Cast Iron Simplifies NetSuite Integration with Appliance
June 24, 2008 Alex Woodie
Simplicity is the number-one benefit of software as a service (SaaS) applications, like the popular NetSuite ERP offering. However, when users need to integrate their old applications with their new SaaS stuff, it can require complex coding, thereby hurting the SaaS value proposition. Cast Iron Systems today announced a new integration appliance that promises to alleviate the pain of connecting NetSuite installations with other SaaS apps or on-premise software, such as JD Edwards and Salesforce.
Organizations that don’t want to deal with the complexity of low-level API programming to combine two or more applications can turn to Cast Iron Systems, which has been trying to make enterprise application integration (EAI) easy since the company, made up of former TIBCO employees, launched its first Application Router back in 2004.
Since then, the IT industry has seen the rise of the SaaS vendors, and today Cast Iron focuses its efforts primarily on solving the integration needs of SaaS customers. As Cast Iron senior vice president of marketing and strategy Simon Peel explains, SaaS vendors selling products that live “in the clouds” have one glaring problem with their business plan: they don’t have an answer for legacy data integration issues.
“Once you have the cloud provisioned, it’s great,” Peel says. “But where are your customers? Where are all their records? What about product fees? Where are they listed? When a company does an order in Salesforce.com, that’s great. But how does the shipping department know to do anything? How do the invoice guys in finance know when to send the bills?”
The major SaaS vendors like Salesforce.com and NetSuite offer “beautiful APIs” to enable customers to stream data residing in their existing systems into their new SaaS environment, Peel says. “And that’s fine. However, if you think about what you’re selling to, they’re selling a message of speed and simplicity, point and click, you don’t need to do any coding. And then all you’ve got to do is a lot of coding,” he says. “Well that doesn’t go down too well with the vice president of sales. He’s not a coder. And the head of finance, he doesn’t know anything about coding.”
Cast Iron claims to have solved this problem with its collection of integration appliances, rack-mounted devices that install either in a customer’s data center, or in Cast Iron’s own data center (primarily for smaller businesses requiring SaaS-to-SaaS application integration). Cast Iron uses the APIs of the major on-premise ERP systems, and knows how they map to the “beautiful APIs” of the major SaaS offerings.
Cast Iron’s graphical designer (a Java applet) enables customers to map data and processes between the two systems, using drag and drop methods that most people find intuitive. Because the company has integrated with most of the systems before, its software will encourage users to choose the most popular settings, which speeds implementation. At runtime, a workflow engine moves data between the on-premise application and the SaaS application, while a Web interface lets the user monitor activity.
The company does its best to write to APIs (when they’re available) of specific ERP systems. Otherwise, ODBC or JDBC connections are used. Fully supported systems include SAP; Oracle‘s JD Edwards, E-Business Suite, and PeopleSoft Enterprise; Infor‘s ERP LN (Baan) and ERP LX (MAPICS); Lawson; Manhattan Associates; Microsoft Dynamics; Sage; and QAD, among others. The software also provides database connectivity for all the major databases, including DB2/400. SaaS applications supported include NetSuite, Salesforce.com, Taleo, RightNow Technologies, and others.
Implementations of Cast Iron’s appliances are usually fairly predictable. “In the old days, there were a million different permutations of systems being integrated, for a million different reasons,” Peel says. “Today we’re seeing a very common patterns, which is customers have a specific SaaS application, like NetSuite, they need to connect to a very specific set of back ends.”
The first thing a Cast Iron customer wants to do is move the customer master from its legacy system into the SaaS system. The customer usually follows by tapping its existing system for product masters, sales and purchase orders, customer support data, billing and invoices, pricing information, and several other pieces of data.
Cast Iron counts several AS/400 shops among its customer list, which is several hundred names long at this point. Most AS/400 shops are fairly technologically advanced, and choose to integrate directly with the database, Peel says. Just the same, Cast Iron offers connectors for most of the major OS/400-based ERP systems.
Cast Iron sells four different appliances. The entry-level iA2000 can connect up to two legacy applications to a SaaS environment, and costs about $1,500 per month. Other appliances, including the iA2500, the iA3000, and iA300HA, offer more computing power and redundancy features. For more information, visit www.castiron.com.
This article has been corrected. Mr. Peel’s first name is Simon, not Martin. IT Jungle regrets the error.