Planning for Effective Cloud Integration

As companies strive to optimize their cloud investments, a cohesive cloud integration plan along with the right tools can help ensure the best results.

Understand and tackle your cloud integration challenges now to unleash the full potential of the cloud for your business. 

The unprecedented uptick in cloud adoption continues as organizations across every industry scramble to advance digital transformation and leverage the business value of the cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS) application usage alone has grown almost 7x in under 5 years, from an average of 16 to today’s 110 SaaS applications per organization. Yet as cloud adoption grows, so too does the complexity of IT environments creating a need for cloud integration. 

The risk of siloed applications and fragmented data also increases. As companies look to optimize their growing cloud investments, a cohesive cloud integration plan and the right tools can ensure no data gets left behind. This means quicker time to value for new investments and achievement of the ultimate goal: streamline data flow to create a better experience (and with it success) – for customers, business users, your data team, and your organization as a whole.

What is Cloud Integration?

Cloud integration unites cloud-based or hybrid systems, applications, repositories, and IT environments into a cohesive IT infrastructure. You may also hear cloud integration referred to as cloud system integration, cloud data integration, or cloud-based integration. Whatever it’s called, it can cover both fully cloud deployments and those that incorporate on-premises systems and applications.

The right combination of practices, tools, and technology ensures seamless and secure integration and connectivity between systems, helping to unleash the full potential of the cloud while working more efficiently. Cloud integration eliminates silos so IT and data teams can readily access and manage data, applications, services, and systems from one centralized location. Business users can get trusted data from that one location too.

Cloud Integration Challenges

Today, many organizations face challenges with their IT operating models, which are bogged down by legacy technologies, processes, and methodologies. Compounding these issues are the skyrocketing number of critical touchpoints, systems, and partners.

Remember all of those SaaS apps each organization uses? With each new one comes a potential new cloud data silo. Now add those to your legacy apps (aka more data silos). Now think about that recent acquisition. They use AWS. Exciting! Except you’re using Microsoft Azure and various on-premises systems. And, of course, add their 57 new SaaS apps to your 113… You can see where this is headed.

Some of the main challenges of integration are:

Limitations of traditional integration approaches

Traditional approaches to integration frequently include complicated point-to-point connections across different systems and custom coding, in addition to specialized skills needed to develop and continuously maintain the integrations. Not only can this approach lead to bottlenecks and linear scaling, but it can be expensive, static, and hard to manage.

Selecting the right integration architecture

Creating a single, cohesive cloud ecosystem from two or more cloud solutions demands that data and services from different providers be combined. This requires specialized knowledge of the integrations and APIs needed for the specific cloud architecture, such as hybrid or multi-cloud.

Effective cloud data governance

Because cloud integrations exchange substantial amounts of data, it can be difficult to maintain high-quality data and compliance with IT policies and protocols without the right expertise. New integrations across various systems may also introduce problems, and as the cloud environment expands, it becomes impractical to oversee integration points manually. Cloud integration must be complemented by a solid data governance plan and integration strategies related to specific data types.

Integration and API security

Linking applications and synchronizing data can pose numerous security concerns, such as exposed integration endpoints. Additionally, organizations must ensure no loss of authentication granularity across connected applications, which can be challenging to execute. Integration approaches need to support appropriate authentication and authorization to minimize the potential for security gaps and account for data and connectivity vulnerabilities.

Compliance and risk management

Compliance concerns can be a barrier to integration; different sectors have specific laws that regulate data sharing and storage and data privacy, such as the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Organizations must understand and account for compliance before starting the integration process and implement practices to ensure they’re meeting regulatory requirements as sensitive data moves across different environments.

Cloud Integration Patterns and Types

When we talk about a ‘pattern’ in integration, we’re talking about a reusable framework that solves a common challenge. But before we get into a few of these cloud integration patterns, let’s take a look at the different types of cloud integration: cloud data integration and cloud application integration which can be integrated either cloud to cloud, cloud to on-premises (hybrid), or within a multi-cloud environment.

  1. Cloud data integration is the process of combining data from disparate sources into one meaningful data set (i.e., a single source of truth) for business intelligence and analytics.

  2. Cloud application integration connects cloud applications with each other or with legacy / on-premises applications so they can ‘talk’ to each other to share data, requests, and commands. This allows organizations to implement more complex or cross-departmental business processes.

    Integrating your data or applications cloud to cloud simply means that all apps and infrastructure involved are in the cloud. You’re integrating SaaS apps like Salesforce with other applications in the cloud and moving data into a cloud data lake hosted on AWS, for example.

    When looking at application solutions make sure “integration” is part of the selection criteria during the evaluation period.  We know that applications need to work in concert with all the other applications within the ecosystem, so make sure they have a strong integration strategy. 

