How will we integrate all these enterprise cloud apps?

By Fritz Nelson , written on September 9, 2013

From The News Desk

For the foreseeable future we’ll hear plenty about the next big thing, and it will be some kind of cloud-based software, and it will solve some emerging business problem, and it will let businesses focus on being expert in what they’re building instead of technology. And it will soar. Venture money will be delivered by the truck full, valuations for tiny pre-revenue (aka money-losing) companies will balloon beyond the size of small nations, and we’ll think nothing of it.

I say this as observation and not critique. I’m fine with it if you are, if just a little puzzled. I admit to a bias toward things that solve honest-to-goodness problems, rather than imagined ones. I’m weird that way.

But what I cannot escape is that despite all of the new paradigm-shifting and inflection-pointing and point-tipping and (I swore to myself I’d never say it) pivoting, technology shops that deploy cloud software, on its own or amidst traditional enterprise software, will still have to solve the fundamental problem they’ve always faced: integrating all of this software, no matter how it’s delivered.

Orders placed in Salesforce will have to be reconciled with an SAP ERP system. Online shopping carts will need to be flooded with an accurate view of inventory. Product delivery schedules will always be predicated on understanding a complex supply chain. Understanding help desk history will lead to better customer relationships. And so on.

In a traditional enterprise software environment, most business processes don’t exist in isolation, or at least they’re strengthened when they work collectively. And making that happen often requires a combination of enterprise middleware (the glue), integration modules written by the software providers or your own development team, or usually some combination of all of the above, followed by lots of ongoing care and feeding.

Entire markets once emerged (and still exist) around enterprise application integration, or middleware, with companies like Oracle (Fusion Middleware) and IBM (Websphere Application Server) leading the way, not to mention WebMethods and Tibco.

Simpler REST-based APIs have made some of this integration easier, especially with cloud-based solutions. Still software vendors write their own integrations. Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, a company that makes cloud-based finance and billing software, says his company has integrations for NetSuite, for example, and has a staff of (Salesforce’s development platform) developers (indeed, the Zuora commerce module is a application).

But even with that, Zuora customers like SendGrid keep a small staff of experts to work on integration, according to the company’s CEO Jim Franklin. SendGrid is also a customer of other cloud software companies, like Zendesk, NetSuite (for general ledger), Marketo, Salesforce and Good Data. Getting good, real time reporting does take work, Franklin says.

There are more modern-day integration approaches, built with the cloud in mind, notably SnapLogic Elastic Integration and Boomi from (I’m not making this up) Dell.

SnapLogic has been around since 2008. Gaurav Dhillon says he put his own seed capital into it for years, until the technology was ready for market in 2010. He became CEO in 2009. Before SnapLogic he was with the co-founder and CEO of Informatica, a company that specialized in data integration. In other words, he has a rich history in this space.

The company claims that it experienced 300 percent growth last year and is on pace to do the same in 2013.

SnapLogic creates what it characterizes as containerized “Snaps,” essentially pre-built code that lives in the cloud and connects SaaS and on premises applications and data. The company promises that it works with structured and unstructured data.

Dhillon believes that people who aren't programmers should to be able to integrate applications without learning Java or hiring a consulting company. Just drag-and-drop connections on a simple visual grid (say an order in Salesforce into an order object on the ERP system) and, voila, it all just works, and when your salespeople close an order in Salesforce it spits out the order in your financial system.

For companies using social media for targeted marketing, it works much the same way. In a Facebook promotion or offer, you’d want to connect existing pricing information and even inventory data to your Oracle ERP system, for example.

In short, SnapLogic does all of the work for you. Dhillon says that the Salesforce API documentation is about 500 pages long, and the Snap reduces it all to a set of visual objects.

SnapLogic has about 160 different pre-built Snaps. Dhillon says, Workday and ServiceNow are popular, and for on premises deployments, SAP, Oracle e-business, and big data Snaps (Cloudera, Hive) have been in demand.

The company raised a Series C round of $20 million a year ago from Ignition Partners, Triangle Peak Partners and Andreesen Horowitz. Dhillon says the company may seek another round later this year. Its customers include Netflix, Pandora, and Bloomin Brands.

SnapLogic has partnerships with several enterprise software providers, some of them joint sales relationships. I reached out to several of them and got a somewhat lackluster response. Raghu Gnanasekaran, NetSuite’s senior director of business development, said that SnapLogic had joined the SuiteCloud Developer Network a couple of years ago, but had not seen much success in the NetSuite ecosystem (NetSuite wasn’t the only company to reveal such modest SnapLogic activity). He says he doesn’t know why that is, that NetSuite has marketed SnapLogic, but that Dell’s Boomi has done much better.

The list of enterprise applications Boomi supports is equally impressive, with nearly 100 connectors. Like SnapLogic, Boomi uses a visual palette to map functions, drag and drop style. With Boomi, the configuration of the integration happens in the cloud, and a lightweight runtime engine runs the integration process on premises. Boomi GM Chris McNabb says that mapping Salesforce and SAP invoicing is the product’s most popular application (sound familiar?). McNabb says that business intelligence and big data integrations are also starting to ramp up.

One thing Dell thinks is unique is Boomi Suggest. Because Boomi is a single instance, multi-tenant system (that is, every customer makes use of the same code in the Dell cloud), Dell is able to mine all of the data about how its customers typically use Boomi and then dynamically make recommendations on how to connect applications. In a way, it’s a crowdsourced recommendation engine for application integration.

McNabb says that some SaaS vendors actually embed Boomi, essentially white labeling the service. Dell claims that Boomi sees more than a million cloud integrations a day. Like SnapLogic, Boomi boasts some impressive customers, like GoPro, AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah, oneworld (airline alliance), and LinkedIn.

For many of these customers this must feel like deja vu, only it’s all taking place in a cloud-oriented world, with simpler APIs. Welcome to the new age of integration.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]