Enabling Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on a Cloud is a straight push from on-premise or by direct adoption of Cloud especially for start-ups. But the true challenge is to tie up the channels to integrate the SME Cloud hosted solution with the associated partners, suppliers, and customer interfaces. This requires a focus on some of the key elements such as integration channels, methods, and interfaces for establishing the seamless communication across the applications within and outside the Cloud hub. A key motivator is to get advantage of the Cloud benefits through adoption and maximize the reach of business operations with less investments – so the philosophy is simple; i.e., pay-as-you-go. This chapter focuses on the Cloud integration characteristics, available Cloud integration patterns, and key integration considerations which every SME needs to be aware of when they move to Cloud.
Integration is always a challenge because we need to clearly understand the nature of the systems, technology behavior, available communication channels, data exchange formats, and many more things. Let us witness the most important Cloud integration characteristics:
SMEs ideally want to operate the entire business with minimum infrastructure footprint on-premise. Today many application service providers enable application access in a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based mode. This leads to the architecture of constructing SME applications with a build, compose, and consume approach. The build approach helps to re-engineer or host the on-premise solutions on the Cloud. The compose approach elevates the concept of mash-up-based integrated services as a packaged form. The consume approach advocates the ability to use the applications in an SaaS mode. This theme typically needs a framework for integration architecture and it is achievable through some of the key Cloud integration patterns.
Cloud integration is an important aspect to be considered for SME applications which are hosted and planned in the Cloud. True Cloud power can be leveraged when the SME is able to operate his entire business operations on the Cloud. Today, we have hundreds of Cloud service providers who provide online services for email, ERP, CRM, financials, supply chain, office online, and others which can serve the business operations.
Cloud integration can be done at various levels such as:
Data integration aims to integrate the data from various business entities within an application. The SME should have the ability to transform the data into the required format between its source and sink. The “pipe and filter” pattern is appropriate for this. Pipes and filters provide a solution for moving the output of one system into another system. The pipe is the portion of the code that is connected to the source system and to the sink or the receiving system. The filter is the portion of the code that transforms the data so that the sink program can process it. This pattern is useful when you need to transform the data from one system into a different format to integrate that data into another system.
Application integration can have different scenarios to be addressed:
The solution for each of the scenarios can be different. To access the external systems, in general we follow either a gateway pattern or hub‘n’spoke architecture pattern. To access the on-premise systems, it is appropriate to establish a secure communication channel and establish a trust relationship to transmit the content. For other scenarios, it is more to do with service-based integration which can be achieved with the following Cloud integration patterns. Two Cloud integration patterns which we can consider when we deploy solutions onto Cloud are:
Applications in the Cloud use this pattern for integration and communication. The integration strategy which can be applied within the Cloud can be a service-based API to communication.
There is a high probability that applications in the SME world will require integration interfaces to run their daily business operations with applications that are running outside the Cloud – either on-premise or on other Cloud platforms. To address such scenarios SMEs should consider the following:
The nature of SME business operations can lead us to employ a mixture of different solutions based on the situation and context. So, it is important to understand and believe that there is no “one size fits all” solution for each and every customer. In general SMEs practice the use of end-to-end solutions that integrate applications and extend services to customers. This leads to the discussion below.
It is important that an SME has an integration architecture, to achieve business success and optimize the value of its Cloud undertakings. Some key Cloud integration architecture considerations are: