Application integration software: A buyer's guide
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
Application integration is a trend with drivers as diverse as businesses. So, the question shouldn't be whether you, as the software decision maker, need application integration, but why you think you don't. Diversity in business size, type, products, services and workers could mean that some IT trends don't apply to some businesses. You may not think that you need an application integration strategy, or that it doesn't fit your organization.
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This article discusses the various cases where an application integration strategy proves a necessity for enterprises. As companies transition from a manual model to an IT model, and information travels from one application to another among employees and with suppliers and customers, application integration has become a more vital IT force.
The desire for more agility in business practices, the componentization of application software and cloud computing are three trends today that are affecting companies. It's the combination of these trends that affects you, that will set the importance of application integration and define your best path forward. That means you'll have to assess how each of these trends will likely affect your company. And that's easiest to do by tallying your "Yes" answers to a group of questions about each of the trends.
How agile is your business?
Business agility seems a given; who wouldn't say they wanted to be agile in response to opportunities, issues and competition? The question is whether the response is likely to involve a change in the movement of work among applications. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you pass any work directly between applications today?
- Over the past two years, have you purchased or developed new applications based on changes in your business?
- Does your company face changes in its product or service lineup, or changes in competition?
- Is your business highly regulated and expected to respond to regulatory changes quickly?
- Do you expect changes in business status, such as incorporation, mergers and acquisitions, or operating geography?
Componentization is a driver for application integration
The second driver for an application integration strategy is more technical. We tend to think of IT applications as software packages, implying that they're a self-contained unit. In fact, software development practices have long favored modularization or componentization of software to lower development cost and risks. When considering the user, organizations can also use componentization to duplicate application elements to increase reliability and improve performance under variable activity loads.
To determine the likelihood that componentization is a driver for application integration in your company, ask the following questions:
- Does any of your current software -- developed internally or purchased -- utilize or even offer scalability or resiliency through the use of multiple software copies?
- Do you use load balancing or application acceleration in your current applications?
- Do you plan to develop or purchase a major new application shortly -- one that involves information sharing with your current applications?
- Does your company develop a lot of its current software internally?
Cloud computing complicates the decision
The final application integration driver is cloud computing. And because of the glow of publicity surrounding the cloud and the variety of ways applications can be deployed there, this driver may be the most difficult to assess.
The most important thing to remember about cloud computing is that it will complicate any application integration strategy created by any other driver or combination of drivers. That means that cloud plans are likely to force businesses that answered "Yes" to a single question on the other drivers to treat themselves as being significantly impacted by those drivers. The cloud turns a minor application integration need into a significant one.
Another thing to remember is that even applications that didn't require integration when run in-house will require some integration -- and perhaps a lot of it -- in the cloud. There is almost always a need to treat the connection between users and cloud-hosted applications as integrated workflows. So, don't bother to ask whether your cloud use will involve an application integration strategy -- assume it will.
What questions should you ask? Here's a list:
- Do you have a realistic, formulated plan for cloud computing adoption? Almost every business thinks they'll use the cloud, but an application integration strategy should be associated with real projects -- not projections.
- Does your cloud computing service contain any of the following features:
- Elastic IP addresses, such as those provided by Amazon;
- Load balancing in any form;
- Elastic cloud resource tools, such as Availability Zones;
- Cloud-hosted Web services that add data flow processing, caching or work scheduling and queuing; and
- Web front-end processes in the cloud, converging on back-end processing in-house.
- Do you have, or have you been told to plan for, the use of multiple cloud providers?
- Are you truly committed to a hybrid cloud?
If you didn't answer "Yes" to any of the questions above, and if your company has more than 100 employees, you should probably reconsider the questions and your responses. Few companies, other than very small businesses, can escape application integration needs completely. Therefore, even if you're sure you have answered the questions correctly in the negative, pick the driver you had to consider most carefully and consider that to be your application integration driver.
If you answered "Yes" only in one driver category, your integration needs should focus on that specific driver. The more "Yes" responses you had in that single category, the more you should focus on products and practices developed for that driver alone.
If you answered "Yes" to questions distributed across multiple drivers, you should consider yourself to be highly dependent on application integration, and look for products and practices that cover all of the issues of integration.
An application integration strategy involves an ordered movement of work between applications and components. Workflow and component location and registration are both important. How the two issues are balanced best for your needs will depend on how you've answered the questions above. With your responses in hand, you're ready to move to the process of issuing an RFP for application integration products.
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