How To Choose an EiPaaS Platform
It is challenging in the fast-evolving, over-crowded EiPaaS market to choose the most suitable EiPaaS solution. This article guides you as you make a selection.
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Most businesses have been engaged in some form of digital transformation effort during the past few years. During the pandemic, the enthusiasm towards automating business processes and accelerating digital transformation continued to increase. Previously, digital transformation required a massive effort from internal and external developers and was a time-consuming task. However, current events and the business landscape dictate that businesses should transform rapidly.
Most businesses fail in their digital transformation efforts, or they deliver a hybrid model, where only a subset of business processes have been digitally transformed. As opposed to Greenfield (or digital native) companies such as Uber and Airbnb, mostly Brownfield companies (i.e., real-enterprise companies with a subset of their business processes automated) fail in their effort towards digital transformation.
Brownfield companies that want to further their automation capabilities by integrating existing automated processes with external data/applications/businesses/APIs are challenged to pick the right set of tools to solve the problem at hand. Most such companies either waste a lot of time during the planning stage or get stuck in the messy middle, where they are trying to figure out the most suitable technologies, architectural styles, etc.
The best solution for any business facing this problem is to use an iPaaS solution. iPaaS stands for Integration Platform as a Service and facilitates developing, deploying, executing, managing, and monitoring integration processes connecting multiple endpoints. It is recommended to opt for an EiPaaS (Enterprise iPaaS) solution, which is a suite of iPaaS technologies designed to support enterprise-class integration initiatives, support multiple integration personas (especially integration specialists and ad hoc integrators), as well as provide API management capabilities.
Currently, the EiPaaS market is fast-evolving and over-crowded, which makes it challenging to choose the right vendor. The aim of this article is to guide the reader towards selecting the right EiPaaS solution for their business. The six popular EiPaaS vendors in the forefront, comprising Dell Boomi, Informatica, Jitterbit, MuleSoft, SnapLogic, and Workato, were considered when writing this article, as they have been identified as market leaders.
We have identified the following 28 features that should be looked at when evaluating an offering.
- Facilitates the development of integration flows
- Supports integration lifecycle management
- Availability of application, technology, and data source connectors
- Facilitates visual data mapping
- Provides log-level monitoring/observability
- Provides business observability/app-level analytics
- Provides low-code support
- Provides no-code support
- Provides API management and API publishing
- Provides single-step deployment support
- Provides hybrid integration platform strategies
- Provides multi-cloud support
- Facilitates elastic scaling of deployments
- Provides fine-grained resource tracking
- Ensures secure access to endpoints, APIs, and security of the platform
- Supports high-availability and disaster recovery
- Provides observability at the level of the internal app/integration
- Provides an API developer portal
- Provides software engineering lifecycle support
- Availability of marketplaces for APIs, connectors, and integration templates
- Facilitates collaborative development among integration developers
- Provides support for event-driven architecture (EDA) support
- Provides debugging/troubleshooting support for integrations
- Facilitates execution of an on-premises data plane
- Provides AI-assisted integration development capability
- Provides AI-assisted integration testing capability
- Provides AI assisted performance feedback during development
- Performs AI based performance anomaly detection
Out of the above list, the first 16 are key “Golden Features.” Golden Features are those that should be mandatorily available in any EiPaaS solution. The remaining features (17-28) are “Differentiators.” Differentiators are features that are available in only a few EiPaaS solutions. Differentiators can be categorized under two main categories: Standard Differentiators and Nice-to-Have Differentiators.
Standard Differentiators are features that are present in a majority of EiPaaS solutions; nevertheless, we believe that they would be converted to Golden features soon. Therefore, it is recommended to ensure that Standard Differentiators are either offered by the EiPaaS vendors under consideration or are available in their roadmap to be offered in the near future. Out of the features in the above list, features 17-23 have been identified to be Standard Differentiators.
Nice-to-Have Differentiators are features that are preferred to be offered by any EiPaaS vendor. On most occasions, features supported by AI/ML technologies fall under this category. Although these features do not have a direct impact on the EiPaaS capabilities, they would significantly improve the user experience, which would ultimately lead towards a speedier integration experience. Out of the features in the above list, features 24-28 have been identified as Nice-to-Have Differentiators.
