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4/14/2004
07:23 PM
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ETL Vendors Scrabble for Top Spot

Latest METAspectrum rankings create controversy - April 14, 2004

Who’d have thought something called “extract, transform, and load” (ETL) could cause tempers to flare? Where money is at stake, anything can become emotional — and a disproportionate amount of enterprise IT dollars are moving in the direction of integration, including the data integration space where ETL resides. The top ETL vendors are now squabbling over an analyst ranking that threatens to unbalance the longstanding, familiar, comfortable two-vendor rivalry for top spot.

When the latest META Group METAspectrum report on ETL vendors rated SAS as a “Leader,” on par with Informatica and Ascential, it came as a surprise to many people. Informatica and Ascential are the only two public companies in the Leader segment; their public status and requisite SEC filings confer them with well-known and objective indications of their market leadership. But META doesn’t rate ETL vendors by balance sheet.

Doug Laney is Vice President, Enterprise Analytics Strategies at META and author of the report. The SAS Enterprise ETL Server tool, Laney says, “happens to be supported on more platforms, extracts from more sources, has a greater variety of built-in transformations, and can interchange many more metadata formats than other leading players. Also, SAS has data quality features very tightly integrated whereas others do not.”

Still, on a biaxial system showing “Performance” and “Presence,” SAS ranks equally with Informatica and below Ascential on the Performance axis. It outranks both on Presence. In reference to SAS’s overall position, SAS spokesman Bill Rose stated in an April 8 email, “SAS today announced that it now ranks at the top of the ETL market as a leader, surpassing "best of breed" vendors such as Ascential and Informatica.”

“The METAspectrum ETL Market Summary Report that SAS references,” says Chas Kielt, Ascential’s senior manager of media and analyst relations, “clearly places Ascential Software in the highest position on the Performance axis and above all other vendors plotted on the META Group ‘football,’ including SAS and Informatica. SAS is slightly ahead on Presence. The key determinant for presence is installed base. SAS is 25 years older than Ascential Software, and one can reasonably expect that they've made some progress in building market share over that time frame.”

Kielt adds, contradicting Laney’s assessment on several points, that “[SAS’s] ‘data integration’ consists only of an ETL offering designed to work within a SAS environment and some newly acquired name and address matching functionality from DataFlux. Those point products cannot come close to matching the ability of Ascential DataStage to manage any data transformation regardless of complexity, volume, or velocity, or of Ascential QualityStage to cleanse and enrich data. When you consider our data profiling, data quality, parallel execution, meta data management, and on-demand data integration capabilities, SAS is not even in the same league.”

The items Laney lists for SAS’s ETL tool that aren’t “best in class” are its "‘sex appeal,’ administrative capabilities, development environment, and pricing model.”

Laney notes that the PR statement META approved for SAS did not claim that SAS was ahead of anyone.

Informatica, like Ascential, didn’t expect to find itself in the company of SAS and Pervasive (which acquired Data Junction last year) in the Leadership end of the spectrum. “In general, we were surprised,” says Karen Steele, VP of corporate communications at Informatica. “Informatica enjoys a leadership position pretty much in all the quadrants or spectrums, whether they’re from Gartner or META [and so on], and this is the first time we’ve seen SAS in the mix.”

Upon reviewing the METAspectrum’s measures, Steele said SAS “did come out high on geographic coverage [an aspect of Presence], which didn’t surprise us. We hear about them more in other areas than we do in North America.”

Harriet Fryman, group director of product marketing at Informatica, pointed out that in many other awards and analyst rankings, Informatica ranks well above SAS.

Report author Laney responds, “It would seem then that most other awards are U.S.-centric popularity contests. Our purview is greater and the METAspectrum criteria are apparently more specific.”

On that point, Informatica’s Steele said that compared to other rankings, “This one seemed a little bit subjective. We had to give criteria for how we believed Informatica fit into some of these categories, with some proof points. That was critiqued by the Meta analysts.”

Laney defends his methodology, saying, “Our criteria are very specific, we have excellent information detail from all vendors.”

Fryman asserts that Informatica seldom meets SAS in competition for a customer when the prospect has “a data warehouses or other broader enterprise integration projects outside the niche analytics space” to which she implied SAS is limited.

Laney says on this point, “We know for a fact (because I'm involved in hundreds of ETL deals per year) that SAS is often considered, particularly when mainframe data or processing are involved. Further, many ‘SAS shops’ don't even bother going out to bid, and in many parts of the world where SAS is established, Informatica and Ascential are still an unknown.”

Further explaining Informatica’s position in the spectrum, Laney adds, “Informatica took a hit this year for partership lapses, and questionable sales and marketing practices, (including wild claims about technical uniqueness and leadership that we have confronted them about privately).”

One thing to consider: The summary analysis to which these players have been referring isn’t the final word on who’s “best.” Says Andy Warzecha, senior VP & director of Technology Research Services at META Group, “Our METAspectrum tool is designed to be a dynamic tool for interactive use with our clients so that we can change the criteria and weights based on their individual requirements.”

And, hey, it could have been worse for all these vendors. Laney says, “Maybe everyone in the report should just be happy we didn't include Ab Initio!” — Jeanette Burriesci

Jeanette Burriesci is senior editor of Intelligent Enterprise magazine.

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