What is cloud integration? Examples and tools
Businesses and organisations of all types have embraced cloud integration to transform data into business intelligence. The reason for this is simple: more and more business operations are happening in hybrid cloud — or even fully cloud-to-cloud – environments, and without proper tools to manage data in the cloud, data can become siloed, overlooked, or lost altogether.
Cloud integration is the process of connecting data stored on local, on-premises servers with data stored in remote SaaS (software as a service) applications and cloud services. It provides a conduit to powerful data analytics platforms, CRM systems such as Salesforce, and other applications hosted by third-party providers, including data warehouses such as Google BigQuery, Snowflake, AWS, and Microsoft Azure.
In this article, we'll explore the key features (and benefits) of cloud integration and provide some helpful resources for anyone considering a cloud, hybrid cloud, or multi-cloud integration strategy.
Advantages of cloud integration platforms
Traditional business development depended upon the specialised domain knowledge of experts in departments like warehousing, sales, marketing, finance, and others. This approach took advantage of deep expertise, but that critical information ended up locked in data silos. With each group’s data isolated within a single department, there were limited opportunities for sharing data or insights between teams. As a result, the whole company suffered.
With the advent of business intelligence, however, organisations developed an appetite for mining, discovering, and sharing data across departments to improve overall performance. By setting up APIs and connectors to free up the flow of data between silos, cloud integration supports business intelligence initiatives and helps to optimise all manner of critical business processes.
With cloud integration platforms, an organisation can enhance local data stored in on-premises systems with important information pulled from cloud applications. This includes a wealth of information that might not be available to any individual department, including (but not limited to) the following details:
- Network traffic patterns
- User behavior
- Security events, both external and in your environment
- Compliance information
- Errors and anomalies impacting performance data
- Resource usage
With cloud integration, teams across the organization get a holistic view of all the important — and often highly complex — interactions within their business environment. With this new access to much-needed data, they can use insights they gain from this process to establish and maintain a competitive edge in their market.
Businesses and the cloud
There is no one single reason to adopt a cloud integration platform. Beyond basic goals of improving business processes and staying up-to-date with increasingly complex compliance regulations, today’s leading industries use cloud integration to achieve breakthroughs in all kinds of areas. These advantages are wide-ranging, and include such benefits as:
- Lowered expenses — By diving deep into data from individual sources and apps, you get a better picture of areas where resources may be over- (or under-) committed so you can prepare a cloud integration approach that fits your specific business needs.
- Maximised human capital — Not even a crack team of IT pros could possibly ingest and interpret the amount of data flowing through an entire organisation with human power alone. With the right integration tools and design, proper task automation, and comprehensive reporting options, your existing resources can make a much bigger impact.
- Autoscaling — Save costs and improve scalability by adding resources during peak times and shutting them down over slower periods. As more organisations move operations from on-premises applications to virtual platforms hosted in the cloud, it becomes more and more important to use automation to manage resources.
- Faster delivery — Business today moves faster than ever. By shifting integration flows — and other key workflows — to the cloud, your applications can instantly exchange real-time data. Digital delivery helps you make important decisions quickly.
That last one is particularly significant: industry leaders are aggressively adopting cutting-edge approaches like continuous delivery and DevOps. Both of these philosophies call for near-real-time delivery cycles that can’t be accomplished without extensive automation. This inevitably involves a complex network of SaaS applications and cloud computing solutions. Solving for speed calls for new thinking about the definition of modern data integration.
Defining the future of data integration
Within the next decade or two, automation could open up countless new possibilities — things like instant release cycles or even integration solutions that can overcome performance challenges by designing their own helper applications.
As exciting as these possibilities are, that world comes with its own pitfalls. Who will design the guiding automation? What role will humans play in a continuous cloud integration cycle — and how will we keep hold of the reins in such a fast-paced data race? Leaders in the space will have to balance these questions and more as we push the functionality of application integration into the next generation of technical advancement.
What’s not in question is that data management will play a pivotal role in the evolution of cloud integration. Within a cloud environment, data integration lives at the intersection of big data, advanced analytics, business intelligence, and data governance.
Cloud integration challenges
Unfortunately all the benefits and advantages of seamless cloud integration don’t come as easily as flipping a switch. Even experienced, well-staffed organisations can struggle to build the model that’s right for them.
At Talend, we’ve been in the unique position to assist hundreds of organisations with that all-important decision to move to the cloud. Below are some key challenges to address during the journey.
1. Security and data privacy
Rarely does a news cycle go by without word of some new and significant breach in security. Major companies, financial institutions, and even political institutions are all at grave risk from an ever-growing list of online threats — including digital information theft, ransoming, and destruction. Without proper security, an organisation is at risk of even worse things than bad business intelligence.
