solutions marketing said during a webinar.

MuleSoft, whose Anypoint Platform is going through FedRAMP accreditation, recommends implementing an API integration layer that decouples on-premise system data and business logic from specific system complexity. It also acts as a mediator between cloud services and SaaS applications. This integration layer enables resource-consuming applications to maintain uninterrupted access to the same data and service that exist on-premise as they are moved to the cloud, he said.

Connecting Integration Flows

Gartner describes iPaaS “as a suite of 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.”

There are a few important capabilities that differentiate iPaaS infrastructures from the last generation of on-premise enterprise integration platforms, noted Betty Zakheim, a research director with Gartner.

First, the tools are hosted by vendors. The tools offer other deployment models such as using a private cloud for organizations that do not want a vendor to host it for them. “The most prominent feature is that it is ‘as-a-service’ and as other platforms delivered as-a-service, customers are happy that there is one fewer thing they have to worry about,” Zakheim said. In the SaaS model, system administration tasks such as provisioning hardware, installing and upgrading software, and backing everything up are the responsibility of the provider.

Plus, iPaaS provides an upper-level user experience. Previously, enterprise integration tools required developers with heavy technical expertise to do the integration work. The iPaaS tools have graphical user interfaces that configure the information flows using graphical elements rather than coding.

“It is not like you want to throw people at this right out of the box. It is not like using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint because the business practice still has to be considered,” Zakheim said. However, various IT personnel can be enabled to do their own integration work. Because the system administrators are not being tasked with installing applications and backing up systems, they now become a “super user,” focused on how to use tools to help the business or mission.

“From an integrator’s perspective, if I want to figure out how to integrate a CRM [Customer Relationship Management] system to an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system, I would properly talk to this new genre of system administrator of the CRM system and ERP system.” They know the business practice they are supporting and through collaboration they can determine how they would like their systems to interoperate, Zakheim stated.

“Imagine being able to provide those people the tools to do their own integration work instead of having the people talk to a developer to do their integration work,” she said.  Of course, they will need a lot of support. “These tools make it easier, but integration is not yet easy,” Zakheim said.

Integration is still a software development discipline in which people must determine what they want to do through business analysis, then design the application, and test it before putting it into production. But iPaaS makes integration easier. This should be of interest to government agencies and even the private sector struggling to hire enough technical staff, Zakheim explained.

Does this mean that iPaaS is poised for widespread deployment within government agencies?

The market for iPaaS is growing, Zakheim noted. In 2017, iPaaS grew 72 percent, becoming a $1 billion market. The year before it grew 61 percent. “It is a marketplace that is growing like gangbusters,” Zakheim said.

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