  3. Cloud to on-premises integration is also called hybrid cloud or hybrid integration. This type of integration allows connectivity between cloud and on-premises systems, databases, applications, and services.

  4. Multi-cloud environments, where organizations work with more than one public cloud, are pervasive. In fact, in a 2019 Gartner survey, 81% of respondents said they already used 2 or more public clouds. Businesses choose multiple clouds to avoid vendor lock-in or get the strengths of different vendors for different use cases. Integration here can be tricky, though some offerings like Google’s GCP have embraced a multi-cloud strategy.

Cloud Integration Tools and Technologies

Cloud integration platforms can help businesses take advantage of smart integration solutions and overcome the prevalent challenges typically associated with traditional cloud integration. There’s currently a wide range of third-party cloud integration tools available on the market that offer a variety of features and functions to address unique services, capabilities, and application needs.

  1. Mulesoft Anypoint Platform

    Allows organizations to manage their integrations and APIs on a centralized platform designed to adapt to future needs. Mulesoft Anypoint Platform offers different tools to build, integrate, manage, and test APIs, and provides a comprehensive interface for real-time visibility into APIs and integrations. Organizations can integrate data from any system, speed up project delivery cycles, and unlock the potential of their data via API-led connectivity.

  2. Azure Logic Apps

    Developed on a containerized runtime, Azure Logic Apps can be deployed and run anywhere and enable organizations to automate workflows that integrate with their systems, apps, data, and services. It allows events from one application to be processed and routed to a different application via connectors that convert them to the proper format for an API.

  3. IBM App Connect

    IBM App Connect enables data to be integrated between cloud-based and on-premises applications and provides a code-free interface for API building. Organizations can streamline app interconnectivity throughout all environments to increase operational agility via hundreds of prebuilt app connectors and an agile integration architecture (AIA), and the solution can also be deployed in either a cloud or on-premises environment.

    The flexibility of your integration tools is a critical consideration. When evaluating integration solutions, you should pick a tool that provides the most “coverage” for your integration needs.

Determining the Right Approach for Cloud Integration

There’s no one-size-fits-all framework for cloud integration, but the right approach can maximize the value provided by each integration based on the enterprise scenario and use case. Organizations must choose the best method to establish successful integration between SaaS, cloud-hosted, and on-premises applications.

Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS)

iPaaS generally features prebuilt connectors, user interfaces (UIs), maps, and business rules that help to simplify the building of integrations. An iPaaS provides functionality comparable to integration platform software but as a hosted cloud service and can support cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud integration.

Additionally, iPaaS offers user-friendly tools for data visualization and robust security features. iPaaS might be a good choice for companies who want to outsource operational features of integration middleware, though the functionality is more restricted for deeper integration with on-premises applications.

Custom code

Custom code integration encompasses solutions created for individual integration. While this approach can enable quick communication between data, it’s not a viable long-term solution since it isn’t scalable or flexible. For example, point-to-point integration links two systems together and requires custom code development between different systems, data, applications, and devices. Not only does this result in a spaghetti architecture, but it’s challenging and resource-intensive to maintain or adapt the system.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS apps often provide out-of-the-box integrations and tools that facilitate simple integration between applications. Upfront costs are usually minimal, and these integrations are easy to implement and maintain. However, while this approach is quick and easy for non-technical users, it doesn’t offer the same level of agility and control as other options.

The Benefits of Cloud Integration

In an era of ubiquitous cloud and overabundant data, organizations rely on cloud integration services to align business and IT, make data available in real-time for better decision-making, improve business processes and data analytics, and drive stellar customer experiences.

Given that even small organizations have an average of 73 SaaS apps, cloud integration is critical regardless of your organization’s stage in your cloud journey. And the benefits are huge. Top among them are:

  • Driving real-time sharing of processes and information across the organization
  • Accelerating responsiveness to evolving business, customer, partner, and employee needs
  • Improving collaboration and efficiency between teams and departments via shared data and analytics tools and alignment across disparate applications
  • Eliminating redundant or replicated data to minimize storage costs
  • Accelerating adoption of new applications and systems as business needs change

Comprehensive Cloud Integration Services

As businesses continue to accelerate their digital transformation agendas, cloud integration becomes more important to their strategies. With the appropriate integration approach and cloud integration best practices, organizations can leverage an infrastructure that positions them to rapidly unlock innovation potential via reduced operating costs, greater agility and efficiency, and real-time information accessibility.

Eliassen Group is dedicated to helping organizations around the world develop and implement their cloud strategies. Whether it’s supporting the early stages of a cloud migration process, enabling an end-to-end purpose-built cloud migration strategy, or ensuring seamless cloud integration, Eliassen Group offers top-tier tailored cloud consulting services purpose-built to help you meet your unique business needs.