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Oracle’s Extract Transform and Load Power Grab Reconsidered

Some BI market watchers think the Sunopsis buy could spell the beginning of the end for Oracle’s Warehouse Builder.

Oracle Corp.’s purchase of the former Sunopsis Inc. earlier this month caught many in the business intelligence (BI) space by surprise. Actually, BI market watchers seemed more perplexed than surprised by the deal: they said they could understand the acquisition of Sunopsis by a larger company, for example, but many said they couldn’t quite see the sense in Oracle doing the job.

Mark Madsen, a data warehousing consultant and a member of TDWI’s Extended Research Collaborative, says he knew something was up with regard to Sunopsis, which had kept an uncharacteristically low profile in the midst of resurgent interest in ETL and data integration. “When I was [at the TDWI World Conference] in San Diego I asked Sunopsis why they had dropped in visibility over the past six months. Really, I was seeing nothing, as if they were refocusing efforts in Europe and cutting back here in the US. They didn't have any good answer, but I bet negotiating with Oracle was part of it,” he comments.

At first glance, Madsen says, it’s tough to explain Oracle’s interest in Sunopsis—especially now that the database giant fields its own thoroughbred ETL tool, Oracle Warehouse Builder (OWB) 10g, which it finally delivered this summer. Digging a little deeper, Madsen says, Sunopsis’ ETL assets could be a boon to Oracle’s struggling enterprise application integration (EAI) efforts, particularly with respect to the database powerhouse’s Project Fusion initiative.

“I saw it as a way to get a better EAI platform in place than what they have now. Their application server doesn't seem to be [all that] popular—or easy to use—their middleware in generally buried, and they lost the chance to re-badgeOWB as a more general data integration tool when they decided to keep that name. Overall, their integration strategy is nonexistent, other than to try and do with the Fusion name what IBM has done with WebSphere.”

That was the takeaway for Mike Schiff, a principal analyst with BI and data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies, too. On paper and in practice, Schiff says, Oracle’s acquisition of Sunopsis doesn’t make much sense—if it’s viewed primarily as a means to augment OWB.

“When I heard about it, I thought ‘Why did [Oracle] want to go ahead and do this?’” Schiff comments. “They just released a new version [of OWB], which they say is the best one yet, they’re pitching Warehouse Builder as an [enterprise] ETL tool, but then they have to go elsewhere [for ETL technology]?”

With this in mind, Schiff says, the Sunopsis acquisition best makes sense when it’s viewed as a means to beef up Project Fusion’s EAI credentials. This, for the record, is just how Oracle officials spun it. “This is in response to customers’ requirements for real-time access to information and support for heterogeneous environments. Sunopsis has broad support for a range of data products, including non Oracle [platforms]. So we plan to focus on integrating the Sunopsis products with our products in [the Fusion Middleware] area—Oracle BI Suite, Oracle Data Hub, and our SOA suite,” said Rick Schultz, VP of Fusion Middleware with Oracle, at the time. “[Sunopsis] … reinforce[s] the Oracle Fusion middleware importance of providing hot-pluggable [access].”

But this ignores the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room, Madsen points out. In other words, if OWB is a feature-complete enterprise ETL tool, why not tap it to support Project Fusion? “Paris [OWB’s internal code name] was late in part because they stole OWB resources and technology to work on Fusion, setting OWB back six months to a year,” he points out.

There’s a further wrinkle here, too, Madsen stresses. After all, Oracle’s Schultz talked up Sunopsis for precisely those use cases—e.g., master data management, Oracle Data Hubs, Oracle BI Suite—in which OWB might be a logical fit. What gives? “Oracle's comments on Sunopsis fitting in with MDM, Data Hubs and the BI Suite make me think that OWB is now the bastard stepchild and Sunopsis is going to supplant most of that as [Oracle’s] emphasis switched to Fusion for everything,” he notes. “Personally, I looked at Fusion as Oracle's version of Netweaver—useful for and within their products, but not a replacement for data integration infrastructure. It could still end up that way.”

On the other hand, says Philip Russom, senior manager of research and services with TDWI, there’s a clear sense in which the Sunopsis technology is a better fit for Project Fusion than OWB. “Judging by Sunopsis users I've interviewed, at least half of them use the product outside data warehousing to effect a kind of data-oriented application integration, something I rarely see among OWB users,” he points out.

Even so, Madsen concludes, it’s hard to see how OWB and Sunopsis will eventually come together—even though Oracle officials say that’s just what they have in mind. “I don't see Sunopsis and OWB fitting together very well. I could be wrong—I'm a couple weeks away from a look at [Sunopsis’] Data Conductor product design and implementation and how the internals work. Maybe the translation of models into code/queries will work well with OWB under the hood.”

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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