App Integration: Easy as Plugging in a Box?

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2006-09-18 Print this article Print

Well, not exactly. The simple appliances from startup Cast Iron Systems don't come close to the sophisticated capabilities of traditional enterprise application integration software. But customers say the boxes do just enough to be useful.

Sometimes simple beats sophisticated. Harminder Tunwar, an I.T. project leader at Emerson Climate Technologies, used sophisticated integration technology from SeeBeyond for the first of several manufacturing floor to back office integration projects for the maker of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration products.

But today, he is instead using an integration appliance from Cast Iron Systems. The appliance can't do everything that the SeeBeyond integration software can do, but for simple projects it does just enough to manage the translation and transfer of data between two systems, Tunwar says.

"Integration is like any other thing," he says—by which he means that you can't have one size that fits all.

The integration software from SeeBeyond, which Sun Microsystems acquired in 2005, is the corporate standard Emerson Climate's parent company, Emerson Electric, a global technology and engineering company. So when Tunwar got the job of integrating multiple manufacturing floor applications with mainframe data, he tried to follow corporate policy by using SeeBeyond, a tool he was told would solve all his problems. "But it was not a good experience. It took us ages to do a simple project," Tunwar says.

Cast Iron Systems, a Mountain View, Calif., company founded in 2001, has spent the past several years promoting an "application router" appliance that efficiently handles common integration and data transformation tasks.

It's one of 14 vendors Gartner listed in a March survey of application integration appliance vendors, which sell products ranging from those that can exchange data among popular enterprise applications to those more narrowly focused on problems such as eXtensible Markup Language (XML) translation and transformation. Vendors in the space include Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, F5 Networks and smaller players like Reactivity and Infotone.

Tunwar, who bought one of Cast Iron's general-purpose integration appliances in August 2005, says the vendor won him over with a demonstration project that took just a week to reproduce 90% of the work his team had taken months to do using SeeBeyond. When he bought the device, he also bought 120 hours of consulting and training from Cast Iron, which Tunwar says has also proved encouraging.

"They trained our guys for two days. Then, in the rest of the three days, they did three more projects. That was pretty impressive—no coding, pretty much all drag-and-drop," he says.

NEXT PAGE: Bumps in the Road

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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