Enterprise information integration provides a single point of access to a melting pot of data sources, in real time.
When we tested seven EII platforms at our NWC Inc. lab in Green Bay, Wis., we discovered a land where aggregation and presentation of unlike data sources is a shining reality, though the journey can be fraught with frustration and adversity.
The beauty of the products we tested is that these disparate pools of data aren't restricted to relational data sets. Corporate-class EII suites provide access to hierarchical data, such as XML, and to enterprise-class application data that, while stored in database systems, requires intimate knowledge of schemas to access directly; it's therefore usually accessed over vendor-provided APIs. More advanced EII offerings provide federation of message queues (IBM MQ, TIBCO RV) as well as data sources accessed over non-Web protocols, such as FTP and SMB. Hallelujah, brother.
Once data is federated, EII platforms must provide an access mechanism for developers and third-party applications. Modes of access include ODBC/JDBC, as well as XML over HTTP and SOAP. This particular nugget of EII functionality is a huge differentiator between product sets and should be a primary factor when you're choosing a product: Although EII implementations can help plot a strategic path to fully embracing the XML world, many applications require ODBC or JDBC connectivity. If long-term support is required for these products, tread the path of XML-focused EII offerings carefully.
A secondary but growing purpose of EII is to provide a mechanism for transforming data on the server rather than on the client. The most common format into which data is transformed is XML. But EII products can do much more than just a simple transformation of relational data to XML--many also can do the reverse, providing a mechanism for incorporating sources of hierarchical data into reporting tools and custom-developed applications.
Do the Math
Cost-based query optimization is an ugly relative of relational algebra. Its arcane techniques are well-understood only by the most savvy database administrators. For the query-challenged among us, some EII platforms provide rudimentary database-admin-in-a-box functionality that will help free up your database gurus to do whatever database administrators do.
Although we found caching the least-developed feature set in EII products, even the limited caching capabilities found in most EII suites will provide a performance boost. That's a definite plus for business-intelligence and analysis products that perform high-volume queries on large data sets daily--or hourly.
From a business perspective, EII lets application developers create holistic, composite applications that can increase business-user productivity. EII also lets Excel power users access several data sources through a single interface, which should lower support costs.
A side benefit of EII is its role in regulatory compliance and data security. Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, has fascinating (if you aren't the one tasked with implementing policies) impacts on data access within the organization in certain situations.
A Fortune 500 company we spoke with illustrated the scale of changes some organizations need to make in database access to comply with SOX. Because of the financial data being stored in certain databases, finely controlling access and, more important, properly logging changes to stored data are priorities. Access to this corporation's internal databases is heavily restricted, and hundreds of apps might have to be changed because of hard-coded user name/passwords. Also, auditors must be able to determine who changed what data and when, which means yet more-detailed logs. The man-hours involved in implementing these changes, let along discovering them, are staggering.
EII is a natural fit as both a tactical and strategic solution to such compliance woes. Because EII platforms typically are deployed in a gateway scenario, they stand between the user and the data like a medieval gargoyle, guarding and protecting the treasures hidden in various vaults within the data-center dungeon.
In addition to basic logging and access control, some EII products can add security mechanisms, such as column- or row-level security that may not be supported directly by the RDBMS vendor.
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