DataMirror Broadens Its Horizons

DataMirror Corp. (www.datamirror.com), known for its behind the scenes transformation of data from databases on one platform to databases on another, is wrapping up beta testing a tool that refreshes selected data straight to a user’s desktop from the enterprise’s rarified data stores in real time. Known as BackDraft, the product represents a departure for DataMirror on two fronts. The company has never dealt with business end users before, and the company is developing in Microsoft Corp.’s COM environment.

"Our new positioning is integrated data solutions, getting data from where it is to where it needs to be," says Bill Hartwick, DataMirror’s director of marketing. "This really gets us into the user."

DataMirror’s core business is in the fiercely competitive data transformation, replication and mirroring market. Its flagship product line is Transformation Server, which shuffles data among MVS, AS/400, HP/9000, RS/6000 and Windows NT platforms.

BackDraft consists of client and server pieces and requires the use of Transformation Server. An administrator sets up a publication directory on the BackDraft server showing acceptable sources of data, such as data marts or data warehouses, and lists of customers, inventory, or invoices. The data must reside on the other end of a DataMirror Transformation Server, which sees the BackDraft server as a target. If some data is sensitive, the administrator can encrypt transmissions. The product can integrate with Windows NT’s security settings.

Business users point the client at the BackDraft server publication directory, select the data sources they want and then use a subscription wizard to map the data into a desktop application such as Microsoft Excel. Among the half dozen steps in the wizard is a choice of whether the user wants the data continually refreshed or manually refreshed. BackDraft transmits changes only, limiting network traffic.

The setup also allows users to map data from several sources into a single application. "Say I’m a sales manager," postulates BackDraft product manager Richard Roeder. "I don’t have to get a report that I can put into a spreadsheet by hand. I can get it as it’s changing and I can fire directly into an application that I can use."

The BackDraft server will handle between 250 to 500 concurrent users, Roeder says. DataMirror designed the product to work with both SQL Server 6.5 and SQL Server 7.0 for data staging on the BackDraft Server.

Aside from SQL Server, BackDraft relies on several other elements of the Microsoft platform. BackDraft requires Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3, Microsoft Transaction Server and Internet Information Server. DataMirror built the tool using COM and DCOM, used a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in on the server and added MMC support for the client. Microsoft Message Queue facilitates communication between the server and client, and the subscription wizard lives as an ActiveX control. Use of Visual Basic allows DataMirror to control applications on the desktop and target data into them. While the company says its tool requires no programming, developers can use Visual Basic to customize BackDraft.

There are challenges inherent in developing for end users instead of IT professionals, but DataMirror officials believe they can overcome them. Hartwick says a whole new team, including Roeder, was brought in to develop BackDraft. The company also plans an extensive beta program to fine tune the usability of the product.

Patricia Seybold, chairman and CEO of the market analysis firm Patricia Seybold Group (www.psgroup.com), sees BackDraft as an outreach program for DataMirror. "By making BackDraft available to existing accounts, they can broaden the reach and benefits of the data transformation server product to many more business end users," Seybold says. "And if new customers download BackDraft and like its functionality, it should fuel demand for Transformation Server."

In terms of the services provided by BackDraft, DataMirror compares the product with PointCast Inc.’s (www.pointcast.com) product for delivering customized Internet and company news to the desktop, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0’s channels and the transformation and replication services of SQL Server.