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May 7th, 2010

A number of bloggers this week made the observation that WebSphere’s acquisition of Cast Iron as a cloud play seemed like a contradiction (one example). It was an astute observation.  Integration appliances by definition are not SaaS products. And they won’t scale for cloud computing.  Here’s why.

The fundamental limitation of integration appliances is that they are single-tenant.  As such, each customer must buy, install and maintain its own copy of the appliance and must do so at every location where integration is to occur.  As a result, using appliances (or any other conventional integration product) to integrate SaaS greatly increases cost, complexity and time to deploy while also greatly limiting scalability.

This is the case even if the appliance is hosted “in the cloud.” Hosting without multi-tenancy is the equivalent of the ASP model of the 90’s – a model that ultimately proved not scalable. In the multi-tenancy model there is only one copy of an application deployed in the cloud (single instance) but all customers can use that copy (multi-tenant) and even customize it to meet their unique requirements.  Multi-tenancy is what makes all the great values of SaaS possible, such as rapid time to value, faster innovation cycles and ultra-low cost structure.

Multi-tenancy is particularly important in the world of integration because integration is such a fundamental building block for the SaaS community.  Think of any common infrastructure system as an analogy, electricity for example.  It only makes sense to build common infrastructure systems once that can benefit the entire community of users.

I’ve used this analogy before. In his book “The Big Switch,” Nicholas Carr describes how one hundred years ago, companies stopped generating their own power with “dynamos” and plugged into a growing national power grid of electricity.  Looking back today, the benefits are obvious: dramatically lower cost, greatly reduced maintenance, and ubiquitous distribution.  It also made the process of upgrading technology much easier as changes made to the common grid were immediately available to the benefit of all users.  But most importantly it addressed the scalability issue that was created by the limited reach of isolated dynamos and in the process unleashed the full potential of the industrial revolution.

We are in the midst of a similar revolution today with the advent of SaaS and cloud computing and integration has become the modern-day version of electrical power – call it “digital electricity.”  Integration appliances are much like the electrical “dynamos” of yesteryear. In the single-tenant model, each business must install and maintain its own dynamo (appliance) and generate its own digital electricity at great expense. 

When we built Boomi AtomSphere, we recognized that the industry needed a “universal power grid” to unleash the full potential of the SaaS revolution.  We built the Boomi platform from the ground up as a true, single-instance multi-tenant SaaS platform.  It was designed and built to natively handle the complexity of multi-tenant SaaS applications and seamlessly connect to on-premise applications to provide a natural on ramp for traditional enterprises to migrate to the cloud over time.  ISVs, system integrators and end customers alike can now plug directly into Boomi’s “power grid” and have instant access to integrate with the industry’s largest open network of interconnected SaaS, Paas, on-premise and cloud compute environments.

This is not a perfect analogy but I think it makes the point.  Multi-tenant platforms unite and power the growth of the SaaS ecosystem while single-tenant appliances place each customer on its own island.  And attempting to grow the multi-tenant SaaS/cloud ecosystem with single-tenant integration appliances will result in sky-rocketing maintenance costs and greatly limited adaptability and scalability. We have an opportunity with SaaS to avoid the integration mistakes that plagued the enterprise space. Adopting multi-tenant architecture for integration is imperative to support the rapid growth and expansion of the cloud computing industry.

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