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Cloud computing: What CIOs need to know about integration

Kim S. Nash | May 18, 2010
There are no standards for integrating cloud computing systems

For example, Appley uses a hosted version of a key property management system from Yardi Systems that Yardi runs on an IBM AS/400 server. When he wanted cloud versions of other applications to exchange data with the Yardi software, neither the application vendors nor Yardi had a utility written specifically to link their systems. Appley's staff had to write interfaces in RPG, the programming language IBM uses in the AS/400. Appley wasn't surprised, but it was one extra step.

Meanwhile, a new invoice-scanning and approval workflow system that he just rolled out uses Microsoft's BizTalk Server to route information to and from the company's various on- and off-premise systems. BizTalk will manage data that different cloud applications process in different formats, including FTP, various Web services and custom APIs, he says.

"We're taking data from one cloud application to another. We're bringing it to us as the intermediary, transforming it and sending it off," he says. Shorenstein had signed up for various cloud and SaaS systems before Appley arrived in 2007 and now he's integrating them all. BizTalk will be the hub, he says. "We have 10 different ways we pull data and only a few key people know how, so we're doing this BizTalk foundation now."

Meanwhile, Hurwitz, the consultant, advises CIOs to proceed with caution when working with a cloud vendor's own APIs and integration tools. Getting penned in with proprietary APIs could make it harder to move to a less-expensive, more-efficient provider if the time comes, she says. Several organizations are working on cloud computing specifications, but the ideas are new and so far no guidelines have been approved by standards bodies.

For example, Distributed Management Task Force, a group of software and hardware vendors, recently finished a spec called the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) that's designed to promote cloud interoperability. The task force submitted OVF to the American National Standards Institute and to the International Organization for Standardization. Standards bodies will test the spec this year, along with contenders from the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards and the Cloud Security Alliance. A winner could be as influential as XML has been for Web-based data exchange, Hurwitz says.

While those groups work on their proposals, she adds, vendors are hoping that their own APIs will become de facto standards, like Adobe's Flash technology has become for interactive Web applications. "Salesforce, Google and Amazon would all like every other cloud vendor on the planet to use their APIs," she says.

Draw Yourself a Picture

The key to cloud integration success is settling on a design for your integration scheme, says Matt Hahn, CIO at PDS Tech, a staffing firm that supplies engineers and IT contractors to companies such as Boeing. But because cloud technologies change quickly and standards aren't yet set, he says, planning involves a certain amount of risk. Hahn hopes he'll be able to apply the lessons he's learned in SaaS integration to help him with cloud-integration projects.


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