One of the biggest challenges of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud services is the effort and expense associated with integrating multiple cloud applications.
Just about any business process an enterprise cares to name winds up touching multiple applications. In the cloud, each of those applications has a particular user interface and unique workflow. Enterprise IT organizations spend millions integrating all these applications within the context of a specific business process.
“This is what drives all the customization of SaaS applications that we’re seeing,” says Judith Hurwitz, president of IT consulting firm Hurwitz and Associates. “Companies spend millions of dollars doing this. Long-term, however, we should see headless services enabled by well-defined interfaces.”
As cloud computing continues to evolve, IT organizations should plan to embrace “headless" cloud services, where they can more easily apply their own standard user interfaces and workflow patterns against any number of application services in the cloud via an application programming interface (API).
In fact, the race is on between small and large enterprise IT vendors to deliver these capabilities. CA Technologies, Software AG, and IBM, for example, all have ambitions to supply integrated app frameworks. Smaller players include Mendix, which recently released version 5.0 of its namesake platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering.
According to Mendix CEO Derek Roos, the company provides a platform for building business applications using modeling rather programming tools.
“Modeling makes it easier to share reusable components,” says Roos. “Right now, the industry is based on multi-billion dollar custom application coding that is based on an old-world model.”
With the recent acquisition of PaaS provider LongJump, Software AG is also heading in a similar direction.
According to Pankaj Malviya, former CEO of LongJump and now senior vice president and general manager of Application Platform as a Service at Software AG, the acquisition signals the emergence of PaaS as a viable approach for integrating applications in the cloud.
“We’re seeing a rebirth of custom application development in the cloud,” says Malviya. “Enterprise customers now expect flexibility, customization, and nimbleness."
CA Technologies CTO John Michelsen says it will take a while for these headless services in the cloud to mature, but the trend itself is part of the changing role of IT organizations, which is one of the primary reasons that CA Technologies decided to acquire Layer 7 Technologies, an API management platform vendor.
“We’re talking about changing how software is constructed and deployed,” says Michelsen.
IBM is also making a massive investment in API management, with similar customization goals in mind as it pushes more applications into the cloud.
“As we go forward, you’ll see more breadth and depth,” says Marc Dietz, director of SmartCloud and DemandTec marketing for IBM.
Of course, the means for achieving all this integration will vary. Modern web applications tend to favor a RESTful API approach, while enterprise IT organizations favor service-oriented architectures (SOA). Whatever the approach, it’s clear that a richer set of application services for the enterprise is the next big thing on the cloud computing horizon.