What is iPaaS?

Understanding Integration Platform as a Service

Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is a cloud-based approach to enterprise application integration.

iPaaS hosts each offer a range of different features and integrations. The skills required to use these services can also vary, with some no-code offerings aimed at general users, while more complex platforms need assistance from integration specialists.

How does iPaaS Work?

Organizations can have anywhere between a hundred and a few thousand discrete applications in their tech stack. Some of these are cloud-based, while others are on-premise. Some might have limited functionality, while others are essential tools that everyone uses daily.

The problem for the organization is that these applications don't necessarily talk to each other. If a user updates customer information on the CRM, there's no guarantee that the marketing automation platform will receive the new information. If someone orders stock through the ERP, they may not add the invoice to the accounting system.

The organization has a few options to unify their stack:

  • Use a single vendor: Many vendors sell a suite of solutions that automatically integrate with each other. Software from another vendor, however, will not immediately integrate with the rest of the stack.
  • Create a bespoke integration: Organizations can write software that uses each application's API to pass data back and forth. This approach requires a great deal of time and in-house coding ability.
  • Use third-party connectors: Some third parties can provide solutions that link well-known applications together. The organization installs and runs these connectors on-premise, with a new connector for each integration.

iPaaS providers aim to solve this problem and make integration as straightforward as possible. As with SaaS, the organization will purchase an iPaaS subscription based on their needs, and the iPaaS provider will deliver its service over the cloud.

The implementation of iPaaS varies between providers, but generally, the process looks like this:

  1. Account creation: The organization forms a service agreement with the iPaaS provider. This covers details like usage levels, the number of connectors, and multi-tenancy.
  2. Integration: Each iPaaS provider will have a library of integrations that connect to various applications. The organization might need to provide credentials or grant access to the iPaaS server, which will then integrate automatically with the application.
  3. Business rules: The organization creates a series of business rules to manage the flow of data between applications. An example of this kind of rule is that, when someone creates a new order on the e-commerce system, iPaaS sends data to the logistics system, telling it to create a new order delivery request. Some iPaaS solutions offer no-code and low-code ways to create these business rules. Others may require some programming.
  4. Fine-tuning: The organization may need to finesse the integrations or the business rules. If this fine-tuning is beyond the iPaaS platform's capability, the organization may need to write and deploy some code on their side. Some platforms provide developer tools to help with fine-tuning.
  5. Execution: The integration is now live. When an update occurs on an integrated target system, it sends a message to the iPaaS server. The server interprets this message according to business rules and then transmits it to the destination.
  6. Error handling: When exceptions occur, the iPaaS will try to recover while remaining within the constraints of business rules. Should that prove impossible, the server will flag the error to the iPaaS support team or directly to the organization.
  7. Expiration: The iPaaS server will help manage the data lifecycle by removing obsolete connections. This helps to improve data security and integrity by ensuring that only approved people and processes have access.

iPaaS can connect on-premise systems to other on-premise systems. For this reason, numerous enterprises use it as a replacement for older middleware solutions like an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). iPaaS can also connect cloud services to other cloud services. Many companies use iPaaS to facilitate hybrid architecture, connecting both on-premise and cloud servers.

Who are the Leading iPaaS Providers?

There are dozens of active iPaaS solution providers, each with their own approach to the issue of cloud-based integration. Integration libraries are perhaps the key differentiator between these rivals, with each of them offering support for a different range of applications. Other differentiators include ease of use, customer support, and pricing models.

Some of the biggest names in the market include:

Some of these companies focus on iPaaS, while others offer a range of complementary services.

iPaaS vs. ETL

iPaaS and ETL services like Xplenty overlap in a number of ways:

  • Both are cloud-based
  • Both work on a subscription model
  • Both include an extensive integration library
  • Both automate the flow of data between applications
  • Both may include live technical support in the subscription price

iPaaS can perform some of the tasks associated with ETL, such as moving data from one location to another and performing some basic data transformations. There are some essential differences between the two, however, such as:

Generalist vs. Specialist

iPaaS is a Swiss Army Knife-style approach to integration. The goal of iPaas is to connect as many services as possible in as many different ways. Cloud-based ETL focuses entirely on data integration and includes precise tools for managing transformations as data moves between different repositories.  

Operations vs. Analytics

iPaaS aims to support day-to-day operations by linking together core business applications in real-time. ETL focuses on creating harmonized, efficient data repositories that are ideal for purposes such as data analytics.

Low-volume vs. High-volume

iPaaS solutions naturally handle low-volume, high-frequency interactions, like replicating a single flag between systems. ETL has a great capacity to handle a high-volume transaction, such as database replication.

Coding Required for Workflow vs. No-Code Workflow

Most iPaaS solutions don't offer a no-code solution for building a data transformation workflow. On a system like Xplenty, users can create complex transformations using an interface, without ever having to write a line of code.