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Real Time

Businesses aren't even close to harnessing all the benefits of their lightning-speed systems
Joe Trifoglio, VP of technology at ZipRealty.

It's essential to have data that's current when the market is hot, says Trifoglio, ZipRealty's VP of technology
"In a hot market, you have to have data that's current, so people aren't chasing properties that aren't there anymore," says Joe Trifoglio, ZipRealty's VP of technology. The approach seems to be working. The dot-com says the number of real-estate transactions it handles is nearly doubling every quarter, and it hopes to file an initial public offering next year.

Real-time businesses require IT infrastructures capable of moving information at the blink of an eye. But most companies run applications from a variety of vendors, supported on a mix of operating systems and server platforms, with data generated by internal and external sources. Integrating it all is a monumental challenge.

Hewlett-Packard, thanks to its acquisition of Compaq, has become a key player in solving that problem. Compaq offers a product-and-services combo called Zero Latency Enterprise to help businesses quickly assimilate data from dozens of sources. More than 100 companies have signed up.

The ambitious goal, says Greg Battas, director of advanced technology in HP's newly named NonStop Enterprise Division, is "to reflect in our hub the state of the business within 10 seconds, at most." That's a vast improvement over the widespread technique of updating records at the end of each day via batch processing. To do so, HP uses its own servers and NonStop SQL database layered with middleware from specialists such as BEA Systems, Iona Technologies, SeeBeyond Technology, Tibco Software, and webMethods. "It's an integrated database that's hot, active, and current," Battas says.

The automotive industry will be one of the next areas of activity, as car companies and others turn the real-time data generated by telematics systems in cars into new services for drivers, says Dan Dodge, CEO of QNX Software Systems Ltd., developer of a lightweight operating system used in such applications.

Exploit The DataNone of this is easy. A technology manager with a financial-services company says batch-processing systems can be bottlenecks that are hard to get around because of their high replacement costs. (Sabre Holdings Corp. last year signed a multiyear, $100 million contract with Compaq to replace mainframes with a Zero Latency Enterprise environment.) And while wireless technologies promise to let employees act faster, spotty wireless coverage makes deployment difficult.

But certain benefits go hand-in-hand with faster data flows. System availability, for instance, becomes a priority. Says Cline of Brown & Co. Securities: "We have to ensure we are available at all times for our customers."

Bingo. The point of creating a real-time business is to have a healthy business model -- one with low inventory, high productivity, and responsiveness -- while providing "an experience customers can't get anywhere else," DataMirror's Stokes says. That explains why a growing number of companies are finding ways to squeeze days, hours, and minutes down to seconds.

To preview more results from InformationWeek Research's real-time survey, click here.

Write to John Foley at [email protected]. Discuss real-time business online: informationweek.com/LP/columnists/johnfoley.html

Illustration by Christoph Niemann