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Report: Data Virtualization Market is Strong

The data virtualization space is teeming, peopled by feature-rich platforms from Cisco, Denodo, IBM, and Informatica as well as a few upstarts.

Think you can name the top 10 vendors in the data virtualization (DV) space? Probably not.

If you've been paying close attention, you actually know what data virtualization is. If you've been paying really close attention, you might be able to name four or five DV vendors: players such as Cisco Systems Inc. (which acquired DV best-of-breed Composite Software Corp. two years ago) and Denodo Technologies Inc., which both market established best-of-breed DV software, as well as IBM Corp. and Informatica Corp., the twin 800-pound gorillas of the data integration (DI) space.

But 10? Are there 10 DV players? Could there possibly be 10 DV players? Yes -- and one of them is Microsoft.

According to a recent Forrester Wave research report, there are more than two dozen DV players, of which Cisco, Denodo, IBM, and Informatica -- along with Oracle Corp. and SAP AG -- are the undisputed heavyweights. A passel of other players, including well-known names such as Microsoft Corp. and Red Hat Inc., also market DV solutions. The upshot is that Forrester's Enterprise Data Virtualization Wave report depicts a teeming DV space, peopled by feature-rich platform vendors and scrappy, insurgent upstarts.

What is data virtualization -- and, most important, why does it matter?

Think of DV as a scalable, service-aware, more abstract version of data federation, which is still something of an ugly word in some data warehousing circles. DV works by creating the equivalent of a data fabric or virtual abstraction layer that can be used to provide a single logical view of all data. DV is used to knit together operational systems, relational databases, data warehouses, and, increasingly, REST-ful cloud services to other sources -- and vice versa. (DV is increasingly promoted for its ability to connect to poly-structured sources, including NoSQL repositories and REST-ful applications.) Unlike traditional data federation technology, data virtualization also consolidates data quality (profiling, cleansing, matching, de-duping), master data management (MDM), and a host of other quality or governance features.

Think, then, of DV as a lot of things -- a jack of all trades, even -- just don't think of it as simply or solely a function of data federation. "Data virtualization is not the same thing as federation. Data virtualization conceptually is used today as an abstraction layer. With or without the data federation component, it's used to deliver services, not just for federating databases," Suresh Chandrasekaran, senior vice president with Denodo, told BI This Week in an interview late last year.

"Federation is there, abstraction is there, data services and semantics are there. I can use [data virtualization] to take a source ... that happens to be an MDM [repository] and expose it as a REST-ful interface. When I turn that into a data service with sort of layered security, that has value," Chandrasekaran continued. "[DV is] this idea of a single point to discover the data assets of the company, a single point to understand the governance and how the metadata is surfaced from very specific device-centric schemas and views of data. That is much more than federation."

They Might Be Giants

Analyst Noel Yuhanna, the author of Forrester's Enterprise Data Virtualization Wave report, breaks the DV market down into three segments: the heavyweights, which he says offer the best overall coverage and the most options; specialized pure-plays, which compete on cost; and an active partner ecosystem, consisting primarily of large consultancies and specialty integrators that sell and implement DV technology.

"The data virtualization market is growing because more [enterprise architects] see data virtualization as a way to address the demand for trusted and secure data in real-time. This market growth is partly due to enterprise architects['] increasing trust of data virtualization providers to act as strategic partners, advising them on key decisions," he writes.

If Forrester's Wave tally is correct, enterprise architects trust Cisco, Denodo, IBM, Informatica, Oracle, and SAP most of all. Informatica comes out on top with the best overall strategy and the strongest overall offering, along with one of the larger market presences, according to Forrester.

IBM comes next, followed by Denodo, Cisco, SAP, and Oracle.

Interestingly, Forrester lists Cisco as something of an outlier: according to Forrester, the market presence and overall strength of Cisco's DV offering is surpassed by Informatica, IBM, and Denodo, along with SAP and Oracle. In terms of the strength of its market strategy, however, Cisco trails only Informatica and IBM. There's a "but" to this statement: Forrester based its DV Wave assessment on a deprecated version of Cisco-Composite's Information Server platform -- version 6.2.6; Cisco unveiled a new version 7.0 release of Information Server in October of last year. Strangely, however, Forrester used the latest release of Denodo's DV platform -- version 5.5, announced in December of 2014 -- in its DV Wave assessment.

