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IBM Acquires Yet Another Business Intelligence ISV

Unicorn’s technology will help beef up the SOA and MDM capabilities of Big Blue’s WebSphere and Rational product families.

One of IBM Corp.’s most prominent data integration product brands—Omnivore (an enterprise search-oriented flavor of its WebSphere Information Integrator franchise)—also doubles as an apt description of its acquisition practices.

Big Blue last week devoured still another tasty vendor, in this case Unicorn Solutions, Inc., a provider of metadata modeling and management tools. Representatives say IBM plans to incorporate Unicorn’s technology into future releases of its WebSphere middleware and Rational app dev products to help beef up the SOA and MDM capabilities of both families.

Unicorn’s technology will also find its way into Big Blue’s WebSphere Metadata Server offering, a long-awaited “Rosetta Stone” for IBM’s information management portfolio, which includes a complexion of homegrown technologies and acquired technology assets, such as the products (DataStage, QualityStage, and other offerings) Big Blue inherited from the former Ascential Software Corp.

IBM says Unicorn is its 18th integration- or process-oriented application acquisition since 2001. James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis, says acquisition rapacity about sums up IBM’s current dilemma, in which it has been slow to deliver an assimilated version of the Ascential technologies it acquired more than a year ago.

Big Blue has productized the former Ascential technologies as WebSphere-branded offerings, to be sure, but its Project Serrano-Hawk (a combination of then-percolating next-gen deliverables in both the IBM and Ascential R&D pipelines, respectively) platform release—which will create a new hybrid release called WebSphere Information Server (basically Serrano and Hawk, dressed up with SOA-ready underpinnings)—is still missing in action.

“IBM needs to provide more specifics on its roadmap for releasing versions of WII [WebSphere Information Integrator] products that incorporate Unicorn metadata technology. IBM should also state how it plans to position or market the Unicorn-enabled WII products vis-à-vis those of its partners that incorporate metadata management functionality,” Kobielus comments. “Furthermore, it needs to clarify the role of metadata management in its SOA run-time governance environment, in which the lynchpin is IBM Tivoli Change and Configuration Management Database.”Big Blue’s Unicorn acquisition also raises questions about IBM’s metadata management strategy. When IBM staged its first-ever Information Live! (in conjunction with the Ascential World user confab), it promised to deliver both the first new WebSphere-branded release of DataStage and its still-gestating IBM Metadata Management Server by sometime this spring. Information Live and the WebSphere Metadata Management Server offering, in particular, were positioned as a coming-out party for (or validation of) Big Blue’s master data management (MDM) ambitions. At the time, IBM officials maintained that Big Blue already had all of the pieces of a complete information management, or MDM, solution.

“We tend to be more conservative about what we announce than some of our competitors. Really, today is the first time we announced what all of these strategic acquisitions have been about,” said Dan Druker, director of master data management with IBM, at the time. “MDM—you can come at it in a lot of different ways. There are all kinds of different entry points into MDM, but we wanted to be very conservative about not tipping our hand too much, because we’ve spent a large amount of money on this strategy.”

Apparently, Big Blue didn’t spend enough. But perhaps that’s not quite a fair assessment.

In the past, IBM hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger on technology acquisitions that chiefly help to enhance its capabilities in arcane areas (such as its acquisition of the former Venetica for unstructured content management, as well as Aptrix or even Green Pasture Software).

The Unicorn acquisition seems to be another case in point.

“IBM’s latest acquisition sends a signal to competitors that metadata management is central to the vendor’s MDM, SOA and compliance strategies,” Kobielus concludes. “Competitors must revisit their own metadata management roadmaps and state how they plan to match IBM’s ambitious plans vis-à-vis Unicorn technology. Enterprise IT groups should revisit their commitment to MDM vendors, factoring those vendors’ metadata management roadmaps into an assessment of each provider’s direction.”

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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