Informatica's PowerCenter Finally Reaches the Mainframe

New version of PowerCenter ETL tool runs natively on zSeries mainframes

Informatica Corp. last week filled a long-standing gap in its data integration product stack when it announced a native version of its PowerCenter ETL tool for mainframe environments.

Most market researchers identify Informatica as the ETL market leader, but until now the company hasn’t offered a version of its ETL engine that runs natively on the mainframe. Instead, this requirement has been addressed by companies such as arch-competitor Ascential Software Corp., which—thanks to its strong ties to IBM Corp.—is the first choice of many customers for mainframe ETL. (Ascential was spun off from object-oriented-database specialist Informix, which Big Blue acquired almost four years ago.)

Over the last 18 months, Informatica has taken steps to address its mainframe ETL shortcomings. In September of 2003, for example, the company acquired the former Striva, whose integration software exposes VSAM, IMS, DB2, and other mainframe data sources. Informatica currently markets PowerExchange that is based on the Striva technology, but which nevertheless runs natively on Unix, Linux, or Windows platforms.

In this respect, says Don Tirsell, director of product marketing with Informatica, PowerCenter for Mainframe is a completely native implementation of his company’s flagship ETL tool, written in C++ and based on object-oriented-programming principles, for the zSeries mainframe.

Notwithstanding the absence of a data-cleansing capability—the company from which Informatica licenses the tool in question does not ship a mainframe version—PowerCenter for Mainframe offers what is essentially a mirror of the features and functionality of its open-systems antecedent.

“It’s even the same version number, as a matter of fact,” says Tirsell. “It’s taking the existing data server and repository server that we have in the Unix, Linux, and Windows worlds and adapting them to run as if they were running on one of those open systems, but instead they’re running on z/OS.”

The irony, of course, is that as recently as four years ago, most organizations were still transitioning workloads away from mainframe systems, if not away from mainframe-based data sources. These days, Tirsell says, many of these same companies are looking to bring it all back home and do their ETL processing natively on the mainframe.

“We have had a great pick-up in our mainframe exposure, as we’ve launched PowerExchange and being able to access and do change capture on the mainframe, that’s been part of it,” he says. “But we hear from a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to bring that [mainframe data] down, they want their data warehouse right on the mainframe.”

What’s more, he says, customers can also involve the mainframe in distributed ETL processing, via Informatica’s Server Grid option. “Our server-grid capabilities allow the mainframe to be integrated into our server grid, so you can do scheduling and monitoring and execution of jobs on a z/OS mainframe, as well as coordinate that work with the rest of the grid,” Tirsell explains.

Under the covers, PowerCenter for Mainframe is enabled by Informatica’s PowerExchange technologies: It uses PowerExchange as a data access layer for starters, and connectivity to DB2 and flat-file data sources is provided as part of the base license. Not surprisingly, Tirsell believes there will be cases in which customers will want to use both PowerCenter for Mainframe and PowerExchange in tandem. “For example, there’s being able to open up things like IMS with PowerExchange, and then leveraging the PowerConnect capabilities to transform that data,” he comments.

Going forward, Tirsell says, new releases of PowerCenter for Mainframe will be pegged to releases of PowerCenter for distributed systems. Informatica has a dedicated team working—consisting of several long-time PowerCenter developers, he claims—working on the mainframe version of that product. It has also created a special sales and support team to help promote PowerCenter in mainframe accounts.

“We’ve actually transitioned some of our resources from the core PowerCenter development team into the mainframe team. We established the mainframe team in September of 2003, they were focused squarely on the PowerExchange products, so it’s a natural fit for them to own that,” he says. “We’ve actually developed a complete technical overlay in our field organizations to support mainframe engagements. So the folks who were helping take PowerExchange into the mainframe world now have another weapon to talk that talk, to know how to sell these products into the mainframe environment.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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