On top of this, Forrester factored related or complementary offerings from IBM (InfoSphere MDM, InfoSphere BigInsights), Oracle (Oracle Data Integration Suite, Oracle Event Processor, Oracle Integration Cloud Service, Oracle Industry Models, Oracle Master Data Management), and SAP (SAP Information Steward, SAP Process Orchestration, SAP Replication Server, SAP Landscape Transformation Replication Server, SAP HANA Smart Data Access) into its DV Wave assessment, too.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that IBM, Informatica, Oracle, and SAP score as highly as they do because they complement their base DV offering with separate -- and not free -- MDM, data replication, and similar, complementary products. Put differently, IBM is indeed a strong, feature-rich platform -- provided you're already invested in Big Blue's DI stack. Ditto for Informatica, Oracle, and SAP.

There's additional irony here. Not quite a decade ago, Informatica purchased source code from the former Composite to boot-strap its inaugural data federation offering. The move made sense. Composite was a data federation pioneer: it launched in 2001, preceded by Denodo, which was founded in 1999. (IBM didn't enter the federation game until early 2003 with the release of "Xperanto," a predecessor technology to its now-defunct DB2 Information Integrator platform.)

Composite is widely credited with having advanced the data federation state-of-the-art -- its federated query technology, in particular, has been described as best-in-class -- and Composite itself also helped popularize the concept of data virtualization. Bob Eve, now Cisco's data virtualization marketing director, wrote a seminal book on DV back in 2011. A decade on, Informatica's DV technology has become its own animal; two years after being acquired, Composite's DV technology is at least on its way to being assimilated by Cisco.

On Forrester's terms, this assimilation must detract in some way from the overall strength of Cisco-Composite's DV offering. For example, in Forrester's 2012 DV Wave, it had Denodo and Composite -- both best-of-breed DV players -- as rough co-evals, trailing market leaders IBM and Informatica, both of which "continue to hold strong leadership positions and often remain the most popular vendors shortlisted by large enterprises," according to Yahunna.

"These Leaders offer innovative, proven platforms that support large enterprises data virtualization needs, some of which run into hundreds of terabytes into petabytes," he writes.

What about the challengers? This is a group that includes Microsoft, Red Hat, and SAS Institute Inc. Microsoft is perhaps the most intriguing case, according to Yuhanna and Forrester.

"Although Microsoft is not seen marketing data virtualization, it offers [a] viable option to customers that primarily have data on Windows and cloud, and already use Visual Studio, SQL Server, and BizTalk," he writes. "SAS, mostly known for its advanced analytics, business intelligence, data management and predictive analytics solutions, has done well in its first appearance in this Forrester Wave, by leveraging its existing data platform. Forrester believes that SAS is poised to extend its data virtualization offering in the coming years to compete against the leading vendors."

On the other hand, SAS isn't exactly a newcomer to DV. Yuhanna lists SAS as a "Strong Performer" based, he writes, "on its core data management capabilities." What's more, he argues, SAS "is likely to compete with other large data virtualization players as it ramps up its offerings in the coming years."

Yuhanna and Forrester make SAS sound like a data federation or virtualization tyro; in reality, however, SAS has been marketing DV (or DV-like) capabilities for more than half a decade, first under the auspices of its own data integration (DI) product umbrella and then via its DataFlux subsidiary, which even marketed a DataFlux Federation Server product. (SAS, along with the former Ascential Software Corp. and Informatica Corp., were once the Big Three ETL market leaders.

A few years ago, however, SAS introduced a revamped and rebranded version of its federation technology -- i.e., the aptly named SAS Federation Server. It's this release that captured Yahunna's attention -- and clinched SAS' first appearance in Forrester's DV Wave.

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