Cloud integration refers to a combination of tools, technologies, and practices that companies can use to connect applications, systems, data, and even the entire IT environment. Such integration can occur between different providers and cloud platforms, as well as between hosted and local resources or on location.
The emergence of public cloud computing has enabled companies to use a variety of resources and services that are highly measurable on demand rather than building and maintaining them in-house. However, in some organizations, the arrival of these various resources and services has created an IT silo because admins struggle to manage and maintain each of the different resources or cloud data sets.
For example, it is relatively easy for a business to use a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application to integrate new employees and make relevant payroll and tax records. But new employees also have to accept new email accounts, such as for Office 365, as well as access to relevant collaboration tools. New employees must also be added to the organization’s Active Directory (AD) database.
Without cloud integration, IT needs to do all these integration tasks separately and manually – a time-consuming process and increase the chance for errors. Through data and service integration, however, IT can use policies and processes to automatically implement many of these tasks.
The main purpose of cloud integration is to connect different elements of various cloud and local resources into one ubiquitous environment where an organization can more easily access and manage applications, data, services and systems.
Types of cloud integration
The IT team can implement various types of cloud integration, including cloud-to-cloud – between cloud-to-local platforms – between the cloud and the environment in place – or a mixture of both. Integration usually involves data and applications, although they can also involve services and systems.
Perhaps the most common form of cloud integration is data integration, which aims to share or synchronize data between data storage. Another important type of cloud integration is application integration, where two or more applications can share status, requests, commands, and other mechanisms to implement business processes.
For example, typical companies use a number of software, such as supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). Many of these tools are now in the cloud as SaaS applications.
However, this tool cannot generally communicate for data sharing or business policy, which can produce duplicated data and inconsistent business practices. Through application integration, organizations can connect applications to share data and automate broader business practices.
For lower levels, organizations can use cloud integration to integrate services and systems to help tasks such as cloud use, cost tracking and problem-solving. For example, emerging system management tools can embrace local resources and cloud, which can help admin understand how resources are allocated and managed throughout the company.
How cloud integration works
There are no single means to implement cloud integration, but there are several general concepts that need to be considered.
Mediation functions between applications; the cloud integration platform recognizes an event in one application and then triggers a response sent to another connected application.
For comparison, federations act as the front end for two or more federated applications where the cloud integration platform can intercept and process events from outside the application and trigger appropriate actions. It is also possible to combine these two approaches so that mediation handles actions between applications and federations handling actions from outside the connected application.
Cloud integration can function asynchronously or simultaneously depending on the communication that occurs. Asynchronous cloud integration communicates data and commands without having to wait for a response from the receiving application. This prevents unnecessary delays in sending – or originating – data because there is no need to wait for the recipient – or target – to respond. Synchronous cloud integration will wait for a response from the recipient application, which ensures the application is fully synchronized before continuing.
The actual time needed to do cloud integration can vary. Usually, IT can complete several integration tasks, such as automatic synchronization, quite quickly. Other tasks may require hours or even days, especially if synchronization involves human workflows.
Cloud integration platforms typically use adapters or connectors, which are software modules intended to interact with certain business applications. Thus, the cloud integration platform can implement a central interface or broker that handles security and authentication, while special adapters accommodate integrated applications. Connectors carry out communication and notifications.
Connectors can be intended for specific applications, such as SAP, or can be vendor neutral, using standard communication protocols, such as simple message protocol (SMTP) exchanges, simple object access protocols (SOAP), application programming interfaces (API) and Java connector architectures ( JCA).
For data integration, cloud integration platforms typically use application-independent data formats, such as extensible markup language (XML). Each connector will translate the application specific format to an independent format before making any translation or conversion and then can exchange that general data with the recipient application.
Benefits and challenges
Even though cloud integration does not change data or modify applications, it can synchronize data and applications in a company. When properly implemented, integration can automate complex workflows and reduce or eliminate redundant data that can cause operational errors. Consequently, cloud integration can improve operational efficiency, flexibility and scalability, and reduce operational costs.
However, cloud integration poses a number of challenges, most of which stem from a lack of standardization. There is no universal or standard approach to integrating cloud resources. Different applications, resources, and services sometimes use different communication schemes, which make it difficult to create and maintain connectors needed to interact with various cloud elements and the local environment. Updates and patches for applications can change the way the application communicates and may require time-consuming connector updates.
There are additional problems that can interfere with the cloud integration project. Because integration can be complicated, they demand technical expertise and, in some cases, dedicated staff to manage.