Presenting multiple data sources over a single programmatic interface is an appealing notion, as evidenced by the explosion of Web services (SOAP) and the SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture) model. EII platforms offer such mechanisms using a variety of protocols and languages, such as SOAP, XML over HTTP, HTML, JDBC and ODBC. Although the methods of accessing these federated data sources are myriad, the benefits of standardizing on a single interface include not only cost savings--for training, maintenance and deployment--but also faster time to market and decreased time to troubleshoot connectivity issues.
Some quick figures: If it takes a $43,000-a-year tech-support worker 20 hours to install, test and certify four different ODBC drivers on one desktop distribution and you have four corporate desktop images, that's 80 hours at a cost of $1,600 just to set up the environment so developers and end users, or the applications they utilize, have access to those databases.
Implement an EII suite and that scenario changes to five hours for one ODBC connection, 20 hours for all four desktops, for a grand total of $400--a 75 percent savings in deployment costs alone. Granted, that's still small beans, but if you extrapolate the savings across maintenance and troubleshooting, those numbers are going to shoot up fast. There are also client costs for drivers to take into account. This is particularly true of software in the EAI and business-intelligence spaces. These product types are generally priced with a per-adapter charge, meaning a business-intelligence system that requires access to three systems will most assuredly cost more than an implementation requiring access to only one data source.
Bottom line, EII is still not a no-brainer. First, you need to know thyself, or more specifically, know how many places business information is stored throughout your organization. Unless you've cataloged all your enterprise data sources so you can configure your EII system to recognize their existence, the product isn't going to do much for you.
Furthermore, as our tests showed, product performance can be problematic; you'll need a clustered environment for large volumes of users. And top-of-the-line EII isn't cheap. Our winner cost $140,000 for our modest testing scenario, and hidden fees and add-ons can kill you. Thus, until prices drop, EII tools should be considered purely strategic for all but the very well-heeled; pricing is almost uniformly a per CPU/per adapter model, so using EII as a tactical solution will push the cost above and beyond what you can hope for in savings, even over time. Gartner Research concurs, predicting that through 2008, more than 90 percent of virtual heterogeneous data federation will be for read-only composite applications with low transaction volumes and a limited number of data sources.
But we believe the general cost savings and reduction in complexity of deployment make EII apps an intriguing addition to the data center, and we'll be watching this product space closely in the coming year.
Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing senior technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. She has been a software developer, a network administrator and a member of the technical architecture team for a global transportation and logistics organization. Write to her at email@example.com.