If I look at some of my own personal data that I’ve accumulated over the years, for example – my contacts – I can tell you that I have that sort of information stored in at least three places: on my phone, on my computer, or written down somewhere. I can also safely say that there’s a great deal of overlap between each of these sources, and also a great deal of inconsistency.
I don’t consider it to be that big of a problem for myself, having only a few hundred contacts to deal with, but I can only imagine how big this “data inconsistency” problem is for businesses today. Take, for example, customer information. Maybe you started out as a small business, keeping customer information in a file, and as your business grew, that file became impractical, so you moved your customer information into a database, but then you started using some other customer relationship management (CRM) applications and services (such as SalesForce.com) to generate leads, and suddenly you’ve got customer information all over the place, both on site and off. Forget about keeping that data consistent and up-to-date at this point. Unless…
Cast Iron is the solution for exactly this type of problem. It’s not the solution for everything, but this “data inconsistency” problem is one of the big ones in cloud computing. Having data in separate places can make it seem more difficult to keep track of.
However, Cast Iron can provide a consistent view of data from a multitude of resources, both on site and off, thus making it a “hybrid cloud” solution. For example, it allows you to integrate services like SalesForce.com with other applications and resources you may have on site or elsewhere in the cloud. And, it’s not just for CRM, but supports many types of data and formats, and other SaaS offerings, too. Updates to data can be bidirectional and configured to run automatically, on a schedule, if you prefer.
Configuration, not coding
Sounds great. “So what do I need to know to get started?” This is the very question I asked one of my colleagues who develops education for Cast Iron. She explained that getting started is relatively easy with the graphical user interface (GUI). No coding is necessary to configure Cast Iron to work with various applications such as a database, a service, and so on. The GUI provides a set of preconfigured icons, called activities, that you drag to orchestrations to create your integration project. And, that’s actually what you get to do in the hands-on exercises for the Cast Iron configuration class (WU940).
The activities mostly have to do with manipulating data; you can do tasks such as transform the data type (in the inevitable case that you are working with data in various formats or schemas), and you can do more sophisticated tasks such as filtering. For example, you get a lot of leads from SaleForce.com, some cool, some warm. Warm leads should proceed through the orchestration; cool ones stay behind. You can configure a filter activity in the orchestration to check the content of the data to determine how it should be processed.
At this point, I have to ask, “How is this different from an ESB?” Enterprise service busses (ESBs) tend to run within an enterprise, but Cast Iron can run in a hybrid environment. Cast Iron works with data as a source and destination, whereas an ESB works with messaging and endpoints. For Cast Iron, all the endpoints are applications. It’s a solution targeted to a specific need, and it looks a lot easier to implement than an ESB.
You might also want to compare Cast Iron with data analytics, but the difference there is that data analytics typically deals with large amounts of data in a batch process. Cast Iron deals with data in real time.
Cast Iron is available in three packages to fit your budget:
In the cloud: WebSphere Cast Iron Live provides a low-cost entry point for a proof of concept (POC) or small business.
In a virtual machine: WebSphere Cast Iron Hypervisor Edition gives you more control over the administrative environment.
In an appliance: WebSphere Cast Iron DataPower XH40 is a self-contained physical appliance.
Cast Iron education is also available in various “flavors” to fit your budget. The three-day Cast Iron Appliance Configuration course offers hands-on labs, delivered in your choice of three formats:
ZU940 (Self-paced) offers access to the course material and lab environment. This course includes an invitation to a community on developerWorks.com that we set up to support students taking the course.
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