Facilitates Development of Integration Flows
EiPaaS vendors mainly provide their offerings as integrations and/or APIs. EiPaaS solutions facilitate the development of integration flows as routing solutions or orchestration solutions. In the routing use case, data is received, subject to transformation, and routed to its destination. In the orchestration scenario, it is possible to compose, connect, and program multiple APIs to create a single flow. All EiPaaS solutions should provide this as a fundamental feature.
After developing an integration flow, the EiPaaS platform should provide the developer with the capability of validating/testing the integration flow, executing it (run), and deploying it with ease.
Supports Integration Lifecycle Management
All deployed integration flows should be manageable from a single management portal. Developers should be able to determine the status of their integration solutions and change the deployment status of the integration solutions across deployed, redeployed, and undeployed. Therefore, all EiPaaS solutions should provide an integrated management portal, which supports integration lifecycle management.
Availability of Application, Technology, and Data Source Connectors
The main strength of any EiPaaS solution lies in its capability to connect to a wide range of endpoints that are both on-premises and in the cloud. While some vendors have organized their connectors under different lines of business, the standard classification of connectors is as application, technology, and data source connectors. Therefore, in assessing an EiPaaS solution, it is recommended to check whether the problem at hand could be solved through the available connectors.
In addition, some EiPaaS vendors, such as Jitterbit, facilitate development of connectors by the developer. EiPaaS platforms providing this capability would also be a good choice since their capabilities are not limited only to connectors provided by the platform.
Facilitates Visual Data Mapping
Data mapping, which is the process of creating data element mappings between two distinct data models, is a critical requirement for any integration scenario. The complexity of mapping attributes between multiple data models increases with the number of attributes in both data models. Therefore, all EiPaaS solutions provide visual data mapping as a key feature. However, we note that vendors may provide different definitions of data mapping, and visual data mapping capabilities were not present in all offerings, e.g., Workato.
However, since the process of visual data mapping could also be cumbersome, some EiPaaS vendors provide AI-assisted data mapping capabilities, where data attributes are mapped in a split second with a single click. These data mapping recommendation systems provide their mappings along with the level of confidence for each mapping. We recommend choosing an EiPaaS solution that provides visual data mapping capabilities as well as AI-assisted data mapping capabilities.
Provides Log-Level Monitoring/Observability
Monitoring capabilities (aka observability) is important as all integrations should be continuously monitored for their health. Event-based logs of all integration flows, post-deployment, should be readily available to the developers. Log-level monitoring comes in handy during debugging and troubleshooting of integration flows for errors. Therefore, ensure that the chosen EiPaaS solution provides event-based logs for all integration flows.
Provides Business Observability/App-Level Analytics
Apart from providing log-level observability, almost all EiPaaS vendors visualize business metrics, such as total requests over time, average response time, failed operations, long-running operations, etc. This feature could also be identified as app-level analytics. Again, like log-level monitoring, app-level monitoring comes in handy during debugging and troubleshooting of integration flows for errors.
While evaluating for the monitoring support of EiPaaS platforms, it is recommended to assess the interpretability of visualization and the support provided by those visualizations towards spotting errors. It could be observed that some vendors, such as Dell Boomi, Jitterbit, and Workato, provide weaker visualizations, and that they should improve the support provided for monitoring.
Provides Low-Code Support
All popular EiPaaS platforms in the market are also low-code integration platforms. Low-code integration platforms allow drag and drop connectors and logic constructs to create integration flows with minimal coding. Ideally, low-code development should only require text entry for formulae or simple expressions. When evaluating a low-code integration platform, there are multiple aspects to consider, such as the availability of sufficient programming constructs towards low-code integration development, the amount of required integration specialist skills, and the amount of guidance provided by the platform along the way.
Providing low-code support as an EiPaaS feature has been prioritized over the past few years due to the introduction of integration personas such as ad hoc integrators and citizen integrators for integration flow development apart from integration specialists. The availability of low-code support in an EiPaaS platform is appreciated equally by all integration personas. Therefore, when choosing an EiPaaS solution, it is key to select one that provides low-code integration capabilities.
For more information on selecting a low-code integration platform read our article on “How to choose a low-code integration platform?”
