Informatica’s PowerCenter 8.5 Stresses Real-Time, Collaboration Features

IBM isn’t the only best-of-breed data integration player on the block, as the latest PowerCenter 8.5 release proves

Although IBM grabbed a big share of the data integration spotlight with its recent announcement of new Information on Demand offerings, rival vendor Informatica Corp. has news of its own. This week, Informatica unveiled the newest version of its PowerCenter data integration suite, touting a raft of new improvements—including enhanced real-time capabilities, a targeted data quality technology for SAP, tighter and more granular security, and improved metadata management capabilities.

It’s been two years since Informatica shipped its last significant PowerCenter refresh, PowerCenter 8.0 (see That product debuted just months after IBM sprung its multi-billion dollar acquisition of the former Ascential Software Corp.—then Informatica’s biggest competitor—on a surprised industry.

At the time, many industry watchers anticipated that Informatica would become obsolete. Just the opposite happened. Informatica thrived.

Earlier this month, for example, it trumpeted still another quarter of record profits, touted a new revenue record, and raised its guidance for the rest of this calendar year and into 2008.

Much of this is due to the strong performance of PowerCenter 8.0, says director of product marketing Don Tirsell: Informatica added 338 new "logos" (i.e., new customers or divisions/subsidiaries of existing customers) last year, for starters. In addition, nearly 90 percent of Informatica’s existing customers expect to repurchase PowerCenter—while approximately 95 percent plan to renew their maintenance licenses, according to Tirsell.

IBM’s acquisition of former rival Ascential was a good thing from Informatica’s perspective. "It really reinforced our neutrality. With something that’s as sensitive as data integration, you really want a vendor that’s neutral, that doesn’t have a middleware agenda or a database agenda of its own to push," Tirsell notes.

Market research from Gartner Inc. bears out, to a degree, Informatica’s messaging: both IBM and Informatica are positioned as "Leaders" in Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant technology survey—ahead of all data integration rivals, including SAS Institute Inc., Business Objects SA, Information Builders Inc. (IBI), Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp.

Real-Time Ready PowerCenter 8.5

Informatica has positioned PowerCenter as a real-time workhorse for more than half a decade now. In fact, Informatica was one of the first data integration vendors to tout ETL as a real-time—and not solely batch-centric—data integration technology (see Now that real-time is grabbing more industry mindshare, however, officials seem anxious to further flesh out PowerCenter’s real-time capabilities.

Witness PowerCenter 8.5’s real-time retrofit: it boasts real-time changed-data-capture (CDC) and highly resilient (fault-tolerant) messaging capabilities. The former continuously captures data changes as they occur, according to Tirsell, while the latter ensures once—and only once—in-order delivery of messages.

PowerCenter 8.5’s real-time focus is part of a significant shift in Informatica’s Integration Competency Center (ICC) messaging, too. "PowerCenter version 8 was all about supporting mission-critical deployment, but what we’re talking about [with PowerCenter 8.5] is a new use case: handling high-volume concurrent inbound request demand," Tirsell indicates.

"The idea is to support the deployment of our technology in a real-time ICC. We’ve added architectural pieces to PowerExchange for supporting the real-time exchange of data and of guaranteeing one-order semantics."

That’s where PowerCenter’s revamped CDC capabilities come into the picture. "We’re able to capture more quickly and capture on a continuous basis changes as they occur, and we’ve also improved the link between PowerExchange and PowerCenter to ensure guaranteed message delivery capabilities," he comments. Informatica’s CDC capabilities come by way of technology it acquired from the former Striva several years ago.

PowerCenter 8.5’s real-time refresh couldn’t have come at a better time, says Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research.

"The movement toward real-time data access and delivery has been the most influential trend in data integration this decade," Russom observes. "The trend has enabled user organizations to initiate a variety of valuable real-time practices, including operational BI, real-time data warehousing, on-demand computing, performance monitoring, just-in-time inventory, and so on.

"The trend has led vendors to extend their data integration products so that many functions operate in real-time, not just batch. Informatica 8.5 is a great example of this trend, because it’s re-architected to support more real-time and on-demand functions for data integration, changed data capture, and data quality."

Improved Metadata Management

Informatica’s first stab at metadata management came by way of SuperGlue, which the company announced in August 2003. In early 2005, that technology was folded into its PowerCenter Advanced Edition (AE) product.

In the latest rev of PowerCenter AE, Metadata Manager gets a usability overhaul, boasting new user-friendly data lineage capabilities, including a "personalized" data lineage facility (making it easier for users to understand where data came from and where it’s going), advanced search and filtering features, and support for built-in annotations and links to outside (supporting) documentation.

"We made the metadata lineages much more improved for a business audience. IT can actually deploy this to their business analysts and that side of the business to allow them to self-serve and to drill into where data is coming from and where it’s being used," explains Tirsell. "Metadata Manager provides the lineage capabilities and an underlying catalogue that allows you to bring in data from modeling tools, applications, and BI tools and then create that lineage across the whole spectrum and navigate across and then go deep where you want to investigate what’s really going on with the data."

Security, Collaborative Capabilities Get a Boost

Tirsell and Informatica also tout a bevy of security improvements, including a new PowerCenter Data Masking Option that can mask in-flight data to produce de-identified but realistic-looking data.

The feature supports multiple data masking methods to ensure randomization, Tirsell says, while preserving referential integrity. PowerCenter as a whole now provides what Informatica calls "ICC-grade" security: it boasts new granular privilege options and granular permissions, including customizable role-based security and improved LDAP integration.

Other PowerCenter 8.5 enhancements include impact analysis capabilities (with direct connectivity to enterprise applications and mainframe data, as well as support for annotation—to improve collaboration—and support for profiling results, too); a new Data Quality Assistant (a Web-based tool that supports interactive data quality exception handling); and a data quality dashboarding and reporting option. This last feature comes by way of Informatica’s PowerAnalyzer reporting and analysis tool, which—like the former SuperGlue—was folded into PowerCenter AE early in 2005.

"With these [data quality dashboards and reports], I can actually share information about my quality and what levels it is today and how it improves over time. This has always been part of our message—that data quality reports and monitoring are very important—and it’s a capability that’s really sort of unique," Tirsell comments.

These and other enhancements tap into another important data integration trend, says TDWI’s Russom: a growing need for collaborative capabilities.

"Collaboration has become a pressing requirement for data integration in recent years," Russom explains. "As the number of data integration specialists continues to grow—into double digits in some organizations—so increases the need for development processes and tool functions that help them communicate and collaborate. Likewise, stewards, business analysts, and other business people are joining the ‘extended’ data integration and data quality team, which brings a new slew of collaborative requirements."

One way to bolster collaboration is to build an ICC, says Russom; that’s an approach Informatica itself champions. Informatica 8.5 boasts a bevy of collaborative enhancements in its own right. "TDWI members regularly address the collaborative requirement by building a data integration competency center or a similar cross-functional organizational structure," he observes. "Informatica 8.5 extends its collaborative data integration capabilities with new functions for personalized data lineage, self-service exceptions processing, and comprehensive impact analysis. Plus, new collaborative tools for business analysts and cross-enterprise data exchange are coming in 2008."