Bridging the Cloud and Legacy Environments

By Tony Kontzer

When it comes to integrating the legacy and cloud environments he oversees, Larry Bonfante, CIO of the U.S. Tennis Association, has a simple solution: He doesn’t.

Bonfante, whose primary focus is on supporting the annual U.S. Open Grand Slam tennis tournament, has neatly divided the USTA technology environment into three independent buckets: back-office applications, all running on Amazon’s cloud infrastructure and supported by his IT team; several hosted consumer-facing applications that run in private data center facilities managed by the likes of Ticketmaster and; and a handful of standalone apps, such as departmental tools and file/print services, that run in the association’s small internal data center.

There are no direct integrations between the USTA’s partner systems and its Amazon cloud environment. Bonfante’s team receives transaction and reporting data subsets from Ticketmaster and Active, the latter of which hosts USTA’s proprietary TennisLink player-registration and event-management app. That data arrives as SQL databases, which are then fed into USTA’s Infor Lawson financial app, but Bonfante characterizes it as a simple automated data feed, not a systems integration. In fact, no customer data is actually moved. It’s all anonymized before being fed.

“There’s not a need for integration with those systems,” says Bonfante. “The staff-facing stuff is in the cloud, and the consumer-facing stuff is in our data center. There’s no reason to mix apples and oranges.”

As organizations have increasingly added software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and other public cloud resources to their technological bag of tricks, figuring out how to bridge the old and new has become a growing area of focus. And while the USTA has been able to keep things tidily separated, not every company has that luxury.

“A big affect of cloud on the application and data landscape in an enterprise is that cloud tends to be peppered with one-point solutions that do one thing well,” says Randy Heffner, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Some people will say that’s the strength of cloud. Yes, there are benefits there, but they’re not unmitigated benefits. You get into a very heavy fracturing of your enterprise across all of these application silos.”

Addressing Integration Issues

Yuvi Kochar knows of what Heffner speaks. Kochar is CTO and vice president of technology at Graham Holdings, a diversified company with businesses in education (Kaplan), online media (Slate), cable and Internet (CableOne), and broadcasting (Post-Newsweek Stations, owner of six local television stations).

Known as The Washington Post Co. prior to Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of the Post last summer, Graham finds itself adding more and more SaaS applications in order to meet its varied and specialized needs, and each of those applications needs to interact with virtualized instances of Oracle financials, PeopleSoft HR and Microsoft Exchange running in a private, hosted data center, Kochar reports. There are also on-premise and cloud-based shared services for things such as recruitment automation, learning and performance management, and financial reporting.

The PeopleSoft environment alone has 60 integrations, with pension and benefits providers, a variety of SaaS apps, and several of those shared services. All of the integrations are hard-wired, some with Web services integration tools, and others using FTP servers or data-direct connections. It’s the tip of an iceberg Kochar hopes to address in the coming years.

“We’re very poorly resourced in terms of integration, but I do want to start migrating away from that,” says Kochar. “I don’t like this spaghetti of an integration architecture. It works well, but it’s a maintenance nightmare and requires a lot of care and feeding.”

For instance, a change to any single integration requires at least four weeks to complete because of the sheer number of moving parts that have to be coordinated. That kind of lengthy process is cutting into Graham’s agility and slowing its time to market, Kochar says, and that’s a big reason he’s planning to replace his current integration architecture sometime in 2015.