Software // Information Management
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9/13/2004
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EII Suites: Don't Fear The Data

Tests of seven enterprise information integration suites reveals a top pick with easy configuration, caching capabilities and exceptional data integration.

Enterprise information integration's claim to fame is its ability to federate data--it provides a single point of access to disparate information sources. This reduces the complexity inherent in client applications attempting to join various data sources while offering another way to access that information. Sounds good, right? So why did more than 56 percent of those responding to our reader poll say they have no plans to deploy EII, even though 57 percent say their organizations would benefit from it?

There are a few reasons. If you're one of the 25 percent of respondents who cited complexity as a major barrier, you're right. These products were a bear to test. The one in four who said cost is a problem are correct, too--EII isn't cheap. But if you can get past those details, EII can deliver standardized access to heterogeneous data sources. That's good news for the 30 percent of respondents who said access standardization is a reason to implement one of these monsters.

Because we feel your pain in these decisions, we took seven EII products for a spin. Our goals, we thought, were modest: To standardize access to our disparate data sources--Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle9i, SOAP and XML--while decreasing the complexity of custom application deployments and maintaining reliable access for our reporting tools, Excel 2003 and Crystal Reports 9.

We invited Actuate Corp. (which acquired EII vendor Nimble Technology in 2003), Avaki Corp., BEA Systems, Certive Corp., Cincom, Composite Software, Denodo Technologies, IBM, Ipedo, MetaMatrix, Snapbridge Software and XAware to submit products that would meet our needs. Seven of the 12--Cincom, Composite, IBM, Ipedo, MetaMatrix, Snapbridge and XAware--agreed to participate. Avaki bowed out, claiming it wasn't a good fit. Denodo, citing a planned Q4 upgrade to its platform, declined to submit its current product. Certive agreed to participate but then mysteriously disappeared. BEA declined, then reconsidered, but finally declined without citing a reason. Actuate did not respond to our invitation. We ran products from the brave combatants through a gauntlet of integration challenges in our NWC Inc. business applications lab in Green Bay, Wis.

Our EII Aim

Our goal was to evaluate how well the EII products integrate data sources, manage the system and configure client access (see "How We Tested EII Suites,", for details on our test setup). We wanted a single access point for NWC Inc. data stored in Oracle9i (order details), SQL Server 2000 (shipping details) and XML files (inventory details). Out-of-the-box support for these sources means fewer deployment headaches. All were successful, though almost all required an RDBMS client on the EII server.


How EII Works
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The ideal EII platform should also support legacy apps in the form of ODBC access. In addition, the EII platform must perform minimal data transformations, such as type conversion, and offer some form of caching. The platform also must be bidirectional: It should update data sources and read from them, and it must perform basic cost-based query optimizations.

We quickly discovered the products fall into two categories--those that grew from an RDBMS background (the software from Cincom, Composite, IBM and MetaMatrix) and those that emerged from the XML world (the products from Ipedo, Snapbridge and XAware). This difference radically affected the products' capabilities on the server side, including their caching, data management, metadata and modeling, and query-optimization features, and on the client side, in regards to ODBC/JDBC connectivity.

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