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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: Restructuring a Fragmented Enterprise with MuleSoft

November 11, 2013 No Comments

In the interview below, James Donelan from MuleSoft accentuates the value of open source solutions, and outlines ways in which organizations today can achieve a competitive advantage by connecting and automating their business processes across applications and data sources.

  • Q. In your opinion, is open source still as relevant to the enterprise as it was 10 years ago? And if so, why?

A. I think it’s actually much more relevant to the enterprise now than before.

First, just look at how the developer community itself has changed. There has been a big mind shift. Ten years ago, open source was more of a fine art and accessible only to a select group of developers. Now, it’s bubbled up and almost every developer is involved in OSS on some level, even if it’s nothing more than watching their favorite open source projects on GitHub. Using and contributing to open source software has become mainstream. Our favorite web frameworks are open source, our big data processing systems are open source and a large percentage of our software stack for new systems is open source. Open source has become more social and the community around it has changed drastically.

Within the enterprise, it used to be the case that open source was not trusted and companies had concerns around licensing and support. Today, I think enterprises see it in almost the opposite light – leveraging open source can improve product quality, be more secure, more flexible and more innovative. It can also speed up the delivery of projects significantly and cost much less. When your engineers run into issues, you have access to the source code and can probably fix bugs quicker than you can create a support ticket with some large vendor. Finally, it can prevent vendor lock-in,  the thing that most companies fear the most.  Without even thinking about it today, most enterprises are deploying servers on Linux, leveraging OSS frameworks for their products and using cloud solutions built on open source.

One final reason why I think open source is even more important now is for cultural reasons. When you hire developers, they don’t want to work on closed systems. Great developers want to work on the latest cutting edge technologies, and many of these things are coming out of the open source world. So to hire the best developers, enterprises need them to be involved in open source, either by using or actively working on open source projects.

  • Q. With the evolution of cloud computing and big data, new integration challenges have arisen. As more and more information is moved back and forth, what will be the “glue” that holds on premise and off premise systems together?

A. I think the answer lies with APIs. On-premise and off-premise is a strategic infrastructure choice, but it makes the integration problem way more complex. The integration goes from connecting a few key internal systems that you have complete control over, to integrating your systems and applications with external SaaS systems and vendor based APIs, and being able to move data around efficiently and securely between these systems. This will require a huge amount of effort and the necessary “glue” is a great API platform and a powerful underlying integration platform to simplify the heavy lifting.

  • Q. How is MuleSoft helping organizations achieve competitive advantage by connecting and automating their business processes across applications and data sources?

A. The continuum goes all the way from  legacy modernization to having an API platform in place to handle the 21st century problem of SaaS and APIs. Companies can no longer compete with just the assets, technology and talent within their four walls. In the era of the New Enterprise, companies must combine an explosion of applications, data, partners and customers into a single, high performing entity. The New Enterprise is hyperconnected, and open APIs are the catalyst for this revolution. The Anypoint Platform enables companies to win in this new era, by easily connecting disparate SaaS, mobile and on-premise systems, within and across organizations.

  • Q. What fragmentation do you see occurring within the “new enterprise” today, and how can solutions such as MuleSoft’s Anypoint platform help with this dilemma?

A. In the New Enterprise, companies must deal with the explosion of applications, data, partners, SaaS and mobile. Different IT organizations in the enterprise will try and solve the mobile, SaaS, data and cloud integration problems separately and cause fragmentation on a number of different levels – multiple platforms, different integration strategies, siloed data and overly complex point-to-point integration. All this fragmentation will result in a poor end-user experience and inability to flexibly adapt to changes. Another level of fragmentation that will likely occur is on a cultural level. Organizations will end up being overly-protective of the interfaces to their systems and data and try to insulate themselves due to the complexity of having to integrate. This will do nothing other than slow down companies and limit their ability to react to change and innovate.

The MuleSoft Anypoint Platform solves this by giving you a single technology stack to connect anything, anywhere. Our connector platform consists of over a hundred connectors integrating enterprise systems, SaaS and big data products in a simple and consistent way and lowers the cost of integration. Our advanced data mapping and data sense intelligently and proactively acquires information about data and APIs in order to prescribe how to accurately use and integrate this into your systems. Integration points can be connected over a bus-like infrastructure, which decouples systems from each other, allows systems to change without impacting others and enables flexibility. Finally, integrations you build can be run on-premise and then migrated to the cloud later without any changes, which is a huge advantage.

