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Informatica's PowerCenter Bundle, Product Roadmap

For a company that has sometimes seemed to lack direction, Informatica is back on track

Informatica Corp. this week announced a new all-in-one edition of its popular PowerCenter ETL tool, called PowerCenter Advanced Edition, which includes metadata management, reporting, and other capabilities at a lower price.

Also this week, Informatica published its first-ever long-term product roadmap, which calls for a new version of PowerCenter (code-named “Zeus”) later this year, followed by another release (dubbed “Hercules") in the fall of 2006.

Karen Steele, vice-president of corporate communications with Informatica, says the new PowerCenter Advanced Edition package includes Informatica’s ETL tool, the SuperGlue metadata management offering, the PowerAnalyzer reporting tool, as well as Informatica’s team-based development and server grid options. The price, Steele says, is $180,000 for a four-CPU system—or just 30 percent more than the vanilla PowerCenter product.

“This is a combination of some of our products, available on a single platform, with a single install, [at a] very compelling price,” says Steele. By contrast, she points out, if a customer wanted to purchase all of the bundled software and options separately, they’ve have to fork over $605,000.

Steele says PowerCenter Advanced Edition gives customers an almost turnkey data integration stack—with one important omission, of course.

“We’re going to put forward an edition that will be one platform, a single install, in under an hour. This will ship at the end of February, and will include … most of our [data integration] stack, except for PowerExchange—that’s highly differentiated. [PowerExchange] will remain a separate product because that includes all of the connectivity to the mainframe."

At least one long-time Informatica user says he’s intrigued by the new offering.

“We would have to look at it more closely, but, yes, it sounds like something we’d be interested in,” says Mark Cothran, a data warehouse architect with Ace Hardware. “Last year, we thought about purchasing the SuperGlue piece, but it was just too expensive. We looked at PowerAnalyzer in the past, too, so it definitely makes it more attractive, since it works together with PowerCenter.”

Steele says existing users such as Ace Hardware will also be able to upgrade to the new PowerCenter bundle. “We’re going to make it very attractive for customers to upgrade so they can get the full value out of the Edition,” she says. “Our sales teams really believe [in] the value that’s going to be provided in a single platform, in a single edition, they are really excited about the prospects.”

A Rough Patch for Informatica

In spite of its ETL market-leading status, Informatica is in the midst of a protracted period of transition. Eighteen months ago, the company announced it was quitting the analytics space. Since then, Redwood City, Calif.-based Informatica has publicly rededicated itself to its core data-integration platform, based on the PowerCenter ETL tool, along with offerings such as SuperGlue and PowerAnalyzer.

Over the same period, some analysts have suggested that Informatica has lacked a concise, focused strategy, in spite of its emphasis on data integration.

“They’ve just struck me as a company that keeps changing its tune, as if they’re always changing their message or searching for the right message,” says Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis. Schiff points to Informatica’s announcement last year of its Universal Data Services (UDS), which it positioned as a service-oriented framework for enterprise data integration. Since then, Schiff notes, Informatica has said very little about UDS. In fact, he argues, the company seems to have abandoned the brand altogether.

Informatica’s Steele says it’s understandable some industry watchers are confused. According to Steele, Informatica hatched UDS at about the same time SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc. (among others) were aggressively touting their own application architectures, NetWeaver and Universal Application Network (UAN), respectively. In that sense, she acknowledges, Informatica launched UDS as a branding effort. Nowadays, the company is content to position it as the services-oriented architecture (SOA) that enables data integration vision.

“At the end of the day, it was always our services-oriented architecture, and we put a name to it, and there was lot of hype at the time we announced it with NetWeaver and Siebel, all of these service-oriented platforms,” she explains. “Effectively, we announced it and our intention to open up our platform and create data services, open up the APIs of certain features, and this is really the culmination of that effort. It’s always been sort of the underpinnings, and we’ve talked about it being the underpinnings.”

In this respect, she concedes, the 18-month product roadmap Informatica announced this week is intended to help clarify the company’s strategy—especially to itself. “I think it was important for us to clarify our strategy both internally and with our partners before we put this forward, and certainly within the last six moths and with some new management here, that’s become very clear,” Steele says. “We were just looking for the sort of best strategy where we could put this forward and really cement the future of where we’re going.”

Another goal, says Steele, is to re-establish strategic partnerships with other business intelligence vendors. Is this a tacit admission that some of the moves Informatica has made in the past—viz., its packaged analytics offerings, the PowerAnalyzer reporting tool—have jeopardized its relationships with many BI powers?

“While we didn’t view ourselves as competing directly with the standalone BI market, the fact is we had some dashboarding reporting capabilities, and our tool got used in some of those situations, so it made it a little more confusing in the market,” she acknowledges. “But I think we’ve made it very clear to the folks like Cognos, Business Objects, and Hyperion that our focus is on data integration.”

In this respect, she argues, Informatica’s product road map should do much to ease the concerns of these and other BI players. Later this year, Informatica will ship “Zeus,” a new version of PowerCenter that includes beefed-up fault-tolerance and failover capabilities; enhanced security, with support for access across firewalls; improved support for semi-structured and unstructured data, such as HL7, UCCNET, and SWIFT; and support for in-line Java extensibility.

By late 2006, Informatica will deliver “Hercules,” a version of PowerCenter that Steele positions as a one-stop shop for batch, real-time, and on-the-fly data delivery. Hercules will sport a published data “surface” designed to easily expose data to other applications regardless of its source. Other amenities include task-specific and problem-specific user interfaces, along with expanded metadata directory and search capabilities.

At the same time, Hercules, and to a much lesser extent, Zeus, are long on vision and short on specifics. In order to get at semi-structured and unstructured data, for example, Informatica will almost certainly have to develop its own enterprise information integration technology—or acquire one. Steele can give no specifics: “By the time we get to Hercules, we’ll be doing a lot more for unstructured data. But that feature has not been fully determined yet—this [roadmap] is very high-level.”

In the Hercules time frame, Informatica will also solve another thorny problem: What to do with its PowerAnalyzer tool now that it has articulated its commitment to make nice with the other BI players. Thanks to Hercules’ published data surface, Informatica will be able to support what Steele calls “data-ready reporting,” which essentially allows any vendor’s reporting tool to plug into its SOA. “We see data-ready reporting as a complement to these [other] reporting tools. When we talk about Hercules, we hope that’s something that third-party vendors like Cognos will take advantage of."

Some users, such as Ace Hardware’s Cothran, are already using PowerAnalyzer as a complement to third-party BI reporting tools. “We use PowerAnalyzer right now as a metadata reporting tool from Informatica. It comes with PowerCenter, so we can look at the jobs when they fail, when they ran,” he says, adding that “we’re not going to be looking to replace our MicroStrategy BI tool.”

Cothran believes Informatica’s published roadmap makes a lot of sense. “I saw the presentation and they’re talking about going across [the] enterprise, across multiple enterprises,” he says. “We’ve used Informatica for our operational systems, as well as for BI, as well as for integration outside the company. So this fits nicely with our own strategy.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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