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Automating the cloud, one website script at a time

Lisa Schmeiser | March 14, 2013
Cloud-based APIs offer the promise of seamless integration between services. All you need is the programming chops to make the most of them and the bandwidth to keep up with the rapid pace of change of today's most popular services.

One scripting service aimed at the business-class user

Although ITTT has taken off among the BYOD crowd -- amassing more than a million user-created recipes and counting -- the Web-based service Zapier has set its sights on the business crowd.

Its operating premise is very similar to ITTT's: The user selects one service, identifies a triggering event in that service, then selects the service that will react to the data or event generated by the first service. The script that automates this sequence is called a "zap."

But there are key differences: Zapier offers users the opportunity to automate tasks associated with typical enterprise applications like Basecamp, Formdesk, Jira, MySQL, Salesforce, and Zendesk.

Second, while ITTT is free for all recipes linked to a user, Zapier offers tiered pricing based on usage. Users who sign up with Zapier receive five zaps per month for free. Zapier also identifies the transfer of a chunk of data between two cloud-based apps as a "task" and limits the number of free tasks to 100 per month. Because tasks are automated based on zaps, users have to keep an eye on how many times their zaps are triggered per month if they want to continue using the service for free.

Pricing for Zapier ranges from $15 per month for a Basic subscription to $99 per month for Business Plus. Business Plus users can craft as many as 125 zaps with 50,000 separate data transactons. Paid subscribers, from Basic to Business Plus, also receive access to several "premium" enterprise-friendly cloud environments (including BaseCamp, Formdesk, Jira, MySQL, Salesforce, and Zendesk), whereas free users do not.

The future in drag-and-drop scripting

Using a cloud-based service to automate tasks across two cloud services makes ITTT and Zapier tricky to troubleshoot. Moreover, both ITTT and Zapier depend entirely on the consistency and robustness of a wide array of cloud vendor APIs, which can be moving targets, to say the least.

To prevent API changes from disrupting its service, Zapier has cultivated personal contacts at nearly all of the 168 services it integrates, says CEO Wade Foster. This has translated into a heads-up for API changes to come, enabling Zapier to stay in front of the curve and minimize disruptions for customers, he claims. Zapier has also instituted its own early-warning system against changes in the APIs it supports.

Although services such as ITTT and Zapier abstract away the actual scripting needed to integrate these cloud services, they still require users to apply basic scripting logic. ITTT walks users through the process of making two cloud accounts talk to one another, and Zapier provides templates for users to copy. However, anyone using these sites is on their own for assembling the pieces and putting together a working script. Still, it's a small price to pay considering the overhead it would otherwise cost IT to maintain custom integrations between users' cloud service accounts.


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