How to Connect Your Cloud Apps

In 30 years, personal computing has moved from our desks, to our laps, to our hands, to the “cloud.”

The cloud offers many advantages over traditional desktop computing. Among other things, cloud computing conveniently means no more installing or troubleshooting software on your own. No more annual upgrades on disk, at great cost in time and money.

But it also poses new risks. Hackers will have access to vast amounts of user data. An outage in “public clouds” like Google Cloud Platform or Amazon Web Services can make large portions of the Internet unavailable for hours.

Up in the cloud, much of our daily computing is literally and figuratively out of our hands.

Cloud apps are the future of computing.

The future of computing is in here.

And with more and more of the apps you use every day being cloud-based, getting all those apps to work together and share data can be a major challenge for both individuals and small businesses.

To the rescue, two fairly new and inexpensive platforms are bringing easy cloud integration to the masses. I suspect they’re just the beginning.

As more of our daily business and personal computing happens in the white fluffy place, the more we’ll need platforms like these to keep our cloud apps from drifting apart.

Living on 9 Clouds

Like any new phenom, cloud computing just wouldn’t be complete without a slew of new acronyms — CaaS, IaaS, NaaS, SaaS, DBaaS, iPaaS, etc. — that you don’t need to care about. They were created for enterprise users, and a handful of major vendors currently dominate this growing market. No need to discuss them here.

But two of them are relevant whether you know the acronyms or not.

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Any time you log into your software via web browser, you’re using SaaS (Software as a Service). Every time you store something on iCloud or Dropbox, or log into WordPress or pretty much any autoresponder, CRM, accounting, automation, or other online platform, you’re using a SaaS application.

iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) is what makes SaaS apps work together.

According to InfoWorld, there is a “class of providers, sometimes dubbed ‘Consumer iPaaS’ that are very easy to use but conversely offer less advanced capabilities and less flexibility” than enterprise-class iPaaS.

“The two most common ones are IFTTT and Zapier. While these tools feature connectors to consumer products such as Nest thermostats, GE appliances or Fitbit fitness trackers, they also connect to Salesforce, Stripe, or Amazon Redshift. The difference is therefore less clear-cut.”

Native Integrations

A brief aside: Native integration is a big selling point today. Many cloud apps offer native integrations with each other that they feature prominently on their sales pages. They often boast of how they’re constantly adding more.

You integrate them by copying your login credentials — or, more often, something called an “API key” — from one platform into another. This key (API = Application Programming Interface) connects and authenticates your source platform (e.g. opt-in) so your host platform (e.g. autoresponder) knows it’s really yours. It’s easy to do, and the Help sections all tell you how to find their API key in the settings (often the developers section) and where to copy and paste it.

Integrations for Everyone … and Every Thing

Zapier and IFTTT (IF This, Then That) enable you to integrate platforms not covered by these native integrations. They’re similar in what they do, but very different in how they do it and what kinds of connections they offer.

On the day I’m writing this, IFTTT connects with 374 application “channels” in 42 categories, and Zapier with more than 600. It’s probably way more as you read this; IFTTT has 14 more than it did just six weeks ago.

Zapier (whose name, not accidentally, has “API” in the middle) is geared toward business and productivity, and connects with more business apps overall.

IFTTT is more populist. Still, it includes the major blogging platforms and social media channels, payment gateways, and email marketing and cloud storage platforms.

Unlike Zapier, however, IFTTT is all about the Internet of Things. It connects with brand-name appliances, Fitbit and other wearables, environmental control apps like Nest and Wally, gardening and lighting gadgets, security and power monitoring systems, even connected cars. IFTTT can automatically turn on your lights at sunset, notify you when your wash cycle is almost done, or close your garage door every night.

iPaaS apps like Zapier & IFTTT are critical for cloud computing. Click To Tweet

The Cost of Connection

In the cloud, upgrades are automatic and included in the subscription price. The software provider takes care of it, so you always have the latest version, which you access through an ordinary web browser. You pay monthly or annually, and you’re done.

IFTTT, however, is completely free.

Zapier has a free personal version that grants you up to five “Zaps” (like IFTTT’s “Applets”) of up to two action steps each from a limited number of channels. Above that it has pricing plans that amount to basically $1 per zap, with “premium” channels available; all have caps on the number of tasks per month. With a paid plan (and during your free trial) you can create Zaps with any number of steps.

If This, Then What?

Even if you don’t know what you want to connect, browsing through either platform will give you lots of ideas.

Zapier auto-suggests recommendations based on the apps you choose to connect. IFTTT has an active community, and you can create, save, and share your own Applets or download those shared by others.

As cloud computing grows in importance, we will likely see new platforms to compete with Zapier and IFTTT. It’s like live streaming: A year ago there were few options, now everybody does it.

One thing is clear though. As cloud computing grows in dominance, integrations will become a growing part of the way we compute.

I’ll see you in the cloud.

IFTTT or Zapier? Which do you use? Or which would you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Randy Lyman
 

I'm The Tech Uncle. I’m a content producer. I help small and young businesses get their online tech and content working together so they can have more time, money, and energy to focus on their core mission.

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