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Dustin Amrhein

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Catching up with the Cast Iron Team

An interview with Cast Iron Vice President Chandar Pattabhiram

While many enterprises are expanding their use of off-premise, cloud-based applications and application platforms, it seems some gloss over an important point. These same companies have, and will continue to develop, on-premise applications in both cloud and traditional environments. Considering the ongoing activity in both off-premise and on-premise, it is only a matter of time before a given company has the need to integrate data between their on-premise and off-premise applications.

The ability to do this data integration, thereby enabling hybrid clouds or hybrid enterprise architectures, is exactly where Cast Iron excels. That is why from an employee perspective, particularly one that works with cloud computing, it was exciting to see IBM's acquisition of Cast Iron earlier this year. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Chandar Pattabhiram (Cast Iron's Vice President of Product & Channel Marketing) to ask him a few questions about an upcoming Cast Iron podcast.

Me: It seems that Cast Iron Systems are about enabling hybrid architectures. They enable users to connect off-premise cloud applications with on-premise cloud or traditional applications. Now for the obvious question: What are the drivers for the need to connect on-premise and off-premise applications?

Chandar: Companies are rapidly adopting cloud applications -the industry projects to exceed $20B in the next few years. However, the same customers who are adopting the cloud have already invested millions of dollars in on-premise applications like SAP, Oracle or even homegrown solutions. As a Fortune 500 customer recently told me, "just because I like Salesforce.com doesn't mean that I'm going to get rid of SAP for my financials." Therefore, we have a hybrid world of off and on-premise applications. More and more cloud customers are realizing that using Cast Iron Systems to integrate this hybrid world is the sure-fire way to maximize the economic value of their cloud investment. Why? With Cast Iron integration, cloud users no longer have to do the "swivel chair" approach of accessing multiple systems -- they now have real-time visibility of data previously locked away in other enterprise applications.

Solving this problem is not as simple as it may seem. According to recent studies by Gartner, Forrester and Saugatuck, CIOs rate application integration along with security as the top reasons why they shy away from the cloud. Cast Iron Systems has enabled hundreds of customers to solve this problem by offering a complete cloud integration platform. The value of Cast Iron to these customers has been twofold - they have maximized their productivity and increased their adoption. The result? Cloud providers increase their "stickiness" and customer loyalty. Simply put, Cast Iron has become the customer loyalty application for the cloud.

Me: Cast Iron Systems lists its core capabilities as connectivity, transformation, logic, and management. Can you elaborate a little on each of those?

Chandar: The Cast Iron solution has been built from the ground up to provide exactly what you need for cloud integration. The key is simplicity - provide only what users need rather than all the extra bells and whistles that no one ends up using anyway. As you say, the four features that are a must-have for cloud integration are connectivity, transformation, workflow and management.

First off, the Cast Iron solution provides connectivity to hundreds of cloud applications, enterprise applications, web services, databases, flat-files, etc.

Beyond connectivity, the Cast Iron solution enables you to graphically map data between source and target applications. For example, if a data field called customer number is alphanumeric in your on-premise ERP and corresponds to a numeric field called account number in your off-premise CRM, you can graphically transform these so both applications interpret this as the same information.

The Cast Iron solution also enables you to graphically define the flow of data between source and target applications. For example, you can graphically define the required steps to extract customer data from your on-premise ERP system and send it to different cloud applications.

Wrapping up the core capabilities, the Cast Iron solution provides you with one cloud-based console to manage your integration. This enables complete visibility to data flowing across both your on and off-premise environments. Think of this as similar to the ability to track packages you ship with companies like FedEx or DHL.

Me: Can you tell us what Cast Iron Preconfigured Templates are and what they mean to the end user?

Chandar: With thousands of successful customer integrations, we leverage a wealth of integration experience to provide a comprehensive set of TIPs. These TIPs are offered for the most common integration scenarios between a number of enterprise applications like Salesforce.com, SAP, Oracle, etc. and eliminate the need to build your integrations from scratch. You can simply log in via your browser, select the template that best suits your requirements and enjoy proven, supported and certified processes. You can further customize these TIPs to meet your specific needs using a simple configuration wizard. I call this the "Turbo Tax" approach to integration. For those of us brave enough to do our taxes, we don't start off with a 1040 form. Instead, many of us use Turbo Tax wizards to answer the right questions and what we get is a customized tax form for us; this is the same experience the Cast Iron configuration wizard provides. What this means to a customer is that they are able to accelerate their time to production and be live in literally days rather than weeks or months.

Me: Tell us a little about your favorite customer success story with Cast Iron.

Chandar: There are many stories to tell. Let me give you a couple of success stories - one in a Fortune 500 company and one in what we call the general business sector.

A Fortune 500 pharmaceutical product distributor replaced various traditional systems with Salesforce.com as the CRM application for their call center service representatives (CSRs). After doing so, the challenge was then to empower all of their CSRs with real-time information in Salesforce.com, thus enabling them to deliver a superior customer experience. Historically, the CSRs spent hours collecting this information by accessing multiple applications, which resulted in a significant loss of sales productivity. The IT team deployed Cast Iron to connect their SQL-based homegrown data warehouse with Salesforce.com in real time. This solution created a 360-degree view of customers in real time. The customer implemented the entire integration solution in just ten days. The Cast Iron solution saves the company $250K annually and IT staff previously dedicated to cloud integration can now focus on strategically oriented, innovative projects that can lead to new revenue streams for the company.

A $2B manufacturer of consumer devices has a wide range of cloud and on-premise applications including solutions from SAP, JD Edwards and various others. They chose Salesforce.com as their CRM platform with the goal of delivering a superior customer experience. They wanted to use Salesforce.com as the single application that provided a seamless, 360-degree view of their customers and maximized the productivity of their sales and technical service teams. With Cast Iron, they performed integration between Salesforce.com and the on-premise systems including SAP, JD Edwards and flat files. Now the technical service teams no longer have to log in and manually access the information in back-office ERP systems. Again, the first SAP to Salesforce.com integration project took only 10 days to complete. The company benefits from approximately $210K in savings each year by eliminating ERP licenses, improving productivity and minimizing integration implementation costs.

Me: Thank you Chandar!

To hear more about Cast Iron and other cloud solutions in IBM WebSphere, check out the ongoing Enabling cloud computing with WebSphere program.

More Stories By Dustin Amrhein

Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.