Microsoft, Oracle, & Co. Wrangle Over Metadata Standards

On paper, at least, it looks like a sure-fire thing: Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and a host of other data-warehousing leaders coming together to back a common standard for enterprise metadata. But it appears that fly-in-the-ointment Microsoft Corp. is once again playing spoiler to the standardizing efforts of others – only this time, Redmond is actually first out of the gate, having submitted its own standard to a separate standards body in late 1998. Could jockeying between industry coalitions amount to a schism in the data-warehousing industry?

In late September, Oracle, IBM, Unisys Corp. ( NCR Corp. ( and Hyperion Solutions Corp. ( officially submitted a proposed metadata standard – dubbed the Common Warehouse Metadata Interchange (CWMI) -- to the Object Management Group (OMG,

The exigency underlying the proposed metadata standard is simple enough. Metadata is essential because it provides information about the variety of data and about the different data types stored in a data warehouse. A metadata standard is required, these vendors argue, because the applications used to create data warehouses are based on proprietary data formats, which prevents the sharing of information between products.

CWMI defines a metadata format for all data warehouse and business intelligence products. CWMI’s proponents argue that the standard can reduce both software compatibility testing times as well as the costs commonly associated with data-warehouse implementations. In addition, the metadata standard’s supporters say, CWMI provides a common format with which companies can exchange data.

"It uniquely integrates the leading metadata standards and modeling technologies and applies them to the problem of building, managing and deploying data warehouses across the enterprise," concludes Sridhar Iyengar, a Unisys Fellow and member of the OMG’s architecture board.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the proposed OMG standard will do exactly what it purports to do. The problem occurs by virtue of the fact that a separate metadata sharing standard – itself almost a year old – is supported by another standards body, the Meta Data Coalition (MDC). This standard is based on the Open Information Model (OIM) that Microsoft originally developed for use with its own Microsoft Repository and which the software giant claims provides the same services and functionality as that offered by the OMG’s CWMI. Microsoft even undertook to make OIM a truly "open" information model by stripping it of its original COM dependencies.

Each coalition maintains that its respective standard is designed to simplify the development and deployment of data warehouses and business-intelligence applications. And yet far from simplifying data-warehouse development and deployment efforts, the inability of the Oracle- and Microsoft-led factions to settle upon a single metadata standard could actually lead to a schism in the data-warehousing space.

"If you’re a vendor partnering with both Oracle and Microsoft, you don’t want to have to worry about supporting two sets of standards," notes Mike Schiff, director of data-warehousing strategies with analyst firm Current Analysis ( ).

But far from being a disastrous situation, Schiff sees the current finagling between the two metadata camps as an overall good thing, saying that the existence of two standards which might possibly diverge for a short term is a lot better than multiple standards and metadata anarchy.

And there’s reason to believe that the current dualism in the metadata standards space will be relatively short-lived. End users and vendors alike will eventually force both contingents to agree upon an integrated interoperability scheme, and Current Analysis’ Schiff notes that there’s nothing stopping OMG from supporting OIM as a subset of CWIM. In the interim, vendors can build less effective bridges between the two standard models.

"You’re going to see some pressure [from users and vendors] ultimately, but I think that right now the politics are going to get in the way of that," he says. "In general in the short term there’s no chance they’re going to converge, but in the long term it’s going to benefit the industry."