The rise of cloud applications is growing strong enough even to force Microsoft to adapt its latest web browser, IE9, to the trend, as I wrote earlier today. Coincidentally, a separate launch yesterday addressed the same trend, but from a different direction. The vendor, Appirio, is a consulting client [see disclosure] and shared an early preview with me.
Appirio unveiled what Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer is calling a cloud service brokerage. A simpler way to look at it is that Appirio has packaged up the plumbing between cloud applications and is offering the plumbing as a service, on the same ready-to-run, pay-as-you-go terms as the applications themselves. This feels like something of a breakthrough. There's even a nice video that talks you through the Appirio CloudWorks proposition:
For more than a decade now, cloud applications have been offering ready-to-go application functionality, but it's been strictly stovepiped. There have been occasional efforts to prepackage integrations (such as Salesforce.com's first integration with Google Apps, which I wrote the white paper for). Granted, even when customers are left to do it themselves, the SOA (or RESTian) architecture of SaaS platforms ought to make it simpler than conventional methods. But despite all that, integration between cloud applications has remained, with few exceptions, an ugly afterthought, something the customer was always forced to custom-build, which had to make you wonder what was so different after all about this cloud model.
What's been lacking has been some kind of best practice and standardization that could allow any prepackaging or productization of the integration. As a cloud integrator, of course, Appirio has had the experience of performing a number of these integrations and has therefore been in a position to start to work out what the common factors are. Out of that experience has come this week's announcement.
As Dennis Howlett has pointed out, it's a limited start. But there's already a lot of art and effort behind what looks effortlessly simple. Appirio's integration is at every level, from processes that cross between application stacks at the user interface level down through identity management to raw data integration. It takes a lot to get this behind-the-scenes plumbing right and Appirio has started with just three primary applications — Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Workday — along with some ancillary applications that link into them, such as Marketo, D&B and Xactly. That integration will grow as time passes, perhaps slowly at first as the model beds down, but what is important is to start establishing the model and building it out.