Dell Boomi: Bringing smarts and scale to hybrid integration

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Dell Boomi has been an application integration technology provider since 2000, and has built and maintained a large and diverse customer base in the intervening period. The past 10 years have seen it focus strongly on its cloud platform as the ‘centre of gravity’ for its offerings, and also broaden its capabilities significantly. As well as providing a rock-solid platform, Dell Boomi is particularly noteworthy for the way it’s built operational insights right into its tools to drive recommendations based on customer behaviour.

Top takeaways

More than just application integration, anywhere

Dell Boomi started life as a provider of on-premise configuration-based application integration technology. It’s offered cloud-based tools and deployment since the launch of AtomSphere in 2007, though, and has continued to broaden its capabilities.

Alongside core application integration, the Boomi offering now includes API Management, Master Data Management, and EDI capabilities – and with the 2017 acquisition of ManyWho, there’s also a flexible workflow service that’s aimed at coordinating work between people (rather than orchestrating automated integration tasks).

Prioritise Dell Boomi, particularly if you have a variety of integration use cases to address

Dell Boomi’s products are well-established, robust and sophisticated. The design and management tools provide options suited not only for creating relatively small-scale implementations, but also provide good lifecycle management features that will enable multiple teams to collaborate on large-scale integration programs.

Beyond the core capabilities of the tools, however, what’s particularly impressive about the Dell Boomi offering is the way that the company has leveraged its single-instance, multi-tenant cloud platform to offer a number of value-added ‘smart’ features that help accelerate delivery and maximise quality.

If you’re looking for a rock-solid platform with serious operational pedigree and plenty of flexibility, a range of deployment options and pricing points, then you should be paying Dell Boomi’s offering a lot of attention.

Boomi: from integration niche to business platform

An integration specialist since 2000

Dell Boomi is an independent business unit of Dell Inc. It was originally founded in 2000, and acquired by Dell in 2010.

The company started life as a provider of on-premise configuration-based application integration technology. Shortly after, it introduced a graphical, drag-and-drop canvas for designing integration processes (what it calls its Visual Integration Technology that still shapes the developer experience); but it was with the introduction of its cloud platform, AtomSphere, in 2007 that things really took off.

Boomi currently has over 5,000 customers, including over 130 of the US Fortune 500. It has over 230 partners worldwide, and over half of its revenue comes from partner-led sales.

Towards a business platform

Whereas Boomi started out principally as a niche technology provider focused specifically on making application integration easier, it has significantly broadened the functionality of its platform since the launch of AtomSphere, as well as focusing more on positioning the platform’s business value and promoting tool usage for broader groups of people – and less on purely addressing the interests of technology specialists.

Alongside core application integration, the Boomi offering now includes API Management, Master Data Management, and EDI capabilities – and with the 2017 acquisition of ManyWho, there’s also a flexible workflow service that’s aimed at coordinating work between people (rather than orchestrating automated integration tasks).

The company has a clear vision of how it can differentiate its platform to better support the needs of businesses around the world. Firstly, it’s aggressively using analyses of operational data from across its customer base to make the platform ‘smart’, and through that increase the productivity of people working on the platform and the quality of the implementations they create. Secondly, it’s consistently looking for opportunities to make it easy for business partners to use, sell and administer the platform as well as adding their own components and intellectual property to it.

Inside the Boomi offering

Core products

Boomi’s core products are all built on one common cloud-based foundation – for both design tooling and for deployment and production. As briefly mentioned above, there are four core products that provide their tools on Boomi’s single instance, multi-tenant platform (the Boomi Atom Cloud) today:

  • Boomi AtomSphere. The Dell Boomi product most widely used by far, AtomSphere is focused on application integration – across cloud platforms and on-premise data centres. Drag-and-drop design tools (the Boomi Build interface) enable integration specialists to quickly select and specify endpoints to integrate, map and transform data, specify automated tasks (such as making calculations, sending messages and so on) and specify integration processes via a graphical design canvas to co-ordinate the whole. Importantly, the integration process and task definitions you create can be distributed and deployed anywhere you install Boomi Atoms (instances of the runtime platform). As well as being an integral part of the central Boomi Atom Cloud, Atoms can run in your data centres, on other cloud platforms. Management tools enable administrators to explore and report on execution history, diagnose errors, administer Atoms, retry failed integration process instances, and so on.
  • Boomi API Management. This is a licensed add-on product for AtomSphere that you can use to create, publish and manage APIs (or groups of related APIs) for invoking your integration implementations, or creating managed proxies for external web services. You can create and manage multiple versions of REST-, SOAP- and OData-based APIs (or API groups), and operate multiple versions concurrently. Boomi automatically creates WSDL documents for any SOAP APIs you create, and Swagger files for each REST API. You can also set and deploy security policies for your APIs: you can have Boomi manage authentication, or use your own external authentication implementation. Furthermore, if you’re deploying processes and APIs to your own Atom Cloud you can set traffic control policies on requests to throttle API deployments, specifying (for example) the maximum volume of requests permitted, a maximum request input size, and a maximum limit for concurrent requests and request quotas.
  • Boomi EDI. As with API Management, EDI is a licensed add-on product for AtomSphere. It adds support for creating EDI trading partner profiles and processes. In specifying profiles for individual partners you have flexibility to specify communications protocols (AS2, FTP/SFTP or SOAP/HTML), connection configurations and validation rules. All X12, HL7 and EDIFACT standards are implemented out of the box. Using the core features of AtomSphere you can then map and transform EDI documents into other formats used internally to your organisation (e.g. XML-based documents, database structures, and so on). As an option, you can also have (for a fee) Dell Boomi operate an EDI Managed Service on your behalf using the product.
  • Boomi Master Data Management (MDM). Although utilising the same underlying technologies as the other products, Boomi MDM uses a specialised configuration of Atom Cloud to store its metadata repositories (the Dell Boomi MDM Atom Cloud). You use AtomSphere to create integration processes that link source systems with the MDM repository, and you can also create integration processes specifically to execute data quality tasks (such as enriching and/or validating data). Boomi MDM supports model versioning; it’s straightforward to roll back or forward between model versions; there are also additional features to support governance and stewardship roles (for example, handling quarantined records, fixing data integration problems, resolving duplication and matching errors, and so on).

