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Enterprise Information Integration: The New Must-Have Feature

If a spate of recent EII-related events is any indication, that technology might soon become a must-have checklist feature for many vendors

As recently as two years ago, few folks had heard of enterprise information integration (EII). If a spate of recent EII-related events is any indication, however, EII might soon become a feature users demand.

Last week, Sybase Inc. became the latest large vendor to have a come-to-EII moment. In a surprise move, the database stalwart snapped up grid computing pioneer-cum-EII-specialist Avaki Corp. Analysts say the acquisition at once extends the reach of Sybase’s information management solutions and complements its iAnywhere mobile capabilities.

Sybase, not surprisingly, positions the Avaki technologies as a boon to customers working with that other red-hot technology -- the service-oriented architecture (SOA).

"Avaki's EII software enables advanced applications to be built in a virtual, service-oriented architecture, rapidly and easily pulling together information from a variety of sources and locations,” said Sybase chairman, CEO, and president John Chen, in a statement. “This approach helps our customers to gain further returns on from their existing technology investments.”

EII Religion

Sybase is in good company. IBM Corp. had its EII conversion experience long ago, announcing DB2 Information Integrator (a product based on existing data integration technology) in early 2003.

Last year, reporting specialist Actuate Corp. introduced a new EII component as part of its Actuate 8 release. Actuate’s EII capability was based on technology it acquired the previous summer from the former Nimble Technologies.

And don't forget data-integration specialist Informatica Corp.

From Informatica’s perspective, the combination of Ascential Software Corp.’s ETL and data integration expertise with IBM’s strength in EII and federated data access created an 800-pound information integration gorilla, so it wasn’t surprising when the company announced an EII strategy of its own last month, by means of a partnership with pure-play vendor Composite Software.

Proponents see EII as a complement to ETL and data integration. In this respect, they say, the technology has undeniable advantages of its own.

“If you inject WebSphere Information Integrator into coexistence with Ascential, you’ve got a completely universal data warehouse integration capability,” says Jeff Jones, director of strategy for IBM’s data management portfolio. “For some applications, it just makes more sense to leave the data where it’s at, to pull it in and create this consolidated view of these highly distributed, highly heterogeneous data sources.”

Even Informatica, which is careful to position its EII capability as an ancillary complement to its broader data-integration offerings, concedes that the technology does have its uses. “A big part of our decision was based on the feedback we were getting from our customers, and the need we saw to offer flexibility in data integration,” says Ivan Chong, vice-president of product management with Informatica. “We needed to give people choices about how they wanted to integrate their data, so they could respond faster.”

In addition to its primacy of place in next-generation information architectures, says Chong, EII has a role to play in ongoing data-integration efforts. That is, while customers are designing and implementing their next-generation information architectures, they can tap EII as a stop-gap technology to immediately expose data in heterogeneous sources. “We also wanted to give flexibility to IT, so they could service users via federation, and not interrupt that service as they were servicing live customers. They could continue to offer their services as they implement these [next-generation] architectures.”

In debuting its own EII capability last year, Actuate positioned the technology as a better way to do reporting, particularly in light of the practical consequences of spreadsheet-based reporting in most organizations, where “spreadmarts”—copies of individual spreadsheets—proliferate.

“If there’s one thing that’s still a very large challenge in companies, it’s having everybody have their own spreadsheet that they use, their personal database and personal calculation engine, which ends up being unauditable,” said Mark Smith, CEO and senior vice-president of consultancy Ventana Research, in an interview last year. “So what Actuate has is a spreadsheet front-end that can help provide access to every spreadsheet in the enterprise.”

Actuate’s EII option also supports other data sources. “[The EII Option] talks SQL, talks SAP, talks cube, talks Web services, talks XML, so you can go out and talk to virtually any data source,” said Mike Thoma, vice-president of product marketing with Actuate, last year.

Rx for Sybase?

Sybase, an early proponent of data warehousing, has suffered a diminution in its influence and prestige over the last few years. With this in mind, some industry watchers suggest that Avaki could be good unguent for an ailing pioneer.

“Sybase was an early data warehouse advocate, and while its recent data warehouse efforts have been less than aggressive, it should be able to leverage the acquired Avaki technology to its advantage,” says Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc. “Sybase must remember that EII does not replace data warehousing, but rather complements it.”

The Avaki acquisition was actually the first, and most significant, of two recent Sybase acquisitions. The database company also snapped up UK-based ISDD Ltd., a technology provider used to querying and analyzing unstructured data. It might be a long shot, but Schiff says that if Sybase can execute on its two most recent purchases, the company shouldn’t be counted out as a data-warehousing contender. “If Sybase can focus on how these technologies fit within an overall data warehouse architecture, it could help it regain some of the data warehouse momentum it has lost in recent years,” he concludes.

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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