News & Analysis

Compliance and interoperability demands spark interest in metadata repositories... Database vendors incorporate BI to satisfy current customers - and move up the food chain to attract more clients.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 19, 2004

9 Min Read

In this Issue:

Metadata Renaissance

Compliance and interoperability spark new interest in metadata repositories
The push to make metadata more palatable for business users is getting stronger, as C-level executives struggle to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley Act mandates and to understand customers' behavior patterns.

"Our customers want to verify figures and calculations around sales and revenues," notes Donna Burbank, product manager for Computer Associates' data repository suite.

That means business analysts need to see how data is transformed through IT systems, and IT needs to see the underlying components of application development. "That process can no longer happen with overnight batch scans; customers demand immediate access to changes in operational systems so their engineers can react quickly when transformations go out of sync," explains Scott McCurdy, metadata management product manager with Allen Systems Group.

Demand for real-time access to "cuts" of data is growing in the struggle to understand how operational, software development, business process, and workflow areas affect one another. Such information is important to impact analysis.

According to Gartner's Michael Blechar, who recently wrote a "Magic Quadrant" report for metadata repositories, the cuts include service-oriented development of applications, which looks into applications and components; application architecture, which looks across multiple applications to understand how they work together; and "global cut."

"[Global cut] unveils the interrelationships among business, finance, product distribution, sales, and order entry, which can translate into double-digit returns through improved productivity and better impact analysis," maintains Lou Agosta, Forrester Research's lead industry analyst for metadata and data warehousing.

To realize such returns, organizations have to fight through pain points around integrating data off of ERP, legacy, and electronic-commerce systems — as well as the service-oriented architectures that are layered on top of those systems. Usually, problems around stovepipe processes are revealed: "Once you see the domino effect of how business requirements evolve from design to coding to end users, you get a picture of the life cycle so you can reuse artifacts without disrupting processes," explains Greg Coticchia, CEO of LogicLibrary.

Reuse without disruption can lead to significant results: "We realized a 66% reduction in labor around upgrades in the back office," says Craig Drinkhall, senior vice president of product development and engineering at TelCove, a Pittsburgh-based local-exchange carrier. "Integrating specs for upgrades was taking up to two months — too long when you have to get services to new markets." To reuse code rather than continuously rewrite and tweak code, the organization determined it had to make sense of the specs for modules around input/output, service acceptance, quality assurance, and system integration testing, as well as documentation of what was already coded. With metadata tools from LogicLibrary, the process flow among customer care, provisioning, and custom applications became apparent. "It now takes us two days to create specs for upgrades, as we now see the interrelationships among our many modules," says Drinkhall.

The level of sophistication needed varies. In is report, Gartner's Blechar acknowledges that lesser solutions may be better suited to some. "A company looking to document legacy applications down to the line of code will require sophisticated tools that have code and data scanners, parsers and bridges, whereas matching databases to programs requires simpler tools," he says. The price is commensurate with sophistication, ranging from $150,000 to more than $1 million.

The companies cited as overall leaders in the Gartner report were Allen Systems Group, Computer Associates, Logic Library, and Flashline. Blechar designated as niche players Fujitsu, Data Advantage Group, ComponentSource, Select, Unicorn, and Adaptive. Among those he named "visionaries" were MetaMatrix, Troux, and Informatica. — Susana Schwartz

SUSANA SCHWARTZ is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in emerging technologies and their impact on IT infrastructure.

In this Issue:

Relational Databases Get Smart

DB Vendors Hot on BI; BI Vendors Stay Cool
Database vendors are stuffing more business intelligence (BI) and analytic capabilities into their core database engines, citing customer demand as the primary reason.

Analysts give at least equal weight to other factors. "Database vendors see the core relational database being pushed down into commodity status," says Paul Kirby, analyst with AMR Research. "Adding BI is a way to push it back up to a more strategic level."

IDC analyst Dan Vesset says, "BI functions help the vendors sell more databases." In other words, adding BI means selling more at higher prices. So, naturally, all the major vendors are doing it.

Respective strategies, however, are quite different. Microsoft, for example, bundled an online analytic processing (OLAP) data store with SQL Server in 1998 and data mining functions in 2000. In January of this year, Microsoft added a reporting server. "You get it all with one SQL Server license," says Tom Rizzo, SQL Server director of product Management at Microsoft. Significantly, Microsoft's BI and analytic tools aren't restricted to SQL Server. They can be run on databases from competitors such as Oracle and IBM.

Oracle also offers OLAP and data mining with the database, but these are options that aren't included in the base license fee. And these BI features work only with the Oracle database.

George Lumpkin, director of products for data warehousing at Oracle, says its approach allows for tighter integration and confers some advantages. "We actually store multidimensional data [for OLAP] in the Oracle database. This means you can access OLAP data cubes with SQL." Most recently, with the 10g release, Oracle added new statistical functions to its version of SQL.

