Cast Iron Supplies Salesforce Integration in a Box
Published: July 18, 2006
by Alex Woodie
Application integration is a notoriously fickle and expensive process. Just as soon as you have things set, a single change cascades into a dozen more, and now you're calling the systems integrators back for another two-month stint. Cast Iron Systems is seeking to change this mold with its line of Integration Appliances, which provide real-time, point-to-point data integration for major ERP systems and file formats. Yesterday, the company unveiled a new line of boxes dedicated to Salesforce CRM implementations and free installation services.
Cast Iron Systems was founded three years ago with the goal of doing one thing, and doing it well. "When we started this company, we decided to stick to our knitting," says Simon Peel, Cast Iron's senior vice president of integration services. "The vast majority of integration we know of is point-to-point, moving data from one place to another. So we figured we needed to come up with something that was way faster to install than TIBCO or webMethods."
The enterprise service bus, the "rocket science-type stuff," definitely has its place in the data center, but they are overkill for most midmarket companies, which is Cast Iron's target market, Peel says. "We've carved out our niche," he says. "TIBCO and webMethods and Vitria--those are great all-purpose busses. They're also good for business process management, orchestrating big complex systems, like an SAP orchestration that runs across to an Oracle application. That's not what we do. We're into data synchronization."
Peel emphasizes that the company doesn't just do database synchronization--that would suggest Integration Appliance is just a data pump--but does application-specific data synchronization. The company does its best to write to APIs (when they're available) of specific ERP systems, including SAP, Oracle E-Business, PeopleSoft Enterprise, QAD, SSA Global's Baan (now called ERP LN), Infor's MAPICS software, J.D. Edwards World, and Lawson Software's ERP systems (Lawson, incidentally, is a happy Integration Appliance user). Other resources supported by the appliances include all major databases; flat files via FTP, HTTP, and e-mail; and Web services via XML.
The Integration Appliance solution includes three components, including the appliance itself, a Java-based design studio, and a Web-based management console. The design studio enables users to graphically build integration and transformation points between systems using drag-and-drop methods; no coding required. The appliances, rack-mounted servers that use Intel Pentium and dual-core Xeon processors, come with a generous assortment of memory options and RAIDed storage, and run a version of Linux.
Peel says the Integration Appliances are a good fit for mainframe and iSeries shops that want to keep their systems of record intact, but need to connect them to other applications and network devices. "If the iSeries is the center of your universe, that's great, but clearly you're putting stuff around it," he says. "So instead of nightly taking stuff out of it, make the heartbeat of the company the AS/400, but have it beat in real time out to these other systems."
On Monday, Cast Iron unveiled its new line of appliances dedicated to Salesforce.com CRM implementations. These include the entry-level iA2500-SF for connecting the Salesforce suite to a single application, the iA3000-SF, an enterprise solution for connecting the Salesforce suite to multiple applications, and the iA3000HA-SF, which cements two iA3000-SF devices for high availability. These devices are colored red, as opposed to the original appliances, which were blue.
Like other integration software companies, Cast Iron has identified specific integration needs of the Salesforce customer. These include: How do you accomplish the initial migration of data from existing systems into the Salesforce solution and how do you enable ongoing bi-directional integration with a CRM implementation that you do not physically run? These issues are common to all software as a service (SaaS) implementations, but Salesforce's surprising success has given them a face.
"Salesforce is so fun to talk about because it's bucking the trend like crazy," Peel says. "IT laughs and says, 'That's a one-year project' when business managers say 'We need that in a quarter.' . . . There's tremendous pressure to get things moving quickly."
Speedy implementations (the company claims its devices can be set up in a business week) has been one of Cast Iron's calling cards, but now it's putting the onus of a fast, successful implementation on itself with its new "Implementation on Our Dime" program, which was also announced yesterday.
The final piece of news out of Mountain View, California-based Cast Iron is its new monthly subscription program. Instead of charging customers in the neighborhood of $125,000 for one of the Salesforce devices, the company has broken that into a monthly fee, a la Salesforce and the other SaaS providers. The company is considering making a similar change to its other "blue box" offerings. For more information, see www.castironsystems.com.