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The Small Partial Switch

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Dell may be playing coy about its plan to become an internet service provider. But it's already an internet service provider.

As the once and future hardware maker builds its own Amazon-like "infrastructure cloud" – presumably based on the open source OpenStack platform – Dell is also offering businesses its very own web-based software application, the online service it acquired with the purchase of Philadelphia-based startup Boomi late last year. With Boomi's AtomSphere service – billed as an "Integration Cloud™" – Dell lets businesses connect various backend applications not only to each other but also to new-age applications running in the proverbial heavens.

It's a good metaphor for Dell itself, which is slowly evolving not only into a services company but also a true service provider. It's not just helping you build and maintain your own hardware and software infrastructure. It's actually offering online services that let you avoid the hassles of dedicated infrastructure.

What strange days we live in.

First launched in 2007, Boomi's service is designed to connect all sorts of business software tools, from CRM applications to HR applications to finance software. These tools might be running in your own data center or they might be so-called SaaS applications running over the net.

"Our cloud service allows you to connect any combination of cloud or on-premise apps, and the connections are to enable a business process of some sort," Boomi founder and CTO Rick Nucci tells The Register. "So, if you got a lead that originates in a marketing automation application, the data can move into CRM system, and when the deal is closed, we can move the information into a finance system, and it might go from there into a support system to manage relationships with customers.

"You may be running two applications or dozens. But Boomi sits in between these apps and orchestrates the movement of all that data as it happens."

The service offers built-in "connectors" for popular applications, including locally installed tools such as PeopleSoft, the popular HR application, to online tools such as Salesforce.com. But there's also an SDK for building your own connectors. It mimics existing "integration" tools, but it does it via the web, as a "cloud" service.

Scientific Learning – a company that sells educational software for schools – is using Boomi to connect its local accounting and CRM systems as well as various applications on Salesforce.com and Force.com, and the idea is to eventually move entirely to web-based applications. "Boomi gives us a hub-and-spoke type system, where we can unplug things and plug in others over time," says Bill Vanderwall, senior director of information technology at Scientific Learning.

Boomi does offer a local piece of software for use with other local applications – this is what Scientific Learning opted for – but you use it in tandem with the online service, and it's not required. Vanderwall says he would have preferred to avoid the local tool. "I was out on parental leave at the time," he tells us "and the team was concerned about performance [when passing data between local applications]."

As we said, Boomi is nice metaphor for the Dell empire. Michael Dell and Co. are making the move to the heavens, while keeping their feet firmly planted on solid ground. Just what you'd expect, really. The same balancing act is underway at HP. Naturally, these two hardware giants don't believe in The Big Switch. But they do believe in The Small Switch That's Convenient When You're Not Staying Right Where You Are. ®

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