Cloud providers know that their reputations and businesses are at stake so they are continually evolving their data security measures to outpace emerging threats.
Regulations protecting personal data are nothing new. But the past few years have seen an explosion in the number of laws and policies restricting how data can be collected, used, and stored. GDPR, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and HIPAA are the best known, but there are dozens of regulations covering a range of specific regions and industries. Staying compliant with these rules requires not just adherence to all standards, but periodic proof in the form of audits and reporting.
Maintaining compliance must be a core consideration, second only to making sure your cloud integration platform is secure. Insist on a cloud integration platform that provides insight into data sources as well as how it is being used and accessed by your users. This will put you in a position of strength when responding to privacy requests and ensure compliance with all relevant rules and regulations.
3. Expanding data
An inescapable truth of the modern age is that data is everywhere — and breeds data. As consumers shop, tweet, create, and store, they leave electronic trails packed with a mind-boggling amount of information. All this data is a treasure trove for businesses that feeds a wide range of use cases, from improving the customer experience to building better, more competitive products.
Though it’s easy to err on the traditional side of “more is better,” the cost of maintaining acres of idle storage can quickly bloat ownership costs without proper management. Automation is key to making sure an organisation has the room it needs, but doesn’t pay for any resources or storage not needed at a given time. It’s important to consider auto-scaling functionality when evaluating integration capabilities of cloud integration services.
4. Choosing a cloud integration platform
Every job’s easier with the right tools, but with an internet full of overlapping and confusing information about the right way to manage cloud integration, selecting the right tools can be as intimidating as the integration itself.
Start by considering the most immediate problems you want to solve: How many applications do you need to connect? What solutions do you already have in place – and how are they holding up? How many teams are going to be affected by your choice, and how will this change their workflows and productivity? And, finally, what is your budget for a cloud integration solution?
If you’re reading through that list of challenges and find yourself wondering where to even begin with cloud integration, you’re not alone. Deploying the right tools and partnerships is critical to designing successful integration processes, which can put a lot of pressure on making the right decision.
But it doesn't have to be that intimidating. More and more organisations are maximising their budget and brain power by opting for integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaas) solutions. These integration solutions provide flexibility and scalability, and can often serve both business users and highly technical users equally well. In the following section, we’ll examine how iPaaS could be an ideal option for organisations starting out with cloud integration.
What is iPaaS — and how can it help with cloud integration?
Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) is a straightforward solution for hosting, developing, and integrating cloud data and SaaS applications. The best iPaaS solutions include easy, graphic tools to help visualise and work with your overall business intelligence picture.
Many small to mid-sized organisations simply don’t have the infrastructure, security environment, compliance awareness, and other expertise necessary to build a holistic cloud integration architecture with manual software development. Purchasing an iPaaS solution can bridge gaps and pave the way to all the benefits — with few of the risks.
But even established enterprise companies can benefit from iPaaS. Since iPaaS providers often come pre-packaged with connectors and APIs for a wide variety of cloud applications, they dramatically reduce the need for labour-intensive software development and custom coding to build your own connectors. This can free up those critical engineering resources to solve other, more pressing problems around the organisation, without sacrificing the efficiency or effectiveness of your larger cloud integration initiatives.
An iPaaS solution can solve many of the most common cloud integration challenges by providing both the platform and tools for connecting, hosting, and managing a wide range of systems, such as:
- Virtual infrastructure — Spin up, deploy, and manage virtual machines, servers, network devices, and more to build and tune your environment.
- Data warehousing and integration — Create, mine, and move data throughout your enterprise for real-time business intelligence.
- Application development and continuous delivery — Development teams can collaborate in a hybrid environment or develop and deploy cloud-to-cloud entirely on iPaaS tools.
- Security and compliance — The right iPaaS partner offers critical business security like fraud detection and proactive networks while also complying with all applicable industry regulations. Performing mandatory audits and visualising threats on iPaaS-provided interfaces are big parts of a service approach to cloud integration.
As with most business decisions, budget plays a significant role in the choice about iPaaS. Any solution that outsources the heavy lifting of hand coding and simplifies integration will come with a price, so the secret is knowing what to shop for and how pricing structures work.
The right partner will deliver all of the above and more, resulting immediately in better business intelligence and cost savings that can be substantial. That’s where Talend comes in.
Get ready to go cloud
At this point, there’s no doubt about it: the future of data management is in the cloud. Even organisations with a massive legacy on-premises infrastructure are inevitably working with so many SaaS applications that they spend a lot of their time in a cloud environment, whether they’re conscious of that fact or not.
If you're ready to see what's possible with the cloud, a data integration platform can make the transition seamless, fast, and efficient. Talend Data Integration Platform provides a complete, easy-to-use set of tools to get your data to its destination without the painstaking process of hand coding.
Download a free trial and get your cloud integration strategy off the ground today.