Cast Iron's lifecycle SaaS integration play

A new generation of Cast Iron's SaaS integration appliance adds functionality that now addresses what you might call the SaaS lifecycle: everything from data migration through to cloud-to-cloud integration.

Integration appliance vendor Cast Iron Systems showed great foresight a few years back when it decided to target its business development energies at the SaaS market. It had always targeted its products at midmarket businesses (I first came into contact with the company when I was covering the SOA market and British American Tobacco was one of its early users). So when it saw midmarket companies starting to adopt SaaS it realized there was an opportunity to fulfil an emerging need for SaaS integration. Back in 2005, "SaaS was growing, but 99% of the world was on-premise," Cast Iron's VP of product marketing Chandar Pattabhiram told me in a briefing last week. Inevitably, those midmarket early adopters were going to need a accessible means of exchanging data between their SaaS applications and their on-premise legacy systems.

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Cast Iron's decision coincided with Salesforce.com realizing that it needed to offer its customers effective integration solutions and the appliance vendor became an early partner. The move paid off, as Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing at Salesforce.com told me last week:

"Cast Iron has been very successful in the Salesforce.com customer base with both small/midsized companies and large enterprises," he wrote in an email. "[It] has numerous integration references with the largest ERP applications including SAP and Oracle as well as multiple examples of integration with other web based services and legacy/custom applications.

"Our customers tell us that Cast Iron gives them great time to value for their integration projects," he added. "This stems from rapid implementation and intuitive toolsets. Most Cast Iron implementations take only a few weeks (some in only days) with minimal configuration and resource requirements."

This week the vendor brought out the iA4000 series, a new generation of its SaaS integration appliance, adding functionality that now addresses what you might call the SaaS lifecycle — everything from data migration through to cloud-to-cloud integration.

Adding a data migration capability is an important step forward in simplifying the onboarding process when an organization first implements a SaaS solution. The functionality includes data conversion, de-duping and intelligent data cleansing. It has helped Cast Iron win over leading talent management SaaS vendor Taleo, which is adopting the new appliance to run its own onboarding service for new clients. I understand Taleo is calling this 'migration as a service' and it's a good idea. Getting data into the on-demand application is a big stumbling block for SaaS implementations (regular readers may recall that WIMA, an early adopter of SAP's Business ByDesign, reported taking almost a year to prepare its data for migration). Anything that eases the process will help sales.

Other new features include a library of pre-configured integration processes, along with a set of configuration wizards that walk customsre through the process of customizing the templates to their specific requirements. There's also a visual design tool that maps data flows to actual business processes so that relatively non-technical users can easily set up integrations. Pattabhiram told me the design objective is to make the interface as easy to use as Intuit's Turbo Tax package. Did that mean users will find on-demand integration more painless than filing their annual tax returns to the IRS, I wondered? "It's definitely easier than my taxes," he joked.

The final news item of note is that Cast Iron is now offering to host your appliance in the cloud. This move recognizes the increasing prevalence of cloud-to-cloud integration — also highlighted by Monday's announcement of venture funding for cloud integrator Appirio from Sequoia Capital, which also backs Cast Iron. When most of an organization's applications are running in the cloud, there is no advantage to having the appliance on the customer's premises. Integration becomes just another cloud-based service.

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