Monday, July 28, 2008

Cast Iron rolls out updated appliance to ease SaaS-to-enterprise integration management

No one has said that the road to software as a service (SaaS) was going to be smooth, but Cast Iron Systems is trying to soften some of the bigger bumps with the latest offering in its "configuration not coding approach" to integration.

The Mountain View, Calif. company last week announced the Cast Iron iA4000 series, an appliance designed to expedite integrating on-demand services with other on-demand services or with on-premise applications. Capabilities include data conversion and profiling tools, an extensive library of pre-configured integration templates to enable out-of-the-box synchronization of one-to-one and many-to-many application endpoints, and an advanced process flow designer.

The latest offering replaces the company's iA3000 version and can be deployed on-site or hosted in the cloud.

The pre-configured components, called Template Integration Processes (TIPs) help solve common integration problems out of the box. In cases where company-specific configuration is needed, configuration wizards are available to help customize the TIPs.

The process flow designer allows users to visualize business processes, the flow of information, and the movement of data on screen. The user interface maps data flows to actual business processes and creates integration workflows between on-demand and on-premise applications.

Other features include:
  • Data profiling, which assesses the quality of the data before beginning migrations.

  • Intelligent data cleansing, which removes duplicate values, and includes "fuzzy lookup" -- rules to highlight and fix such errors as common misspellings, and abbreviations.

  • Data enrichment, which performs lookups with third-party data providers to add value to data.
Fellow ZDNet blogger Phil Wainewright has some good insights into the power and promise of these new means to manage the transition and boundaries between on-premises and SaaS or cloud-based services and applications.

A lingering question is whether integration means such as Cast Iron's will remain as a third-party addition, be supplied by the enterprise or SMB that needs integration, or become a required service that the SaaS provides themselves will pony up. At least for some time, we'll see all three.

But as Internet scale has its effect, I expect that the major SaaS providers will also need to increasingly become integration services and platform providers too. The easier the integration, the more enticing the move to SaaS and the more sticky the relationship ... easy on, and perhaps not so easy off.

And the SaaS leaders will be or are seeking out best of breed approaches to build, buy or partner on to make integration a seamless and tidy value add to the rest of the budding portfolio of enterprise-caliber services. Indeed, convenient integration could be the killer app of SaaS.