Informatica's Move in a Changing Marketplace

With IBM/Ascential, Informatica/Composite, and other announcements taking center stage recently, it's clearly been a disruptive spring in the data integration market

This spring, customers have seen an unusual upheaval in the data integration market. Most recently, IBM Corp. snapped up ETL market leader Ascential Software Corp., of course. Last month, business intelligence (BI) powerhouse Information Builders Inc. announced a new version of its WebFocus BI suite that’s a veritable data integration Swiss Army knife, and last week, ETL kingpin Informatica Corp. notched an OEM and technology sharing partnership with EII specialist Composite Software Corp.

The activity has not escaped industry watchers. “These hasty mergers and partnerships are all about ‘integration’—first of all, integration of diverse data sources and complex business processes to accomplish specific business outcomes,” writes industry-watcher Aaron Zornes, late of META Group, and now chief research officer with the Customer Data Integration (CDI) Institute.

Informatica’s accord with Composite is a critical one for that vendor, which bills itself as the data integration pure-play. Under the terms of the partnership, the two companies will share intellectual property (IP) and work to integrate Composite’s Information Server with Informatica’s PowerCenter data integration platform.

With IBM’s acquisition of Ascential, Big Blue could claim to realistically one-up Informatica in the data integration department: Not only does IBM’s data integration stack boast ETL, data quality, data profiling, real-time integration, and metadata management capabilities—among others—but it also has a powerful EII story to boot in the form of WebSphere Information Integrator.

Last week, Informatica's vice president of corporate marketing, Karen Steele, confirmed that Informatica has long fixed upon Composite as the solution to its EII shortcomings.

“We’d been talking to our customer who really believe that a federated type of approach was a key approach, and it was just a matter of doing the right deal for the company,” she says. “The way that the deal came together with Composite is extremely strategic. It includes an OEM, which is really just designed to give customers immediate options, and there will be complete sharing of intellectual property and source code.”

In fact, Steele confirms, some of Composite’s code will find itself into the Zeus release later on this year.

Informatica officials dispute the idea that the company needed to come up with an EII strategy of its own to counter IBM’s combined prowess on the data integration front. “We have a customer advisory board, … and while they are interested in use cases of EII technology, they weren’t comfortable getting that technology … from start-up companies and … just [on a] standalone basis, they wanted it to be a feature that we provided,” says Ivan Chong, vice-president of product management with Informatica.

Initially, Steele says, Informatica will start reselling Composite Information Server sometime in Q2. Later this year, the company plans to incorporate substantial pieces of Composite’s EII technology in its next version of PowerCenter, with complete integration promised in a version of PowerCenter due out next year.

Why Not Make It an SOA Play?

When data cleansing came to be viewed as integral to the data warehousing lifecycle, Informatica reached an agreement with data-quality specialist FirstLogic Inc. to embed that company’s technology in its data integration platform. Last year, however, Informatica stressed that customers could implement other third-party data quality offerings—or virtually any other data warehousing add-on technology, for that matter—via the company’s service-oriented architecture (SOA), called Universal Data Services (UDS). At the time, Informatica officials stressed that UDS was a better, more flexible alternative to the all-in-one data quality and data profiling approach being promoteded by Ascential.

So why not simply partner with Composite and embed its EII engine within PowerCenter itself, or—more compelling, still—expose its EII capabilities via UDS? For the simple reason, argues Informatica’s Chong, that there’s a lot more at stake here than a simple reseller agreement.

“We think it’s a very different type of relationship [than the FirstLogic arrangement]. We’re focusing primarily on the intellectual property that we’re going to be acquiring, and the integration we’re going to be doing directly into our data integration server,” he says. “By the time we come out with Hercules [a version of PowerCenter due in 2006], it’s going to be one server that’s able to operate in batch, change capture, or on the fly, EII mode.”

In this respect, he says, low-level integration and unfettered technology sharing was the way to go. “We considered an SOA plug-in, but there are things we wanted to implement as part of our roadmap that require very deep integration,” he says. “We wanted to add ETL operations and PowerExchange capabilities into that execution plan, so by kind of loosely coupling some of the components, we wouldn’t be able to derive these types of economies of scale.”

What do analysts make of a substantially altered data integration landscape? Not surprisingly, most believe IBM is the player to beat—although few are willing to count Informatica out just yet.

CDI Institute’s Zornes, for example, points to Big Blue’s proven track record of integrating “diverse middleware,” and cites the metadata management capabilities that Ascential brings to the table. “In our opinion, IBM is a clear winner given the metadata capabilities of its Ascential acquisition. However, Informatica cannot be counted out yet due to the promise of its nascent SuperGlue metadata repository,” he says.

Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis, sees the Composite partnership as one indication that Informatica is hewing to the roadmap it announced in February—in spite of the tremendous market upheaval caused by IBM’s Ascential acquisition.

“When Informatica laid out its product roadmap a little over one month ago, … the competitive landscape of the market was somewhat different,” he acknowledges. “With [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] flying back and forth, … the Composite partnership provides initial evidence that Informatica is staying the course.”

About the Author

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