Hummingbird Unveils Metadata Strategy

With the announcement of a new metadata strategy that leverages XML as an enabling foundation, Toronto-based Hummingbird Systems Ltd. enters a contentious fray already populated with the likes of Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.

Metadata is essential because it provides information about the variety of data and about the different datatypes stored in a data-warehouse. A metadata standard is required, vendors and analysts argue, because the applications used to create data warehouses are based on proprietary data formats, which prevents the sharing of information between products. In the AS/400 world, a single metadata standard could allow AS/400 users to transparently access data on a variety of data warehouse platforms and allow users on other platforms to access AS/400-based data warehouses.

Industry-watchers have long worried that warring over standards might lead to overall anarchy in the metadata space. In late November, Oracle, IBM and a host of other data warehousing leaders came together to back a common standard for enterprise metadata. Ironically enough, Microsoft was actually first out of the gate with a metadata proposal of its own, which it had already submitted to a separate standards body in late 1998.

Hummingbird doesn't propose to define a new standard for storing enterprise metadata, but rather hopes to provide a solution for accessing such data in the absence of a single industry-wide standard. When the data-warehousing industry decides upon a single metadata standard, says Sami Hero--a key architect behind Hummingbird's new metadata strategy and product manager for its Met@Explorer product--his company will provide a driver to support it.

"Right now the way that we are looking at it is that because we are driver-based, we are going to write a driver to the [standard] that makes the most sense," Hero explains. "There are the two standards that have been proposed, and these two are nice standards, but then there are about 27 other standards, so what it amounts to is that everybody has their own way of storing and retrieving information right now."

According to Mike Schiff, a director of data warehousing strategies with market research firm Current Analysis (Sterling, Va.), vendors like Hummingbird will eventually help to settle the ongoing metadata standards debate between the Oracle/IBM and the Microsoft/Computer Associates Int'l Inc. (Islandia, N.Y.) factions by endorsing one proposal over another.

"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," Schiff notes. "So 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."

Hummingbird's metadata strategy is anchored by its new Hummingbird Enterprise Repository (HERO), a metadata repository that leverages XML-enabled metadata access and interchange capabilities. Hummingbird matches HERO with Genio Met@Explorer, a metadata portal and decision support tool, and Met@Data Server, a middle-tier metadata server solution with a plug-and-play architecture.

In addition to supporting an industrywide metadata standard when it becomes available, Hero says that Hummingbird will supply drivers for some of the leading metadata repositories and will also provide APIs so that developers can build drivers to access other metadata repositories. Hummingbird plans to support repositories from Cognos, Microsoft, Brio, Business Objects, Microstrategy and Oracle, among others.

Hummingbird's Hero says that the HERO can provide the architectural "glue" that enables enterprise-wide business intelligence across any number of platforms. For its part, Hummingbird Met@Explorer can function as an enterprise information portal that provides complete search and query capabilities of the HERO.

And as Sylvia Waelter, VP of business intelligence and data warehousing with Survey.com, suggests Hummingbird's metadata strategy is clearly cross-platform and can enable interoperability across an enterprise.

"Met@Data Server and Met@Explorer are enabling technologies that will allow organizations to provide metadata interoperability for easier use with data modeling and data design tools enterprisewide," she concludes.

As a means to provide this kind of interoperability with disparate repositories and data warehouse systems, Hummingbird leverages XML as one component of its integration strategy.

And lest AS/400 managers think that they've been left out of the latest and greatest in the business intelligence world, Hummingbird's Hero points out that not only is the AS/400 one of his company's primary focus platform, but that the XML-based foundation of Hummingbird's metadata strategy makes it easy to incorporate both the AS/400 and other heterogeneous platforms.

"The AS/400 is definitely very interesting for us," Hero states, noting that in Hummingbird's European marketplaces both the AS/400 and IBM are very well entrenched. "It's been very important for us as well in our data-warehousing products and we're making strong commitments to enable full support for the AS/400 in our metadata exchange and interchange solution."