Why Integrate Data at the Application Level Rather than the Storage Level

by Sam Morris on May 1, 2014

Application level integration versus data storage level integrationThe prospect of improving critical business systems is bound to elicit questions from every corner of the corporate value chain. One of those questions will be whether to integrate data at the application level or the storage level; thankfully, it’s a question with a clear, unequivocal answer.

Due to significant risk and expense, functionality problems, and an inability to scale, it’s hard to recommend storage-level data integration. Application-level integration, on the other hand, can reduce or eliminate many of those same drawbacks. The prospect of improving critical business systems is bound to elicit questions from every corner of the corporate value chain. One of those questions will be whether to integrate data at the application level or the storage level; thankfully, it’s a question with a clear, unequivocal answer.

Risk, expense, and time

Your organization’s legacy infrastructure may be very old, so let’s think of it like a museum piece – a very precious museum piece. You strive to protect this piece from any undue tampering, which is why you’ve placed a permanent “do not touch” sign beneath it.

Unfortunately, integration at the storage level would require modifying your priceless IT infrastructure. And that’s a risk you can’t afford to take when its underlying data is the very thing that powers your operation.

But let’s say you figured out a way to ensure the integrity of your data during a storage-level integration. Would it really be the most cost-effective solution to your problem? While we’ll concede that not all integrations are created equal, only a real special kind of storage-level integration might come out less expensive than an application-level integration. Some estimates put the cost of legacy infrastructure modifications at up to ten times that of modernization via applications.

And let’s not forget how much faster it will be to extend the underlying system’s capabilities rather than alter them, especially since many legacy systems contain old code that’s just begging to be reused.

Features and functionality

Got proprietary applications? If you do, it’s because some forward-looking people decided you needed custom software to fit the very particular way your organization does business. So, what if a backend change – an integration, let’s say – made it impossible for those proprietary apps to work properly? What if you had to completely recreate all of them from the ground up?

You’d probably have a lot of angry users, not to mention an overextended IT budget.

The alternative? A more flexible integration that either preserves the custom features of your proprietary applications or, better yet, merges them with new processes. Application-level integration can make these arrangements possible – without all the angry users, of course.

Scalability

There’s also the question of scale. How does augmenting storage-level infrastructure leverage the scalability potential of legacy hardware?

Well, it doesn’t. Worse still, it treats the backend system as a liability rather than an investment. Given that application-level integration is helping organizations achieve all kinds of valuable modernizations from web-based access to mobile enablement, is it not unwise to meddle with legacy IT systems without thinking twice?

Banks and credit unions are among the most visible organizations enabling new services on top of existing legacy assets. Pretty soon, consumers will see a stark contrast between financial institutions offering real-time, on-the-go services (things like mobile check deposits and cash transfers) and those that failed to exploit the potential of their underlying IT infrastructure. Other industries, both consumer-facing and B2B, are sure to follow suit.

The lesson? While it would be a stretch to declare older systems “fine the way they are,” a bigger stretch would be to ignore their capacity for scale. Integrating applications can help you take advantage of that scale, retain essential functionality, and reduce overall IT costs.

Previous post:

Next post: