2 July 2015
Comparing Gartner’s cloud integration leaders: Informatica, Dell Boomi and Mulesoft
Gartner define enterprise integration as a service as cloud-based platforms that support “application, data and process integration projects”. This is a very wide definition that includes a blend of enterprise service bus, data integration tooling and API management platform.
These platforms allow you to connect together a range of different platforms and protocols, map and transform the data and monitor the resulting workflows. More advanced features such as data quality, orchestration and routing can be applied to integrations. The platforms also usually offer some form of API management, allowing them to act as the “gateway” to a set of external-facing integration services.
What unites these platforms is that they are offered as a service rather than through on-premises deployment of a software product. As you might expect, the anointed “leaders” in the space are very different beasts that address very different scenarios. It can be difficult to draw meaningful comparisons between them.
Who are the “leaders”?
As is often the case with Gartner, the reasons why these platforms have been identified as “leaders” can feel a little obscure. However, what they do have in common is relatively mature technology that enjoys a large customer base and infrastructure with genuinely global reach.
There are a number of interesting prospects emerging in this space though they cannot demonstrate a comparable level of commercial maturity. SnapLogic in particular offer an impressive and polished platform that provides genuine integration as a service, though they have little presence outside of the United States. Jitterbit are similarly hampered by a perceived lack of traction in the enterprise space while Youredi remain a small company driving what might feel like a niche product.
More established players are also starting to create offerings in this space but may be some way from gaining traction. Microsoft’s refactoring of Biztalk Services feels like a work in progress. Tibco were an intriguing entrant in this space but they do not appear to have picked up sufficient customers yet.
It’s the combination of track record and capacity to execute that seems central to being anointed as a Gartner leader. For now at least, this means just Dell, Informatica and Mulesoft.
How to distinguish between them?
As with many technology selections, a straight functional comparison isn’t always that helpful. There are a range of “commodity features” in this space that should be expected of any platform.
Connectivity in particular is not a differentiator and you should assume that a platform in this space can connect to pretty much any data source and map it anything else. They will all offer re-usable connectivity to any generic protocol or technology you can think of as well as providing pre-canned integrations with major CRM and ERP vendors such as SAP, WorkDay and Salesforce.
What differentiates these platforms is what they are like to actually use, i.e. how they work, the toolsets they provide and how much they cost to run. This tends to be a subjective comparison.
Does this really run in the cloud?
Each platform uses a very different style of infrastructure to deliver integration as a service. Only Boomi has been genuinely architected for cloud-based provision, while both Informatica and Mulesoft are on premise stacks that have been re-purposed for service delivery.
Mulesoft’s CloudHub offers processing space on instances of their integration platform that have been pre-installed on Amazon servers. They provide some extra web-based tooling for configuration and monitoring, but the Eclipse-based toolset for creating integrations will be familiar to users of their on-premises platform. In essence, it is a platform that has been lifted and shifted into Amazon.
Informatica Cloud doesn’t provide much infrastructure and you are responsible for deploying their processing engine (the “secure agent”). On the face of it this hardly seems like a service at all as the only thing that happens in “the cloud” is configuration and job monitoring. The heavy lifting happens on your own infrastructure, though this does allow you to fully control the location and flow of all your data.
Unlike many competitors in this space Dell Boomi was architected specifically for cloud-based delivery. Integration jobs are deployed to the lightweight “atom” runtime. These are usually hosted in Dell’s infrastructure but they can be deployed on-premises for hybrid architectures.
Whether or not you regard Boomi's cloud-based architectural purity as a tangible advantage is another matter. Mulesoft’s distributed virtual cores allow you a huge amount of flexibility over how you deploy and scale processing loads. Informatica’s secure agents allow them to support pretty much any integration topology you could think of, even if you do have to install a lot of the nuts and bolts yourself.
This is one of the areas where each platform addresses quite different use cases. They all provide some form of “Doodleware” that lets you visually compose and configure your integration workflows. The approach of each platform, and by implication their intended audiences, is markedly different.
Mulesoft expect integrations to be developed with the Eclipse-based “Anypoint” tooling used in their on-premises platform. This is an advanced tool and you are never left in any doubt that you are running a heavyweight, java-based runtime where technical detail is never far from the surface. It is an environment for expert developers and architects only and suggests an integration infrastructure that is maintained wholly by development teams.
Informatica on the other hand provide a simple, web-based toolset designed to address more straightforward integration scenarios based on simple integration templates. You select your end-points, assign a few mappings, pull a few levers and watch you data go. It seems very much geared towards non-technical audiences such as professional services teams. If you want to do something more serious then you can always resort to the more advanced PowerCenter tooling, though this is not for the feint-hearted so you'd be advised to understand exactly how much time you'll be forced to spend with it.
Boomi lies somewhere between, as it offers a visual tool for building workflows where the majority of tasks can be achieved using simple point-and-click. However, it can get very complex beyond the more simple scenarios and descend into a bewildering array of arcane dialog boxes, shapes and arrows. The risk is that a single interface cannot be sufficiently accessible for non-technical users or sufficiently powerful to address more demanding scenarios.
One thing these platforms have in common is their approach to pricing. Although Informatica and Boomi both offer different tiers of service-based pricing, any realistic implementation of these platforms will require negotiating the unpublished “enterprise” pricing. This generally starts in a ballpark of around $150k per year.
As with any enterprise technology, pricing models can seem byzantine and designed solely to discourage any direct comparison. Each platform scales pricing on a different usage variable, be it number of running integrations, number of separate connections or processing throughput. On the face if it this can lead to very different costs depending on your usage scenarios.
Vendors are not tied to rigid pricing and they will often be prepared to be flexible within reason. Enterprise pricing is largely a matter of negotiation so any apparent differences between pricing models are largely irrelevant for the purposes of comparison.
The importance of use cases
It’s difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions based on feature comparison alone. These are large, well-established and feature-rich platforms that can address most functionality you can think of in some way.
The key factor here is how they would address your specific use cases. Do you want to establish an infrastructure for building integration APIs? Do you want a simple and reliable toolset to connect up existing services? You can only make a meaningful comparison by understanding how each platform would be used to deliver your projects.