February 2, 2012 | Written by: Sebastian Rzepka
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With the adoption of cloud computing, many software as a service (SaaS) applications are getting more and more attention. One that attracts a great deal of attention is Salesforce.com. The SaaS provider, founded in 1999, has evolved from a supplier of customer relationship management (CRM) products to an enterprise cloud computing company. Customers have the choice to build their own applications on the Force.com platform and many other applications based on that platform are offered by Salesforce. Thirteen years of experience in the cloud business are nearly unmatched in the industry. Cast Iron Systems, which was acquired by IBM in March 2010, was founded in 2001 and is designed to integrate SaaS applications with on-premises applications. The most common use case of Cast Iron is to integrate Salesforce.com into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
If you want to know more about the concept of Cast Iron, I recommend blog entry “Cloud integration with Cast Iron” by Megan Irvine.
So why integrate Salesforce.com?
A typical enterprise environment doesn’t have applications of only one type. It is unusual that an environment has only SaaS applications, or just applications that are hosted in the cloud or on one platform, such as Force.com. Usually, when companies decide to use Salesforce.com, it is their first step into the cloud. So typically they keep several applications on premises, such as their ERP system. Also, other SaaS applications might be used to support the sales force of a company. But not only sales and distribution, also other departments, such as marketing, require insight into the entire customer and business relevant data.
So business data, such as opportunity data, needs to be synchronized with on-premises applications. Also Salesforce.com needs to be filled with data from other systems and be updated permanently. The first idea to accomplish integration might be custom code. Integration based on a couple lines of code seems to be the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way. Cast Iron, with thousands of deployed customer integrations, is often considered after customers have tried to do integration using custom code. Customers were facing problems with their code, because it was extensive to maintain and the applications did not scale.
The current version of the web service API of Salesforce.com is 23.0. Therefore it comes as no surprise to anyone that it is not easy to keep the integration up to date.
Cast Iron offers a bunch of connectors that hide the complexity of the web service interfaces and provides a simple set of activities. Features such as session handling, which is sometimes difficult to implement, are relieved by the connector.
These Salesforce.com activities are provided by Cast Iron:
Now you can start to compose an integration orchestration by dragging and dropping these activities and combine them with logic elements, such as If-Then constructs or For-Each loops. These features enable customers to do integration in days.
But we can do it even faster using pre-defined templates. As a Cast Iron customer, you have access to a repository with almost 200 templates. These templates have been created by developers, customers, partners and ISVs to facilitate the integration of a particular use case. A template typically provides the complete integration logic, including connectivity, mapping and routing, between two applications. Let’s take a look at the templates available for Salesforce.com:
There are templates for many use cases, but not every integration scenario can be implemented using a template. So, in many cases, only a part is used and the rest is created. In general, these templates provide a good starting point and show a lot of best practices.
Are you interested in the Integration of other SaaS apps? Feel free to contact me to explore other scenarios.