The Warehouse Gang Gets World Serious

Making The Most From Joint Development

Improved response time is one benefit of alliances between hardware and softwarevendors. Fewer configuration complications, solution validation, faster availability ofnew releases, shortened planning/ deployment cycles, improved availability and backupprocesses and greater manageability of resources can be equally consequential for ITmanagers.

One of today's most powerful influences impacting favorably on data warehouses is thefact that they are building on much greater collaborations between hardware and softwarevendors. These collaborations have gone beyond the tentative first step of eight to tenyears ago. Aside from opening doors to engineering departments at companies, thesecollaborations have prompted engineers and designers from hardware, database and softwaredevelopers to codevelop the next-generation of hardware and software.

Don't be fooled. It's not just about simple product tweaks. These ongoing developmentsamount to substantial re-architecting of both hardware and data processing methodology inthe software. For example, major data warehousing solution providers leverage HP's GlobalChannel Partners program because a platform and operating system that are scalable andregularly enhanced continue to be a leading selection criteria of IT managers.

Familiarity Breeds Improvements

In many cases, development work at a solution provider is based on the latest serverhardware. By breeding a developer's familiarity with the platform, the methods used tohandle a user's queries and transactions by multiple CPUs in parallel can be greatlyenhanced. Benchmark testing, by its nature, is unreliable without a high degree oforganization between hardware and software vendors. For this reason, all hardware vendorsset up performance labs, but the similarities end there.

A data warehouse manager needs to assess how an individual lab constructs thebenchmarks and uses live data before relying on results and making comparisons. Thepitfalls are numerous, but conducting accurate benchmarks can answer questions about datathroughput, the peak loading or how the use of multiple CPUs will affect performance forusers and enable better comparisons of competing software and hardware.

The most visible of these collaborations is that of HP and Oracle. As leading softwaresuppliers of enterprise information management, the two regularly make news with benchmarkperformance results, database size and user assistance programs.

"This is on-going work for over 200 employees the companies have dedicated and whowork side-by-side," says Sanjay Sinha, Oracle's senior director of marketing."This helps us make features in Oracle8i such as composite partitioning, hash joinsand materialized views, specifically geared to data warehousing and mirrored and tuned for[HP's] V2500 server. At the same time, HP was developing the V2500 server and much of thetime our work revolved around ways to tightly couple the V2500 and Oracle8i."

Oracle's collaboration with HP focused initially on providing 24x7 availability. Overthe past few years, this working arrangement has deepened considerably, according toSinha. "The two companies have become the leading vendors. This comes in part fromresults such as tightly coupling the Oracle database and warehousing applications withHP's high-end hardware, the V- and N-class servers, in addition to other performancetuning initiatives."

The SAS Institute (Cary, N.C.) was one of the first to team with HP. In this fashion,the Institute rapidly extended its data warehousing and data mining solutions, as well asmore pointed solutions such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or warehousingsolutions for ERP applications.

Informix, Baan and others illustrate how the partnerships catalyze certified datawarehouses by providing them with the resources to develop and offer packages thatpre-test and pre-certify the solution and database for the enterprise. The effect for ITmanagers is to minimize complexity and therefore, risk.

Multiply these kinds of activities by 22, the number of new partners that HP announcedin January 1999 with its expansion of the OpenWarehouse Alliance Program. This brings theroster of HP's OpenWarehouse partners to 42. HP's OpenWarehouse program goes back to 1992when the company's own internal experience in data warehousing highlighted the need fortools and databases beyond those that HP could accomplish itself.

The program appeals to its partners because it affords technical resources to thesolution providers' engineers for testing and development. In addition to staying indirect communication with the HP OpenWarehouse development team, many alliance partnershave, or are in the process of, integrating their products with HP's own IntelligentWarehouse middleware product.

Getting Centered

Competency Centers provide support for sales activities and basic configuration/sizingdeterminations. Generally colocated and costaffed by hardware and software vendors, theyhave become familiar landmarks for IT staffs. For customers working with applicationvendors, availability of the centers comes at a crucial time because they enable testingof the overall mix and integration of proposed solution elements using their own livedata.

Much of a Competency Center's work is arranged case-by-case. Typically, however, thestaff prepares and conducts benchmark testing, provides business research and technicalbriefings and recommends configurations of server, middleware and application. Over time,this is increasingly valuable application experience being injected into each new solutionconfiguration.

When a data warehouse buyer is satisfied with trial results and is ready to invest in afull-scale solution, the centers enable them to conduct extensive performance tuning,optimization of hardware configuration, pinpoint management applications and may even beused to support user training before being deployed at the customer site.

Multi-Vendor Venues

HP, Compaq/Digital and IBM have all established dozens of such centers for discoveryand development. They are instrumental for faster, more assured leveraging of multi-vendorcapabilities which, in turn, is essential for successfully connecting the data warehouseand data marts from all departments and entities of increasingly distributed corporations.

What's truly remarkable about the overall transformation taking place in the datawarehousing market, is that so many improvements are the result of standardization andcollaboration among hardware and software vendors, consultants and customers. It meansthat IT managers no longer have to operate in uncharted territory.

Whether planning multi-terabyte data warehouses, integrating the data warehouse anddata marts with earlier ERP or supply chain systems, or pushing uptime to more than 99%even while bringing up a new data mart or opening up an e-commerce Web site, the fun forIT managers is really just beginning.