In addition, as mentioned above, following its acquisition of ManyWho, Boomi now offers a service it currently calls the Boomi Workflow Automation service. The Boomi Workflow Automation service provides an easy-to-use workflow development platform – but whereas integration processes created with AtomSphere orchestrate individual automated integration services and tasks, workflows created using the Boomi Workflow Automation service are primarily concerned with co-ordinating tasks done by people. Dell Boomi is currently working on a new ‘flow listener’ for AtomSphere that will enable AtomSphere to execute tasks and flows in response to events generated by the Workflow Automation Service.

With the Boomi Workflow Automation service, the structure of a workflow as a set of tasks that need to happen in a particular order is defined at design-time; but at runtime, individuals participating in workflows can have significant discretion over how individual tasks are completed, and by whom (indeed, individual tasks can be shared and completed by collaborating groups of individuals). There’s support for all the usual human-centred workflow concepts you would expect: branching and merging, subflows, swimlanes and so on. In line with the other existing Boomi products, Boomi Workflow Automation is open and highly extensible.

Team support, versioning and reuse

AtomSphere, API Management, EDI, and Workflow Automation (via ManyWho) all support specification packaging and reuse through the concept of components. With AtomSphere, API Management and EDI, Components are made available to all projects through a shared Component Explorer: they can be formed from almost any configuration object native to the product – including APIs, certificates, connection definitions, maps, map functions, processes, profiles, queues, and trading partner definitions. You can create as many folders and subfolders within your account’s Component Explorer as you like, and you can apply role-based permissions to those folders and subfolders: making it possible to support multiple teams working on particular aspects of a large implementation, sharing their work yet managing that work in a controlled way.

All the main specification elements within an implementation – from processes, maps and connectors through to API definitions and MDM models – can be versioned, and it’s straightforward for team members with appropriate permissions to roll back/forward across versions.

Connectors, Integration Packs and Process Libraries

There are three ways in which added-value intellectual property can be added to Boomi AtomSphere.

Firstly is in the area of Connectors. Your AtomSphere installation can use pre-built connectors to connect to a large variety of commercial applications and platforms (though the number and variety available will depend on your license). High-profile application resource examples include AWS platform services (various, including the S3 and SQS storage services); Anaplan; Google Apps; Great Plains; Hadoop; Intacce; JIRA; Magento; Marketo; Azure services (various, including SQL Database and Data Warehouse, and Azure Service Bus); Microsoft Dynamics; NetSuite; Oracle (CRM On Demand, E-Business Suite); RightNow; SAP; Salesforce; SuccessFactors; SugarCRM; Taleo; Twilio; Workday; and Zuora. There are also technology connectors for common messaging and middleware protocols including AS2 (EDI), FTP, HTTP, JMS, LDAP, MQTT, Mail, OData, and of course SOAP. There’s also a Connector SDK if you want to build your own.

The Boomi Process Library, available within the Boomi Build user interface, provides a set of pre-built example integration processes that customers can use to get started quickly in specific scenarios. Dell Boomi is adding to this on a continuous basis.

Lastly, Dell Boomi partners have the opportunity to create Integration Packs. These are packaged collections of up to 100 prebuilt components (including process definitions and API components) that can be quickly installed by users in their own environments. A new Integration Pack User Interface open-source code project (created by Dell Boomi) is available to help partners build wizard-like configuration interfaces for Integration Packs they offer to their customers.

Deployment options

The central Boomi platform, where individuals and teams design, develop and manage their Boomi processes, runs on Boomi’s own single instance, multi-tenant cloud infrastructure hosted by Rackspace in the USA. However the integration code created from your implementation specifications can run in a variety of other places, as well as running in the central Boomi Atom Cloud if you want.