  • Q. As organizations today try to manage both integration and the “human” elements of running a business, what are the key benefits of bridging the gap between business and IT, and what advice can you offer to help with the change management challenges that may arise?

A. In a nutshell, ensure the integration strategy and solution you put in place provides extreme flexibility and the ability to change things quickly. Your IT teams and line of business employees will thank you. Here’s why: your business will constantly change as the market evolves. Product companies need to continually adapt their offerings as their market and customer needs change. It’s a similar situation in the enterprise. Internal systems have always needed to adapt to accommodate changing requirements, but this gets amplified as companies open up their products to the outside world, integrate with more and more SaaS systems, and have much less control over many of these external systems and APIs. They will need to be more flexible than ever before, and the need to adapt and handle constant change will ensure long term success.

  • Q. Can you please tell us about MuleSoft’s new RAML product and how it works to enable developers to build REST APIs that foster a standard, design-first approach?

A. RAML stands for RESTful API Modeling Language and allows you to describe APIs using a language based on an open, vendor-neutral spec. It’s a way of describing RESTful APIs in a way that’s understandable by people and computers. RAML is flexible and focuses on cleanly describing resources, methods, parameters, responses, media types and other elements that make up the structure of RESTful APIs. The aim is to help our current API ecosystem and solve immediate problems as well as encourage better API patterns.

The main reason it fosters a design-first approach is that it’s easy to use. Specs often fail because they are too heavyweight or the burden they put on the developer outweighed the value they get from them. RAML does the opposite, and when used in conjunction with some of the great tools the community has been delivering –like Designer, Console and Notebook – it becomes a very powerful and fun approach for API design and development. It actually makes API design fun. There is a whole community around this and we know open communities typically lead to better software. The working group comprises of people from Google, Box, Intuit, PayPal and MuleSoft.

  • Q. What are the key benefits of this approach?

A. First of all it’s simple, easy to get started and fun to use. RAML encourages developers to build APIs that are intuitive, clear and consistent. It helps you design an API with a well-defined contract in a human-readable format to actually exist as your source code. Your API’s structure is manifest and easily understood by everyone: developers, partners and other API-consumers. The design-first approach forces you to focus on the interface of your API and how others will use and see it, versus the mechanics of how it’s built or works internally. This is going to ensure you deliver your users and developers the best possible user experience which we call “The Application Programming eXperience,” or APX.

Also, because it’s a well-formed spec, we can build great tools around it to delight developers and make API design and development fun. We’ve already seen a number of these delivered by the community recently like Designer, Console and Notebook, and we’ll see a lot more in the coming months.

  • Q. Where do you see open source and integration heading over the next ten years?

A. Going back to the original question, we talked about how open source will continue on the growth trajectory it’s been on. I mentioned how developer adoption in the enterprise has bubbled up and become more mainstream. In 10 years, perhaps the initial reaction of any enterprise developer starting a new software project will be to host it on GitHub and make it open to anyone. Closed source becomes an after thought.

We’re going to see massive amounts of data sitting out there generated by systems, transactions and people. All this needs to be processed, transformed and moved around.

The SaaS market is the fastest growing software market ever. According to Gartner, by 2015, 85% of all new software is expected to be SaaS. The SaaS market is expected to grow from $16 billion market today to a $120 billion market by 2020. All of this will drive a need for the New Enterprise to connect itself to the SaaS world and integrate their internal application with these applications.

In 2014 the number of mobile devices will surpass the number of people on the planet. There will be a massive explosion of devices, which need to be connected and integrated. Cisco estimates that 99.4 percent of physical objects in the world are still unconnected. With only about 10 billion of the 1.5 trillion things currently connected globally, there is vast potential to connect the unconnected via the Internet of Everything. All of these devices need to be connected.

The API explosion means companies are going to both open up more and more of their platforms via APIs and also integrate functionality into their products with third-party APIs.

All of these factors are all going to drive a huge need to solve integration very differently from how it is done today. Instead of it being handled tactically by teams as one-offs, it will need to be raised up a level and treated as a strategic investment. If it is done correctly the connected company will have a huge competitive advantage.


As VP of Engineering at MuleSoft, James Donelan brings more than 15 years of technology and software engineering leadership experience with large-scale enterprise systems and cloud platforms. Prior to MuleSoft, James was VP Engineering and CTO at Sociable Labs, the SaaS-based social commerce and social engagement platform, where he led engineering and operations supporting over 3 billion page views a month, 10 million users, and 1 billion social actions, driving 99.99% uptime for the cloud infrastructure.

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