Provides No-Code Support
As much as low-code support is appreciated by integration developers, no-code support has also become a “must-have” feature for EiPaaS platforms. No-code support refers to the availability of reusable integration artifacts, such as cloud streams and pre-packaged integration processes in the form of templates.
All popular EiPaaS vendors provide reusable integration templates. It is also important to ensure that these no-code templates are modifiable through a low-code platform. While some vendors provide no-code templates through their marketplace, some platforms, such as MuleSoft, facilitate integration specialists or ad hoc developers to create and share reusable integration templates with their peer citizen integrators.
If the digital transformation process of your business would be driven by mostly citizen integrators and ad hoc integrators led by a few integration specialists, it is a mandatory requirement to provide no-code templates, which are modifiable through the low-code canvas.
Provides API Management and API Publishing
Providing API management capabilities to support integration is a mandatory feature that should be provided by an iPaaS platform to be qualified as an EiPaaS platform and is therefore a “Golden feature” provided by all EiPaaS vendors. However, it is evident that some APIM offerings do not cover full lifecycle API management and hence are immature in their API management capabilities.
Therefore, when choosing an EiPaaS solution, especially when your EiPaaS use cases are inclined towards API integration, it is important to thoroughly evaluate the API management capabilities provided by EiPaaS providers. For instance, it was observed that SnapLogic has been less focused on providing API management capabilities.
It is important to evaluate not only the ability but also the maturity of the platform towards creating, deploying, securing, and monitoring APIs. The presence of an API gateway and an administration portal are also mandatory requirements.
Provides Single-Step Deployment Support
With the recent trend of digital transformation being driven towards cloud-native engineering, the underlying hardware of the digital setup should be hosted in the cloud. The traditional effort of digitally transforming businesses to be cloud-native required developers with a vast cloud-native engineering skillset. However, with the emergence of EiPaaS solutions, integration developers can easily deploy their integration solutions through a single click. All EiPaaS vendors provide single-step deployment support and facilitate fast time to integration.
Provides Hybrid Integration Platform Strategies
Any EiPaaS solution with hybrid integration platform strategies supports the integration of any combination of cloud-resident and on-premises endpoints. Most EiPaaS solutions provide this capability, and it has become essential due to the increasing complexity of emerging integration use cases.
Provides Multi-Cloud Support
Multi-cloud support refers to the capability of integration solutions deployed on different cloud computing providers to coexist in a single heterogeneous architecture. It could also refer to the capability of migrating integration solutions deployed in one cloud services provider to another cloud services provider with ease. All popular EiPaaS solutions provide multi-cloud support; however, since some vendors have recently started to provide multi-cloud support, it would be useful to evaluate the maturity of multi-cloud support if the feature is required for the digital transformation of your business.
Facilitates Elastic Scaling of the Deployments
As explained earlier, since the digital transformation process would produce a cloud-native solution, it is important to evaluate whether an EiPaaS solution provides basic cloud characteristics. Under that, self-service support, and support towards elastic scaling play an important role. Elastic scaling is the ability to auto-scale both upwards and downwards based on the volume of data being processed or the latency requirements of the cloud integration flow. All popular EiPaaS platforms provide self-service support and elastic scaling of deployments.
Provides Fine-Grained Resource Tracking
All EiPaaS solutions perform fine-grained resource tracking in their pricing model. This is popular as the “pay-as-you-go” approach and all EiPaaS solutions in the market have a consumption-based pricing model.
Ensures Secure Access to Endpoints, APIs and Security of the Platform
Security is a main feature to be satisfied by enterprise-class integration initiatives. All EiPaaS vendors state the steps taken to ensure secure access to endpoints and APIs and how they ensure the security of the underlying platform. It would be a good idea to check on the security policy of the EiPaaS solutions that you shortlist for consideration.
Supports for High-availability and Disaster Recovery
Like security, high availability and disaster recovery are also features of an enterprise-class integration initiative. Evaluating the steps taken to ensure high availability and disaster recovery of EiPaaS solutions would be useful during the final decision-making process.
Provides Observability at the Level of the Internal App/Integration
Although providing log-level observability and business observability (app/integration analytics) are Golden features of EiPaaS platforms, providing internal app/integration level observability is a Differentiator. However, we believe that this feature will become a Golden feature soon. The availability of internal system metrics such as CPU and memory of the deployment would be an added strength during debugging of errors/troubleshooting.
