Beyond ETL: Ascential, Informatica Tout Data Integration Strategies

Companies reposition themselves as full-fledged data integration specialists

Erstwhile ETL purveyors Ascential Software Corp. and Informatica Corp. have increasingly sought to reposition themselves as full-fledged data integration specialists, touting an array of extra features—including metadata management and data quality—to enrich their data integration platforms.

This month, both vendors kicked these efforts up considerably. Informatica struck last week, touting its vision for the integrated enterprise—dubbed Universal Data Services—while this week Ascential unveiled version 7.5 of its Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite.

Both companies say the time is right for next-generation data integration solutions. Harriet Fryman, group director of product strategy for Informatica, likens the situation in some IT environments to a veritable Babel, with fragmented, complex, and always-changing data sources effectively siloed from one another. In this respect, she claims, UDS—which combines Informatica’s existing ETL tool set (PowerExchange, PowerCenter) with metadata management (SuperGlue) and third-party data quality capabilities (courtesy of Firstlogic Inc.)—describes a service-oriented architecture (SOA) for accessing, integrating, and auditing enterprise information.

“We believe strongly that there’s a much bigger market out there beyond ETL and data warehousing,” she confirms. “The types of things that IT is doing and tackling every day with these huge data center projects just gives us an enormous opportunity.”

Similarly, Bob Zurek, vice president of advanced technologies and product management for Ascential, says that data integration involves a lot more than just vanilla ETL. “Although ETL will be a very prominent process out there, more and more people are using the product capabilities in the [Enterprise Integration] Suite to standardize on it as a data integration service,” Zurek said in an interview late last year. “That’s why we’re transforming the nomenclature away from ETL and toward enterprise data integration. We’re delivering this message: We think that ETL is basically dead and over, and it’s all about enterprise data integration using an end-to-end approach that is highly scalable, reliable and fits within the fabric of Web services and other standards.”

Ascential has for some time marketed a one-stop data integration suite, complete with ETL, metadata management, data quality, and data profiling tools. Last summer, Ascential also delivered Real-Time Integration (RTI) Services, the service-oriented architectural glue that sews up its data integration vision. In this respect, the new Enterprise Integration Suite that Ascential announced this week keys on enhancing interoperability between and among Ascential’s ETL (DataStage TX, Ascential DataStage), data quality (QualityStage), and SOA (Real-Time Integration Services) offerings.

New features in the Suite include the addition of Mobile Services for RTI, through the incorporation of RTI Mobile Director, which enables the remote administration of DataStage from pocket PCs. Elsewhere, Ascential is touting new RTI clustering support for Oracle, DB2, and SQLServer databases. Enhancements include improved reporting across the Enterprise Integration Suite, a new job sequencer, real-time job validation, and performance visualization and monitoring interfaces. Ascential has also updated the Suite’s support for the HIPAA and EDIFACT standards to assist with compliance-related projects. Finally, the Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite 7.5 has been certified for Oracle 10g, Teradata V2R5.1, and SAP. Ascential will also make available a new packaged application connectivity kit for SAP XI with the revamped Suite.

Informatica Outlines Data Integration Vision

Informatica, for its part, has cobbled together its own integration suite over the last several months, introducing a new metadata management facility (SuperGlue), and partnering with Firstlogic on the data quality front. UDS, then, is the company’s first articulation of its own vision for data center integration. “There is this common set of data processing tasks that need to be accomplished, and this requires the data discovery, data sourcing, cleansing and integration, and then the delivery, which can be from application to application, or application to business process, to give an alert to a business person or to a dashboard,” explains Fryman. “We provide the services to cover this whole spectrum of data processing, and most importantly, the ability to audit that information.”

Fryman says that UDS provides a Web services-based foundation on top of which organizations can integrate enterprise data interactions. UDS unifies several existing Informatica products, she acknowledges, but also incorporates new features as well—including a tool that can be used to tune SQL scripts and procedures, along with a search facility for both metadata and stored data.

The biggest new feature—data server—forms the very heart of the UDS architecture, says Fryman. “It’s doing to data services what application servers did to the application world: It provides all of the performance, scalability, scheduling, and security, and then on top of that Data Server provides the shared services to address particular business issues when it comes to interacting with that data,” she asserts.

Data Server also provides a means for third-party vendors to tie their products into, and exploit, the UDS architecture, Fryman notes. She acknowledges that Data Server makes it easier for Informatica to expand the core capabilities of its UDS vision by adding third-party partners, such as Firstlogic with its data quality offerings. “We really see other partners embracing and extending our architecture, and this is where Firstlogic can embed themselves in this architecture as a shared server,” she comments. “What we open up to [partners] is a way of accessing anything in [UDS]. We can provide the underpinning performance and scalability.”

Jack Hafeli, a vice-president and research director with consultancy Ventana Research, describes UDS as a “welcome step” from Informatica, which he says “has articulated its plans with renewed clarity, while also bringing added context to the underlying architecture beneath its branded functional solutions.”

At the same time, he acknowledges, UDS isn’t exactly an earth-shattering data integration vision. Instead, he says, it provides a clear view of Informatica’s product roadmap—which is an important end in itself. “While it may not bring new, groundbreaking functionality to market, it does provide lots of new directional context to the vendor’s planned journey into the future,” he writes, noting that “Ascential Software provided development roadmap guidance at [its] user conference last fall.”

The upshot, writes Hafeli, is that Informatica and Ascential have thrown down the gauntlet to other vendors in this space. “Other vendors in the integration management arena should take note and consider this a sign that market demand for such guidance on the development front is fast becoming the norm.”

About the Author

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