IBM’s Mainframe Data Access Offering Is Moving on Up

Big Blue says its Classic Federation product boasts several advantages over existing mainframe data-access products

Last week, data integration specialist Ascential Software Corp. notched a deal with IBM Corp. to resell Big Blue’s mainframe data-access offering, otherwise known as DB2 Information Integrator Classic Federation product.

Its name is a mouthful, but Classic Federation appears to have momentum behind it. After all, Ascential specializes in data integration—it markets a best-of-breed extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) tool (DataStage), as well as data cleansing and metadata management technologies—yet still tapped Classic Federation to address a gap in its own solution stack. What’s more, BI giant Business Objects SA also recently licensed the technology, and IBM is aggressively marketing the product to its own customer base as well. Even though many mainframe shops already have federated data access or data integration solutions in place, IBM officials say Classic Federation has advantages over these competitive products.

One attraction, says Jeff Jones, director of strategy for Big Blue’s data management solutions, is that Classic Federation facilitates transparent access to non-relational data stored in a variety of different mainframe repositories.

“It’s all about making non-relational places behave in a relational manner. So you build a logical relational structure that maps to a non-relational space [on the mainframe], and you integrate it just as you would with other relational databases,” he comments. “This allows people the choice not to replace things like [CA’s] IDMS, Adabase, or IMS, but still use SQL and begin to integrate across the newer data sources and older sources.”

Of course, many companies are already doing this with ETL solutions, but even data integration specialist Ascential acknowledges that ETL isn’t always the best technology for the job. “Some customers are very mainframe-centric, so they want to do as much processing as possible, straight from their mainframes. For these customers, we offer an MVS version of our ETL technology,” says Peter Inzana, IBM group project manager with Ascential Software. “But some [customers] don’t want or don’t need to do ETL on the mainframe, because all they’re doing is look at the data, viewing it from the relational world.”

Inzana notes that there are costs associated with doing ETL on any platform, especially in terms of processing power and complexity. In this respect, he says, a product like Classic Federation—which provides ODBC or JDBC programmatic access to IMS, Adabase data, and other non-relational data—lets customers keep their data on the mainframe and run queries against it. Because mainframe capacity is typically husbanded to a precise degree, Inzana concedes, this could appeal to customers who balk at the cost or capacity requirements of extracting and transforming data on the mainframe itself.

“The crux of it is regardless of where the customer wants to do the crunch and the processing, the E, the T, and the L, this gives us a solution that can run on the mainframe, it can run on Windows and Unix,” he concludes.

Although it bears the DB2 Information Integrator brand, Classic Federation is based on technology IBM acquired from the former CrossAccess Corp. in October of 2003. In spite of its prefix, then, Classic Federation does not require either DB2 or DB2 Information Integrator, says Big Blue’s Jones.

“It does not need DB2. It is its own thing. You don’t buy this and have to need DB2,” he asserts. There is at least one catch, however: Jones says out-of-the-box Classic Federation only supports IBM repositories: “With the base product comes the ability to integrate the IBM sources, like VSAM and IMS and DB2 on the mainframe, if you want to integrate to non-IBM sources, like IDMS or Adabase, you have to buy connectors.”

IBM began shipping Classic Federation just months after acquiring CrossAccess. Although Big Blue sells that product separately from the vanilla DB2 Information Integrator offering, Jones argues that customers can realize certain advantages by using them together. “This would be installed in addition to reach those mainframe data sources, particularly the non-relational ones. You can use them together so that with a single SQL Statement, you can talk to DB2 Information Integrator and get elements of your answer from relational sources, too,” he comments, explaining that “you can do joins, do those sorts of things.”

More likely, many organizations will tap Classic Federation to support existing integration tools—much like Business Objects did when it signed an agreement to license that product for use with its Data Integrator ETL tool. Thanks to some pre-programmed integration, Data Integrator users can tap Classic Federation for a single view of all their mainframe data sources “We worked with IBM to provide this capability, and really the key thing going into this is who better to offer mainframe connectivity than IBM themselves?” argues Philip On, a senior product manager for Business Objects. “So we really worked with them for really tight integration with Data Integrator at the technology level.”

About the Author

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