IBM bought Cast Iron Systems because it simply had nothing in its huge Websphere toolbox that could do cloud integration. I just heard the company's SVP of its software group Steve Mills admit this in today's IBM press briefing, talking about the acquisition. While IBM has a massive catalog of technologies for integrating applications within a company, he confessed that tiny Cast Iron were the masters when it came to any form of integration that extends beyond the enterprise firewall: "Cast Iron connects customers to external suppliers. They do the inter-enterprise integration better than anyone else does," he admitted.
There are other striking admissions implicit in IBM's acquisition today. Did you hear the sharp intake of breath that reverberated across IBM Global Services on reading these two telling sentences in IBM's press release announcing the acquisition today?
"Using Cast Iron Systems' hundreds of pre-built templates and services expertise, expensive custom coding can be eliminated, allowing cloud integrations to be completed in the space of days, rather than weeks or longer."
As WebSphere GM Craig Hayman told Redmonk analyst James Governor over breakfast this morning, Cast Iron's "drag and drop technology" means that companies like ADP have cut new customer onboarding time from months to weeks, "removing the effort of building code." For many long years, IBM — along with every other established enterprise software vendor — has avoided offering its customers such short-cuts. But, as Cast Iron's CEO divulged to Governor (aka @monkchips), the cloud doesn't work like that: "You can't have a SaaS app that talks to quick time to value, if it then needs three months to integrate ..."
So Cast Iron offers hundreds of template integrations to save its customers and partners having to reinvent the wheel (aka 'hire IBM Global Services'). Again, listening to the press briefing, I heard Hayman explain that IBM's existing Datapower appliances were theoretically capable of doing these integrations. But Cast Iron had invested in building up a library of templates, and that represented the core intellectual property that IBM was buying.
In one sense, then, you can see today's acquisition as a capitulation by IBM, an admission that the old models of custom integration are now obsolete, replaced by the shared-infrastructure, shared-endeavor models of cloud computing. Disclosure: I'm currently working on a paid project to write a product profile for Boomi, a Cast Iron competitor.