Bumps in the Road

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.

Bumps in the Road

The Cast Iron product wasn't perfect, he says, and Emerson "went through a little rocky road" with the evolution of the appliance, which at one point was periodically freezing in mid-task. But the company's tech support was able to iron out those problems; he adds that the issues seem to have been resolved by a recent software upgrade.

Today, Tumar scores the product as an 8 out 10 product for reliability and robustness, whereas the first version he got was about a 5. He gives the appliance an 8 out of 10 for ease of use and a 7 for productivity gains that ought to save his company money in the long run. He still thinks the Cast Iron appliance needs to do a better job of handling exceptions to normal processing, such as a situation where data can't be transmitted from one system to another because of a network failure or system outage.

Overall, while it's not suitable for all integration projects, the Cast Iron appliance has proven to be a good match for creating application gateways that pipe data between two systems and for ecommerce applications where Emerson is exchanging data with business partners, Tunwar says.

Cast Iron Systems, for its part, readily allows that its product isn't the right tool for every job. "If you're saying there's stuff it can't do, you're absolutely right," Simon Peel, the company's vice president of marketing, concedes cheerfully. "There are some integration problems that involve very complex process-oriented stuff and complex rules that have to be executed across multiple systems."

Cast Iron isn't trying to tackle those, he says. "We're talking integration, quick and easy, where you're making a connection between two systems and keeping them synch in real time."

In July, Cast Iron introduced a version of the appliance designed to provide integration between Salesforce.com and other enterprise systems, such as SAP, or internal databases. The product is also available on subscription-pricing terms to match the software as a service pricing of Salesforce's Web-based customer relationship management system. Both include visual configuration tools that make it possible to map data fields in one system to those in another and define basic transformations without traditional coding.

One of the early customers for the Salesforce.com-specific appliance is Magma Design Automation, which makes electronic design automation software for semiconductor manufacturers. In addition to using Salesforce.com for sales force automation, Magma uses it for customer service and for tracking product customizations, says Chip Vaneck, director of corporate and customer relationship management applications.

After several months of talking to Cast Iron about the functions he thought a Salesforce.com-oriented appliance should be able to perform, Vaneck says he has been actively working with it for the past few months. "It actually is starting to make some things easier," he says.

Although Magma is in the middle of implementing SAP, and the appliance includes some built-in Salesforce.com to SAP integration routines, Vaneck has chosen not to make the Cast Iron appliance the centerpiece of that integration.

Instead, he has carved out some smaller integration tasks to use to put the appliance through its paces. "So far, I'm feeling pretty good about it," he says.

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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