A newly adopted and highly aggressive cloud computing strategy has led AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah (AAA NCNU) to choose Dell Boomi cloud integration tools over IBM Cast Iron and Jitterbit, an IT official with the organization said.
The popular auto club, a $600 million company that provides roadside assistance, sales and membership services to about 4 million customers in the Western United States, said the decision to go with Dell resulted largely from financial considerations and a matter of multi-tenancy.
AAA NCNU wanted a “truly multi-tenant” cloud-based integration tool—a single version of the application that serves multiple clients—but IBM Cast Iron and Jitterbit didn’t fit the bill, according to Kirk Heughens, the auto club’s application integration leader.
“We were looking for a true cloud offering,” Heughens said. “A lot of vendors nowadays say they are cloud [but actually] have multiple installations of their software out there in the cloud, so it’s really not truly multi-tenant.”
Multi-tenant cloud applications greatly reduce or eliminate the costs associated with scheduled software maintenance, Heughens explained, because any necessary software updates are sent out to the customer base automatically.
“Cast Iron was not truly multi-tenant,” he said. “Jitterbit plans to do more of a multi-tenant app, but right now they’re not.”
Independence breeds opportunity
AAA NCNU was the second largest AAA club in the U.S. when it broke up into two companies, an insurance carrier and an auto club, in early 2011. At the time, senior executives decided to leave almost all of the organization’s hardware and business applications with the insurance group—and this presented the auto club’s IT team with a rare opportunity.
“We actually had a greenfield,” Heughens said, “and we decided to buy a lot of our applications going forward—mostly completed cloud apps.”
A veteran user of Salesforce.com’s hosted customer relationship management (CRM) application, the auto club was no stranger to the benefits of cloud computing, which include reduced software development and IT overhead costs, according to experts. But the breakup of the company gave the auto club a chance to take that strategy even further.
“We [decided] to go completely cloud wherever possible, own no hardware, and if we need some type of a physical data center or anything like that, it will be a purchased or managed service,” Heughens said.
The auto club began deploying several new cloud-based offerings, including Jive Software’s intranet application; Workday Inc.’s human resources and financial applications; and Zuora Inc.’s billing and subscription engine. But it became clear last summer that integration tools would be required to facilitate the flow of data between the new applications. That’s when Heughens’ began to look more closely at Dell, IBM and Jitterbit.
The IBM WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud Integration offering was the first to be dropped from the running. In addition to its lack of multi-tenancy, Heughens said the product cost about twice as much as the others, and the investment could not be justified from a budget standpoint. He added that he would have also liked more time to experiment with the product when IBM came for proof-of-concept (POC) meetings.
“During the evaluation, I was going to just go in blind and see if I could use their system without any training,” he said. “But [the IBM sales team] wouldn’t even allow me to do that.”
The IT team at AAA NCNU liked Jitterbit’s technology, sales and services organization quite a bit, but couldn’t get past the multi-tenancy issue.
“If budget was our number one concern, we probably would have chosen Jitterbit over Boomi for our solution. The price was [one third of Boomi’s] and it met our basic requirements,” Heughens explained. “Boomi surpassed our basic requirements and was a true multi-tenant architecture.”
While some users have reported problems around the complexity of Dell Boomi, Heughens said the initial deployment of the software went smoothly. He says the real test of the software will come later in the year as AAA NCNU rebuilds its membership management system using nothing but cloud applications. Membership information currently resides within a legacy mainframe that will no longer be supported at the end of 2012.
“Our plan is that Zuora will be the subscription engine and it will hold the master copies of our billing data in the cloud and Salesforce will hold the basic customer information,” Heughens said. “Boomi will be the integration layer between Salesforce and Zuora and whatever data we have to send back to our financial system, which is Workday.”
Be prepared for cloud integration POCs
The key to making the right decision when evaluating cloud integration software is being prepared—and Heughens can certainly claim preparedness.
The application integration leader was armed with “a matrix” of over 100 questions to ask Dell, IBM and Jitterbit when they came in to pitch their products. The vendors were then scored on their answers and the club decided to go with Dell Boomi.
Some of the questions on Heughens’ list include: How many integration solutions does the company offer? How many different versions are currently supported? What is the delivery model? How do you integrate a cloud application with an on-premise application? How do you support complex integrations with multiple processes and sub-processes?
The list also included several questions about the products’ security features, but Heughens is not particularly troubled by the prospect of storing data in the cloud.
“We absolutely are not concerned about having data in the cloud,” he said. “I think you have to take that risk on.”