Boomi Atoms can run on any machine that meets the Boomi platform requirements: all that’s needed is a Linux or Windows Server installation (as long as it supports the Java 7 or 8 runtime). Boomi supplies a ready-made Docker image for Atoms (Linux only), so you can install an Atom and all its dependencies quickly and seamlessly. Boomi Atoms can also be deployed to Dell Edge Gateway devices, enabling you to carry out data transformation and processing work locally on edge devices and minimise WAN traffic in IoT scenarios.

AWS and Azure public cloud virtual instances are very popular Atom deployment options. In addition, of course, Atoms can run in your own data centres, as long as they can connect back to the Boomi platform as needed (Atoms are remotely upgraded automatically from the central Boomi platform, and of course connections are also needed to enable your code to be seamlessly deployed and to enable management instrumentation data to flow back to Boomi’s management tools).

Alongside its central USA-based Atom Cloud, Boomi operates and manages two other Atom Clouds for your deployments today: an EU Cloud (based in London, UK) and an ANZ Cloud (hosted in Sydney, Australia). However it’s important to note that today, Boomi’s EU and ANZ Clouds don’t come with any formal service-level agreements regarding uptime or performance. If you want to run Atoms in a public cloud outside the USA, you may be best served by deploying to AWS or similar.

Boomi’s Atom Clouds are configured to run Atoms across fault-tolerant clusters. You can provide the same services to your self-managed deployments by configuring your own servers to run Boomi Molecules (application-level clusters specific to Boomi).

Intelligence in the platform

One of the Boomi platform’s chief areas of differentiation – and a core element of its product strategy – comes from the way it uses its shared cloud tools and platform, and the process and task specification data that customers create in that environment, to drive ‘crowd-sourced’ intelligence about customer behaviour and platform usage.

Boomi uses this pool of data to deliver three related features today:

  • Boomi Suggest. Available within the Boomi Build user interface and working from indexed metadata from the whole AtomSphere customer base, the Suggest feature recommends and automatically generates data transformation maps for given pairs of source and target endpoints. Dell Boomi asserts that around 90% of customers accept Boomi Suggest’s recommendations.
  • Boomi Resolve. Again available within the Boomi Build user interface and working from AtomSphere usage data, the Resolve feature recommends resolutions to common error messages from the platform.
  • Boomi Assure. Assure is feature that creates a crowd-sourced regression test suite. Every customer can upload the functional tests associated with their own implementations; these test configurations and data are aggregated, to create a regression test suite that Dell Boomi uses for every future release of the platform. The company pledges not to release new platform versions until they pass the crowd-sourced regression test.

In addition, Dell Boomi also offers Predictive Assistance as part of its standard support offering to all customers, free of charge. Working from analyses of customer usage, the company’s support system highlights potential issues to the Customer Success Team, and suggests optimisations and other actions that customers should explore to improve their implementations.

Packaging and pricing

As noted above, Dell Boomi offers its functionality through a set of distinct (but integrated) products; you need to license each of them separately. Each product’s licensing varies. API Management, Master Data Management and EDI are not strictly dependent on usage of AtomSphere, but in practice they’re invariably deployed as ‘addons’ to AtomSphere.

Boomi AtomSphere is licensed based on the number of endpoints you want to integrate with. Pricing is tiered: the Base Edition costs $549/month and provides for two ‘standard’ endpoints. Higher tiers enable larger numbers of more varied endpoints to be integrated, and bundle in support for separate test environments and test connections (see https://boomi.com/products/editions/compare).

Boomi API Management is licensed based on the number of API calls that are managed through the platform. Pricing is tiered, here too (but pricing information is not publicly available).

Boomi MDM is licensed based on the number of records managed; EDI is licensed based on the number of trading partners configured. As with API Management, pricing information for these products is not publicly available.

Boomi Workflow Automation is licensed via usage-based or user-based pricing schemes. Usage-based pricing is organised into bands; the entry-level band allows for up to five applications with up to 2,500 application launches per month. User-based pricing is also banded; the entry-level band allows for up to five applications with up to 100 application launches per user per month.

Recommendation

Dell Boomi’s products are well-established, robust and sophisticated. The design and management tools provide options suited not only for creating relatively small-scale implementations, but also provide good lifecycle management features that will enable multiple teams to collaborate on large-scale integration programs.

Beyond the core capabilities of the tools, however, what’s particularly impressive about the Dell Boomi offering is the way that the company has leveraged its single-instance, multi-tenant cloud platform to offer a number of value-added ‘smart’ features that help accelerate delivery and maximise quality.

If you’re looking for a rock-solid platform with serious operational pedigree and plenty of flexibility, a range of deployment options and pricing points, then you should be paying Dell Boomi’s offering a lot of attention. If you’re a software company looking to partner with an integration player in order to provide sophisticated integration features to your customers, then the Boomi products’ architecture – which fosters delegated administration, configuration and deployment – plays right to your needs.

Nevertheless the Boomi products aren’t for every scenario. If you’re looking for a tool that truly offers a self-service environment that ‘citizen integrators’ can use easily and safely, you’ll need to find a Boomi partner that can offer you Integration Packs tailored to your own particular situation – the Boomi tools themselves don’t provide simple wizard-like configuration tools for common, simple integration patterns.

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