NCR Teradata allows users to perform OLAP functions on the database through SQL commands, but the company doesn't sell a dedicated OLAP tool, according to Vickie Farrell, vice president of Teradata warehouse marketing at NCR. "Our customers look to us for high performance. We don't need to own the whole stack."

IBM's strategy is focused on optimizing DB2 to work with all BI applications. "We are not looking to disintermediate BI vendors such as Cognos, Business Objects, and Hyperion," says Karen Parrish, IBM's vice president of Business Intelligence Solutions.

Big Blue, for example, touts Cube Views, a metadata bridge designed to allow users to model data for use with a wide variety of BI and reporting tools. IBM does offer an OLAP engine, but it's through an OEM deal with Hyperion. Like Oracle, IBM charges additional fees for these tools, which can include Intelligent Miner, IBM's data mining engine. Data mining is an area where Parrish admits some competition with BI vendors is inevitable.

You might think these moves by the database powerhouses would leave third-party BI vendors shaking in their boots. Not the case, says Kirby. "The BI vendors will just focus more on improving the end-user experience by building things like more-customized dashboards."

Vesset says the BI vendors are moving up the food chain with applications for vertical markets.

Carl Olofson, analyst with IDC, also points out that the BI vendors offer platforms that can run on a heterogeneous set of databases. "This kind of environment mixing Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, NCR Teradata, or [Computer Associates'] Ingres, etc., is the norm rather than the exception nowadays."

Microsoft stands alone as the only database vendor offering BI tools designed to run in a heterogeneous database environment. For this reason Kirby thinks independent BI vendors might want to keep a close eye on the house that Windows built: "I think over the next eight years we will see Microsoft develop a full portfolio of BI tools and go head to head with the dedicated BI vendors." — Mark Leon

MARK LEON is a freelance business and technology reporter.

In this Issue:

In Brief

Sun Microsystems and Microsoft Make Historic Pact. Microsoft and Sun have agreed to settle patent-infringement claims arising from Microsoft's use of Sun's Java technology. The two vendors also will work together toward interoperability. Microsoft will license its communications protocols to Sun and support some Sun products. Their formal agreement also states that Microsoft and Sun will work together to improve collaboration between Java and .Net. Microsoft will be allowed to continue supporting the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine in its products.

Enterprise Giants Target Small Business. Sybase and SAP previewed SAP Business One running on the Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) RDBMS at CeBIT 2004. Business One is marketed toward companies with five to 250 employees. Sybase positions ASE as a "leader" in low total cost of ownership. The partners also demonstrated a prototype mobile extension for SAP Business One developed by Sybase.

IBM Enters Into Product Information Management. IBM agreed to acquire all the shares of Trigo Technologies, a provider of product information management (PIM) software designed to integrate and centrally manage product information across an enterprise and a supply chain. IBM will bring Trigo's technology into its WebSphere portfolio of integration middleware products. Many suppliers now need PIM to satisfy demands of large buyers, such as Wal-Mart.

New Visual Studio to Retain Crystal Reports. Microsoft and Business Objects announced that the two companies have renewed their distribution agreement for Crystal Reports, which Business Objects acquired last year. Crystal Reports will ship with Microsoft Visual Studio 2005. This special edition of Crystal Reports lets developers create interactive reports for enterprise Web and smart-client applications without leaving the Visual Studio environment.

Open Source Databases Recommended for Some Apps. "Open source databases have improved dramatically since the early days, in scalability, robustness, and manageability," said Peter Kastner, executive VP at the Aberdeen Group. Kastner recently wrote a report recommending open source databases for new applications using Java and the Web and for vertical ISVs. Aberdeen sized the current market for specialized databases, including embedded ($400 million), mobile/desktop/workgroup small-footprint ($150 million), and high-performance cache ($100 million).

Cognos CEO Retires. Effective June 23, Cognos CEO Ron Zambonini will retire from his position and become chairman of the board. Rob Ashe, current president and COO of Cognos, will become CEO and will be nominated for election to the Cognos board of directors at the shareholders meeting. Zambonini joined Cognos in 1989 as vice president of research and development. By 1995, he had risen to the role of president and CEO. He credits Rob Ashe with "articulating [Cognos's] CPM [corporate-performance management] vision, propelling Cognos ReportNet to market, [and] developing a superb management team."

Council Creates XML Standards for Logistics. RosettaNet, a nonprofit consortium for Internet-based business standards, has formed the Global Logistics Council. Participants are third-party logistics providers and manufacturers seeking to integrate their IT systems with those of their customers to reduce costs, improve visibility, increase velocity, and enhance data quality across the supply chain; they include DHL, FedEx, UPS, Cisco, and Texas Instruments.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights