IBM Completes Ascential Acquisition, Announces Integration Roadmap

Users expecting an infusion of Ascential’s ETL expertise into DB2 may be disappointed

IBM Corp. last week completed its acquisition of Ascential Software Corp.—less than two months after first announcing its intent to nab the data integration specialist for $1.1 billion.

At a media event last week, Big Blue announced an integration roadmap for its combined Ascential and WebSphere data integration stack. Left unaddressed by IBM’s roadmap, however, was a question foremost in the minds of many users: Is DB2—that is, mainframe DB2 and DB2 UDB—going to get a native extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) facility on par with similar offerings from database competitors Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp.?

It’s not an unreasonable question. Microsoft effectively kick-started things in the late 1990’s, announcing integrated ETL and OLAP capabilities in its SQL Server 7.0 database. Oracle quickly followed suit, consolidating everything into its flagship database. But with a couple of notable exceptions, IBM resisted this trend. DB2 does, for example, ship with a limited, SQL-based ETL tool—and Big Blue does offer a DB2 Data Warehouse Edition—but for the most part, Big Blue’s flagship database has long lacked an ETL facility comparable to those offered by Microsoft and Oracle.

Nevertheless, IBM officials last week remained tight-lipped on this subject. “Some of the other companies make this look like IBM is doing this just to get ETL for DB2, but that’s really not the case,” protests Eric Sall, program director for information integration with Big Blue. “So we don’t have any plans to do that [ETL for DB2] that we can talk about here, but we certainly do plan to leverage the Ascential technologies throughout the portfolio wherever it makes sense.”

WebSphere’s the Thing

IBM sometimes stretches credulity when it calls its DB2 database “middleware,” but the same cannot be said about its middleware centerpiece, WebSphere Application Server. In this respect, the rebranding of Big Blue’s federated data access offering (formerly known as DB2 Information Integrator) as WebSphere Information Integrator says a lot about the shift in IBM’s thinking on the data integration front: WebSphere is the focus. “We’re not doing this just to serve the IBM database customers. We’re really doing this to help all of our customers with their data integration needs,” Sall points out.

To that end, Big Blue last week announced an entirely new data-integration offering—namely, WebSphere Data Integration Suite. This product is based almost entirely on Ascential’s much-anticipated “Hawk” platform release, which has been gestating—and provoking fear, uncertainty, and doubt from competitors—for several years.

Like Ascential’s existing data-integration portfolio, IBM’s proposed WebSphere Data Integration Suite includes a data profiling component (Ascential’s ProfileStage); a data quality tool (Ascential’s QualityStage); and, of course, an ETL engine—DataStage TX, a version of Ascential’s DataStage ETL tool that also includes the EAI capabilities Ascential picked up by virtue of its acquisition of the former Mercator Software Inc. in the summer of 2003.

Ascential’s “Hawk” release has been several years in the making, but Sall says Big Blue expects to hew to Ascential’s own schedule and deliver it this year. “Our near-term priority over the next 12 months is to enhance and deliver the planned releases that have already been committed to. So the Ascential Hawk release -- we’ve gone through that schedule with a fine-toothed comb and we’re still committed to releasing that in 2005."

It’s going to be a busy year for IBM on the data-integration front; Big Blue is also prepping an update to its WebSphere Information Integrator tool, code-named “Serrano.” Since its release more than two years ago, Information Integrator has developed into a market-leading enterprise information integration (EII) tool. With this in mind, Sall says Big Blue will explore ways in which the Hawk platform and the Serrano version of Information Integrator can be intelligently integrated.

“We’ve found some areas where we can enhance the integration between the portfolios in those product areas. We’ve done some enhancements in metadata integration and connectors,” he explains. “We’re also doing some things in the near-term around extending Hawk’s natural-language translation [capabilities] into a broader market, and also doing things to extend integration between DataStage TX and WebSphere [MQ].”

Big Blue Earns High Marks

Analysts have generally praised IBM’s move, which they say positions Big Blue to be a one-stop data-integration shop for customers with many different needs. In addition to its Ascential data-integration and Information Integrator federated data access tools, notes Eric Rogge, an analyst with consultancy Ventana Research, Big Blue also markets WebSphere Business Integration (WBI), WebSphere MQ, and a host of other EAI products as well.

“IBM will bolster their integration suite infrastructure that spans applications, data, events and information while supporting both structured and unstructured data,” he writes.

IBM’s timing couldn’t be better, either, says Rogge. “Integration is a leading theme within enterprise IT today. Data integration is a key element of that theme, as organizations strive towards consistency across systems,” he writes, citing customer, product, employee, and other data integration efforts. “As composite applications based upon service-oriented architecture gain prominence, combined EII/data integration technologies will be likely be a significant enabler for these applications.”

Related Article:

Ascential: The New Data Integration Pure Play
http://www.esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=6783

About the Author

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