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IBM Enhances, Extends InfoSphere Information Integration Platform

It's been a long, strange trip for Big Blue's InfoSphere information platform, which now seems to be coming into focus.

It's been a long, unusual trip for IBM Corp.'s InfoSphere portfolio. After several product rebrandings, the absorption of a number of acquisitions (including those of Ascential and DataMirror), and the completion of integration work -- now looks to be fully fledged. At last.

Consider this week's InfoSphere platform refresh, which Big Blue unveiled at the Summer TDWI World Conference in San Diego.

To recap: IBM formally announced a new version of its InfoSphere Master Data Management (MDM) Server for Product Information Management (PIM), along with a revamped revision of its bread-and-butter InfoSphere Information Server. The former component was once known as WebSphere Product Center; the latter comprises a smorgasbord of homegrown and acquired technologies, included assets from Ascential, DataMirror, and several other IBM acquisitions -- including the former CrossAccess (which Big Blue acquired six years ago).

Earlier this year, IBM reorganized and rebranded its separate WebSphere and DB2 product lines, condensing both into its new "InfoSphere" line. The InfoSphere reshuffle, IBM officials insist, is a new designation befitting a new class of software. "What we're announcing is an update of our entire InfoSphere portfolio … [which] is our relatively new brand for sort of a new class of middleware that's emerging in the marketplace -- what we call 'information middleware,'" comments Michael Curry, director of product strategy and management for IBM's Information Platform and Solutions.

"When we talk about InfoSphere, we kind of think about trusted information -- [i.e.,] about creating, managing, governing, and delivering that trusted information."

What, exactly, do IBM's new MDM and Information Server refreshes bring to the table?

First of all, Curry claims, MDM for PIM goes a long way toward closing the loop, so to speak, on the foundation product information management: a single view of product information. The focus this time around, according to Curry, is on collaboration. To that end, the latest rev of MDM for PIM ships with an improved user interface (which helps knowledge workers interact more effectively with MDM for PIM), along with improved overall integration with the InfoSphere Information Server product.

This last amenity lets users tap into the latter product's data cleansing capabilities to help clean up their PIM practices. Curry also touts a raft of behind-the-scenes improvements, including an enhanced Java application protocol interface and boosted interoperability with SOA-based assets.

"With [MDM for] PIM, we're specifically focusing on the collaborative processes that go around PIM, so one of the things we did there was integrate it more closely with the InfoSphere Information Server. What that gives [users] is the ability to have an embedded data quality [namely, QualityStage] to help standardize and match product information," he explains.

PIM, much more than customer data integration (CDI), is a specialized practice area, Curry maintains. There's a sense, consistent with its specialty, in which PIM places a premium on collaboration. "There's a lot of collaborative product information that goes into a new product introduction, or product catalogue sharing, or things like that, so we wanted to be sure to give [users] an experience that's consistent with those [collaborative] requirements," he says.

IBM made a lot of under-the-covers improvements to its new revision of InfoSphere Information Server. Here, too, Big Blue's enhancements center on collaboration, of a sort: there's expanded global project support, for one thing. "We have a lot of international customers on this product. We do a lot of business overseas," Curry explains. "A lot of companies like to work in their native languages, so we've translated all of the tools, all of the documentation, all of the help -- we've translated all of that now into eight new languages, so that gives us coverage now in markets where previously we didn't have any.

Other Information Server updates focus on its data quality and data profiling components. For example, IBM now lists its multi-cultural name resolution technology (i.e., InfoSphere Global Name Recognition) as an available module.

"This provides linguistic analysis of multicultural names, so if you're dealing with a Chinese name, you can standardize the information in that name -- you can determine what is likely to be the first name, the last name, then what is the order that you want that name to be in," Curry says. Elsewhere, Big Blue has fleshed out its Information Server data quality feature set with improved cleansing capabilities -- to the point where IBM has effectively "doubled the number of countries we've covered," according to Curry.

Another focus of this week's InfoSphere Information Server refresh concerns expanded SOA and grid support. The existing InfoSphere product is SOA-able, Curry concedes, but some interfaces are more SOA-able than others. There's a sense that the revamped Information Server delivers on the promise of drag-and-drop service orientation, according to Curry. "Everything that you create with Information Server can be published as a service within an SOA. That's where we are right now. But what we've added in this release is stronger support for security -- so we've added support for WSSecurity standards. We've also added support for Web 2.0 interfaces, so you can create mash-ups" that consume data from InfoSphere Information Server, he comments.

Finally, the revamped Information Server has a much-improved mainframe access story. Big Blue originally purchased the former CrossAccess -- six years ago next month -- to help shore up its Big Iron connectivity story. In its new Information Server revision, IBM enhanced its CrossAccess technologies to make it easier for programmers to expose legacy VSAM data sources as services. Other Big Iron improvements the addition of changed data capture (CDC) capabilities (via the former DataMirror technologies), and VSAM-to-VSAM replication capabilities (also via DataMirror).

IBM's InfoSphere line has had a somewhat tumultuous development -- with several shake-ups or rebrandings -- but Curry believes it's now firing on all cylinders.

"IBM is a big company. We have a lot of different products and brands, so when you think about it, having a simplified approach to market -- having a bunch of things all tied together in a suite -- instead of having to market all of these individual products -- that just makes so much more sense," he concludes. "The hard part was [doing] the integration between everything [i.e., the Information Server's constituent products]. But that's over and done with now."

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