System integrations started off as a great way for businesses to improve business efficiency and streamline operations, by connecting applications, software, and data. With the current rapidly evolving need for digital transformation across industries, system integrations play a crucial role in digitalizing business processes by integrating cloud apps and SaaS solutions.
ESB solutions have helped businesses, since before the advent of the cloud, simplify and standardize how they integrate legacy systems with various applications. The iPaaS is designed to help rapidly deploy integrations with SaaS solution and cloud services to digitalize businesses processes. This is where the differences between the two middleware solutions, ESB and iPaaS, start to emerge.
ESB vs iPaaS- A brief understanding
Cloud-based integration vs on-premise integration platform
What is an ESB?
ESB, or Enterprise Service Bus, is an integration architecture framework that helps businesses connect and share data between multiple applications. As an on-premises middleware solution, it requires the installation of hardware and it essentially functions as a centralized communication hub with an enterprise, which helps facilitate messaging and communication between different endpoints, including applications, services, databases, and devices.
What is iPaaS?
An iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) solution can be a no-code or low-code, cloud-based platform that helps seamlessly integrate multiple systems, software, cloud apps, or data sources. In other words, it provides businesses with a user-friendly, web interface to create, monitor, and manage integrations, with automated integration tools and without any custom code. Centralizing and standardizing data from all connected systems on a dedicated cloud space, an iPaaS helps automate workflows and transform data being exchanged between various systems, including legacy systems and the latest cloud apps.
What are the key differences between the iPaaS and ESB?
API-driven integrations vs messaging architecture
While both are middleware solutions for system integration, there are key differentiators that place the iPaaS and ESB at different ends of the spectrum:
1. API-first integrations vs messaging architecture
The adaptability of the iPaaS stems from the ease with which data may be shared between systems in near real-time via APIs. Being an API-lead integration solution, an iPaaS enables businesses to swiftly add or replace software integrations in an agile fashion. Since APIs can be easily updated, versioned, and reused, an iPaaS enables flexible modification of an integration to suit changing business needs.
An ESB system implements a messaging architecture that allows systems and applications to talk to each other. Rather than exposing APIs to each other, an ESB relies on a centralized message broker that acts as a mediator between systems. This messaging architecture is more complex to develop and maintain and lacks standardization. In case of any major changes in applications or integrations, the entire ESB system may need to be reconfigured.
2. An ESB is more complex and expensive to implement than the iPaaS
While an ESB, like an iPaaS, eliminates the hassles of having to create point-to-point integrations with custom code, an ESB does need to be operated by experienced IT personnel. These senior developers need to be carefully educated and trained in how to implement an ESB. To add to this, with the ESB messaging architecture it can be quite challenging to understand the flow of data and how messages are routed between systems. Building a “DeveOPs” team with such senior developers can be very expensive and time-consuming.
On the other hand, the iPaaS enables the development and governance of integrations via a user-friendly interface, which both developers and business users (like CTOs and project managers) can collaborate on. This also means that businesses can lower hiring costs and manage their integrations with junior developers, while optimally utilizing their senior developers to build complex, custom integrations with the iPaaS, or to develop other business-critical solutions.
3. Platform and security: iPaaS vs ESB
Being an on-premises system, an ESB needs to be fully operated, managed, and secured by the business itself. An iPaaS can be directly accessed on a cloud space with regularly updated platform security, features, and fixes. Some iPaaS solutions like Alumio also offer robust, automated monitoring and logging systems, which help instantly detect integration errors and reduce troubleshooting cost.
In an iPaaS, since all systems are integrated via APIs through the platform, if one connection gets stuck with an integration error or API conflict - the rest of the connected systems aren’t affected and can ensure business continuity. With an ESB system, since every connection is built through the integration system itself, if there are serious issues - it can bring all other connected systems to a standstill.
4. Vertical scalability vs horizontal scalability
When it comes to scalability, ESB solutions scale vertically. This means increasing performance resources such as memory, processing power, and speed to a single instance of an ESB environment, in order to handle increased traffic and processing demands. However, adding these resources may require significant reconfiguration or downtime, and adding resources to a single server or database may not always be sufficient to handle the increase workload.
In contrast, an iPaaS typically offers horizontal scalability. This means you can add additional servers to a single iPaaS instance, in order to handle increased traffic and processing needs. This enables an organization to add more resources to increase the capacity of the iPaaS to handle more data loads and integrations. It also means more fault tolerance, wherein if one server or instance of the platform fails, the other instances can continue handling the traffic.
5. ESB connectors vs iPaaS connectors
Both middleware solutions provide a range of connectors or pre-configured connections, which enable faster integrations with applications and software solutions. Like an iPaaS, an ESB platform may also provide different connectors to integrate different standards and protocols, such as SOAP, REST, JMS, JDBC, etc. However, an ESB performs more effectively in connecting on-premises and aggregated systems such as SAP. Therefore, ERP platforms are known to typically offer connectors for more traditional ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, and legacy systems.
On the other hand, an iPaaS provides pre-built connectors for a wider range of SaaS and new cloud apps or services. This helps businesses using an iPaaS to create faster integrations with popular e-commerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify, ERP systems like SAP and Microsoft Dynamics 365, Salesforce for CRM, POS systems like Lightspeed, and for many other software to digitalize business processes.
What gives the iPaaS an edge over an ESB solution?
Both, ESB and iPaaS can play a critical roles in a company's data management and system integration activities. However, while the key aspect of an ESB is that it is designed for integrating legacy systems, the iPaaS is a cloud-based solution that’s also capable of integrating legacy systems with cloud apps. At the same time, some iPaaS solutions also provides businesses with the ability migrate their legacy systems and data to the cloud.
The iPaaS is also a viable alternative for modern businesses that rely heavily on cloud-native apps, real-time data exchange and analytics, streaming data, and so on. It also provides a scalable platform infrastructure that enables businesses to seamlessly add, integrate, and organize multiple software solutions and data sources to build an integrated IT ecosystem. Furthermore, the integration agility that the iPaaS offers over ESB solutions ensure faster time to market, and as a cloud-based low-code or no-code solution it also helps enterprises lower operational cost and increase ROI.