Mar 31 2020

Cloud-Based Integration: What Is iPaaS?

How to avoid a segmented IT structure when using multiple providers.

The cloud is now standard operating procedure as organizations work to improve cost management, adapt to changing consumer expectations and scale up resources on demand. But the sheer number of cloud services used by organizations — the 2019 State of the Cloud Report notes that enterprises now use nearly five cloud providers, on average — has created a new challenge in segmentation.

As workloads diversify across public and private clouds to store and manage both low-risk and high-value data, the complexity of those structures has increased. The result? Services designed to streamline operations are now falling victim to both silo and sprawl. Databases that require increased compliance oversight are naturally set apart from clouds, while the rapid uptake of collaboration tools makes it easy for staff to quickly spin up new compute instances — and then forget to shut them down.

As complexity threatens to undermine critical cloud advantages, Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) has emerged. Bringing together cloud services can offer businesses simplified infrastructure while getting the most out of providers.

What Is iPaaS?

Research firm Gartner defines 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.”

If that seems overly complex, a simpler way to imagine iPaaS is connection and communication. Integration tools enable both among applications and services, in turn streamlining the process of cloud management and monitoring.

The “platform” aspect is also critical. Simply adding another one-off service or solution won’t solve the silo problem — it could even make the issue worse. For example, if stand-alone integration tools handle sensitive data, they need to be protected from potential outside interference or internal compromise. This naturally separates them from existing cloud environments and ramps up — rather than reduces — cloud silo-building.

By leveraging platform-based integration tools, meanwhile, companies deploy a consistent framework of connection and communication across cloud services and providers, in turn cutting through digital red tape to deliver consistent performance at scale.

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Key Benefits of Integrated Cloud Management

In practice, iPaaS delivers four key benefits:

  • API management: Application programming interfaces are the foundation of app functionality; as noted by a recent Microsoft Azure whitepaper, integration services empower API accessibility across both cloud and on-premises software. 
  • Workflow orchestration: Business processes don’t exist in isolation. For example, accounting processes may start in secure local stacks, connect with clouds for real-time data and then shift to custom-built payroll applications. iPaaS solutions help orchestrate workflows across multiple environments and applications to both reduce complexity and improve performance.
  • Application messaging: Communication is critical in the cloud. Platform-driven messaging empowers apps and services to communicate asynchronously using straightforward messaging formats and queues that allow senders and receivers to connect. 
  • Event handling: Network events, from resource demand increases to cybersecurity incidents, impact cloud environments at scale. Integrated event handling helps ensure unified application response.

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Three Tips to Source an Integration Solution

As noted by Forbes, businesses in 2020 are looking to solve siloed dependencies and drive application mobility. In response to emerging market demand, technology leaders such as Microsoft have created solutions like the Azure Integration Platform, which is designed to “seamlessly integrate applications, data and processes for your enterprise.”

Market diversification means this isn’t the only iPaaS option for your organization, and evolving standardization means there’s no single way to effectively deliver platform-based integration. When it comes to sourcing your iPaaS, however, there are three broadly applicable considerations:

  • Ease-of-use options: According to Tech Target, ease of use is a critical concern for iPaaS solutions. Businesses should consider the speed of platform deployment, ease of administration and ability to quickly build custom cloud connections. 
  • Prebuilt connections: Although it’s possible to build out your own integrated connectors, it’s worth looking for iPaaS solutions that offer prebuild options, including FTP, HTTP, Advanced Message Queueing and Open Data protocols.
  • Cloud and on-premises installations: While the primary purpose of iPaaS is improving cloud connections and communication, local stacks and legacy applications are also part of the conversation. The ideal iPaaS option should include support for your entire IT environment, not just apps in the cloud.

The cloud offers key advantages over on-premises deployments by modifying form and function, but IT fundamentals remain consistent: Any technology at scale has the potential to create silos and sprawl. iPaaS tools help bridge the gap by streamlining connection and communication across multiple cloud services.

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