Although EiPaaS vendors such as MuleSoft and SnapLogic provide this feature, other pioneers such as Dell Boomi, Informatica, Jitterbit, and Workato do not provide internal integration observability. Therefore, we would recommend picking an EiPaaS solution that either provides internal integration observability currently or plans to provide it soon.
Provides an API Developer Portal
Although the availability of an API developer portal is an optional feature as of now, we believe that it would become an essential requirement soon. An API developer portal provides an interface between APIs and their stakeholders.
The API developer portal is also used by API developers to publish their Swagger/OpenAPI Spec documentation. When evaluating an EiPaaS on its API management capabilities, it is useful to evaluate the vendor’s plans on providing an API developer portal too. However, Workato does not provide an API developer portal. Although other vendors such as Dell Boomi, Jitterbit, MuleSoft, SnapLogic and Informatica provide API developer portals, it would be worth evaluating the maturity of the feature like how the API management capabilities were evaluated.
Provides Software Engineering Lifecycle Support
Software engineering lifecycle support is the support provided to develop integration solutions requiring an agile approach. In the process of modern digital transformation, even during and after completion of digital transformation, the company should be able to innovate rapidly. It is now becoming a mandatory requirement to facilitate rapid digital innovation in an agile manner. An EiPaaS solution should provide the required support for an integration developer to incrementally develop integration flows.
In addition, in platforms supporting collaborative development, developers of the same organization should be able to contribute towards integration flows developed by other developers. Software engineering lifecycle support was not observed as a feature of the popular EiPaaS platform Informatica, while it was observed at different capacities in other platforms such as Dell Boomi, Jitterbit, MuleSoft, SnapLogic, and Workato.
Availability of Marketplaces for APIs, Connectors, and Integration Templates
Although all EiPaaS solutions provide a collection of APIs, connectors, and no-code integration templates developed by the platform developers, we believe that the strength of an EiPaaS solution should not be limited by the pre-built APIs, connectors and no-code integration templates.
Through the availability of a marketplace for APIs, connectors, and no-code integration templates, and even third parties could share their integration artifacts with the public. While Workato facilitates sharing of no-code templates developed by integration developers with the public, the unified marketplace for APIs, connectors, and integration templates owned by MuleSoft is identified as an internal marketplace. However, we would recommend considering EiPaaS platforms providing marketplaces of APIs and integration assets without limiting only to those which are readily available.
Facilitates Collaborative Development Among Integration Developers
In the new normal of digital transformation, every company must become a software company in its own domain. Therefore, everyone must become an integration developer. Although previously developers existed only in the central IT team, now they exist even in lines of business.
To expedite digital transformation, citizen integrators and ad hoc integrators would be required to work under the supervision of integration specialists. Most EiPaaS solutions provide support for developers representing all three integration personas to work collaboratively. However, it was observed that SnapLogic does not promote any support towards collaborative development. However, Jitterbit facilitates integration personas to simultaneously work on the same project. Similar to other “Standard differentiators” we believe that this feature would become inevitable in the near future.
Provides Support for Event-driven Architecture (EDA)
Support for event driven architectures (EDA) or event support is provided by Boomi and Informatica, while MuleSoft does not provide EDA support. Jitterbit, SnapLogic, and Workato have been recommended to further improve the support they provide for message-oriented middleware.
Provides Debugging/Troubleshooting Support for Integrations
Subsequent to deployment of integration flows, it is normal to encounter errors in the deployed integrations. Apart from providing log-level or metric-level observability, it would be useful if deep observability with support for root cause analysis (RCA) is provided. Some vendors such as MuleSoft heavily support debugging, while other vendors provide only basic support for troubleshooting.
Deep observability with RCA support was not observed in the Dell Boomi platform. However, we strongly believe that the EiPaaS platforms should support deep observability, where they continuously monitor integrations for errors and shortcomings in deployments. The platforms should proactively alert on errors detected and some platforms such as Workato even perform automated error-handling.
This is identified as another feature that provides EiPaaS solutions a competitive edge as it directly ensures first-hand support for its users, and hence should be prioritized during the selection of an EiPaaS solution.
