SAP buying Ariba last week, Oracle to buy Collective Intellect this week: acquiring SaaS solutions as pivotal to their cloud strategy by now seems business as usual for the most established industry leaders (and some of their challengers as well, as illustrated by a steady flow of acquisitions). This string of pearls approach will move them slowly but surely into the cloud era, overcoming some of the disadvantages of having to build or rebuild everything organically. It won’t be a free lunch for their development teams however, as every new pearl will come from its own cloud and the challenge of integrating a very diverse set of services and solutions may be paramount.

If you think about it, it’s exactly the same challenge that the IT departments of client organizations face as well. Or worse, as they will have to deal with a host of different solution providers and service level agreements and a mix of public, private and hybrid cloud deployment scenarios. This is further complicated by an obvious shift in buying power, where business units simply procure their own, autonomous SaaS solutions, only notifying central IT afterwards (if they are lucky).

So here it is: the cloud is supposed to bring us extreme simplicity where in fact we may find ourselves caught up in some of the most complex integration issues we have ever seen. Cloud integration – or orchestration if you like – quickly moves into the centre of IT strategy as organizations are looking for the One Ring To Rule Them All: the integration platform that binds all cloud-based solutions together without the need for an excessive number of point-to-point connections.

As we all know, such a ring can look very tempting. But forging it requires craftsmanship (and some modest magical powers, if you like) and before we embark on such a journey it may be useful to briefly go through 4 major ways of doing it:

  1. Build it yourself. Hey, we have seen client organizations in the past building their own operating systems, databases, windowing systems, 4GL’s and message brokers, haven’t we? So if you have top-notch IT experts that still think Integration is the meaning of life and weaving together cloud services is so crucial that I cannot be left to the amateurs outside, by all means fire up your development engines. Have fun.
  2. Buy it. You won’t be surprised that the industry has discovered the need for cloud integration platforms. And so have the analysts, for example with Gartners definitions – and framework, and scorecards, and magic quadrants soon, no doubt – of a Cloud-enabled Integration Platform (CEIP) or even Integration Platform as a Service (iPaas). Selecting and implementing the right platform is a complex project itself and it will draw lots of attention for a long time that might have been dedicated to other activities as well, like actually creating value from IT.
  3. Let somebody else do it.  We might conclude that cloud integration is crucial to our IT strategy, but too complex or time-consuming to take care of ourselves. In that case, we may be looking for an external ring bearer that has made it his speciality to set up, run, provide and orchestrate heterogeneous cloud services. ‘One throat to choke’ as some colleagues in the industry would gently put it, and given the importance of the topic we need to look out for cloud orchestration partners that have proven capabilities and the scale to deliver. Above all, we need to be able to build up mutual trust, as this bond goes much further than outsourcing a basic, non-core activity.
  4. Have it built-in. If ever possible, it is quite an elegant strategy to have Integration Considered Harmful and simply avoid integration activities as much as possible. This requires seriously limiting the number of suppliers – for example to one – and assuming that the supplier will take care of integration between all the cloud solutions provided. Clearly, this is in the best interest of suppliers such as SAP, Oracle, NetSuite and but it will take them time to step-by-step integrate their acquisitions (yes, it will even be an issue to now). Furthermore, choosing a supplier to standardize on can be extremely liberating on one hand but perceived by others as surrendering the ring to Mordor.

In the end, of course we know that the illusion of having One Ring is damaging, as it is a gradually heavier burden to the bearer and both a source of envy and distraction to all the others. It is destined to dissolve. Similarly, the ultimate Cloud Integration is no integration, as cloud solutions sooner or later should comply to the same open standards, not only technically speaking – that’s the easy part – but functionally and semantically as well. It would take away the need of being excessively obsessed by integration, so that we can reap the real benefits of the cloud: simplicity, flexibility, speed, being connected.