Facilitate Execution of an On-Premises Data Plane
The majority of EiPaaS vendors provide comprehensive cloud-centric solutions, where both control-plane and data-plane components execute in the cloud. Although the productivity of organizations increases when all their applications and data reside within a single EiPaaS provider, organizations cannot forget their legacy systems. Such Brownfield organizations will have to implement a hybrid EiPaaS solution. In hybrid EiPaaS solutions, data-plane components reside off the public-cloud (on-premises/in a private cloud).
Off-cloud data-plane components can sync with configurations, integrations, certs, and policies defined within the control-plane and enforce them in the data plane. The data plane captures data periodically by syncing with the control plane to generate the necessary insights. Such on-premises/private-cloud data-plane components can run on virtual machines or bare metal.
However, for better automation and dynamic scalability, they need to run on top of container orchestration platforms, such as Kubernetes. Also, it is necessary that these data-plane components are built to align with cloud-native technologies in-order to get the maximum benefit out of these platforms.
It was observed that only Workato has recently started to facilitate the execution of an on-premises data plane. However, we believe that the existence of this feature is prominent for Brownfield organizations with legacy systems, which continue to play key roles.
Provides AI-assisted Integration Development Capability
Since EiPaaS solutions would be hosted in the cloud, all data related to integration flows would be stored in the cloud and hence could be easily accessed by the platform service providers. Some EiPaaS solutions have turned their attention towards empowering EiPaaS capabilities through AI solutions, utilizing significant amounts of available data (while adhering to the data privacy of its users). As explained in the visual data-mapping section, some vendors perform AI-based automatic data mapping, which is one type of AI-assisted integration development capabilities.
Another feature that provides AI-assisted integration development capabilities is providing the next connector/component suggestion. This feature is available in SnapLogic and Workato, while other popular vendors such as Boomi, Informatica and Mulesoft have not provided the capability yet.
As mentioned in the definition of Nice-to-Have Differentiators, although these AI assisted features do not have a direct impact on the EiPaaS capabilities offered, they would significantly improve the user experience, which would ultimately lead towards a faster integration experience.
Provides AI-assisted Integration Testing Capability
Although all EiPaaS vendors provide support during validation/testing of integration flows, they require users to manually generate all test cases, which is a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Therefore, EiPaaS providers could leverage the capabilities of Natural Language Processing towards automatic generation of test cases covering multiple paths of the integration flow. Although Dell Boomi and SnapLogic claim to perform automated regression testing, none of the popular platforms seem to have given thought towards providing AI-assisted integration testing capabilities.
Provides AI-assisted Performance Feedback During Development
The development of integration flows consists of connecting to different endpoints that are on-premises as well as in the cloud through connectors. Different arrangements of connectors connected by other programming constructs in a given integration could lead to varying performance counters.
Therefore, if the EiPaaS solution could provide feedback in terms of performance numbers for the integration flow, an integration developer could be guided towards writing performance-optimized code. Although this feature, or any other features trying to optimize performance, were not seen in other EiPaaS solutions, we believe that performance of integrations plays an important role in the success of the businesses.
Performs AI-based Performance Anomaly Detection
Performing AI-based performance anomaly detection is an extension to the feature “Provides debugging/troubleshooting support for integrations''. Apart from performing deep-observability, if the EiPaaS solution can detect performance issues, such as CPU hogs, memory leaks, and network hogs, it would add value to the existing capabilities. In order to perform performance anomaly detection, AI capabilities are required, and we did not observe such capabilities towards performance anomaly detection in any EiPaaS vendor in the market.
Thus, take all the features listed and explained above into careful consideration when choosing an EiPaaS solution to perform digital transformation through integration flows for your business. In summary, an EiPaaS solution should come with the first 16 features listed above.
Out of the Differentiator features (17-28), we would recommend choosing an EiPaaS platform that either already provides the Standard Differentiators listed from 17-23 or has included those features in their roadmap. The Nice-to-Have Differentiators listed from 24-28, which mainly includes AI-assisted features are preferred to be included in the EiPaaS solution that you finally select, as it would significantly improve the user experience and would ultimately lead towards a faster and guided integration experience.
Last but not the least, we recommend that you choose an EiPaaS solution not only based on the short-term integration requirements of your business but also based on the types of integration scenarios that your company would have to deal with in the future.
Published at DZone with permission of Duneesha Fernando. See the original article here.
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