Informatica Unveils Data Integration Storefront

Informatica Marketplace is similar to Salesforce.com's AppExchange (or Apple's App Store) -- but many unique aspects set it clearly apart.

Informatica Corp. is known as a gutsy competitor. Its decision (more than half a decade ago) to effectively write off all of its non-data integration (DI) assets was decried by some as a major mistake. Moreover, after IBM Corp. bought rival DI vendor Ascential Software Corp. in 2005, Informatica was pronounced an endangered species. The DI space was consolidating, market watchers argued; would-be pure-plays like Informatica would soon go the way of the Dodo bird.

It didn't turn out that way. Since IBM's acquisition of Ascential, in fact, Informatica's trajectory has trended ever onward and uniformly upward. Its back-to-the-basics focus on DI seems to have paid off in a big way.

Since then, Informatica has appeared prescient in other respects. Its efforts in software-as-a-service (SaaS) or cloud computing -- which, at first glance, don't seem like an obvious fit for a DI player -- are likewise panning out.

It's the company's track record that makes Informatica's Marketplace intriguing. Informatica CIO Tony Young describes the initiative as a kind of virtual bazaar for data integration software, services, and other assets.

The idea is that ISVs, integrators, partners, or individual developers can list assets or solutions -- called "Blocks" in Informatica lingo -- in the Marketplace directory. "Blocks" can describe any kind of salable asset, such as data models, connectors, mappings, "mapplets," utilities, methodologies, services offerings, or (even) white papers. Marketplace's pricing model is more like that of eBay than that of Apple Inc.'s App Store, Young argues: Informatica charges a listing fee, but doesn't demand a share of asset sales or profits.

"You can sell as much as you want," he explains. "We're not going to come back and take a percentage of your sales."

Eventually, Young suggests, Marketplace could develop into a one-stop shopping exchange for pre-integrated DI and analytic resources.

It still has a way to go. Salesforce.com touts the availability of more than 1,000 offerings via its AppExchange program; Apple Inc. says its App Store plays host to more than 200,000 offerings. By contrast, Marketplace is a still-gestating effort. At launch, Marketplace will offer "over 50" offerings, according to Young. Of these, he indicates, "around 27" were developed by third parties.

By comparison, Salesforce.com touted a network of 150 ISV and integrator partners when it announced Multiforce, the precursor to AppExchange, in March of 2005.

Fifty assets might not seem like much, but Young says Marketplace is off to a solid start. He cites feedback from an AppExchange veteran, who told Informatica that "you're going to need … 25 solutions out of the block to get started."

Informatica representatives explicitly encourage comparisons with Salesforce.com's AppExchange, even as they downplay Marketplace's similarity to Apple's App Store. If Informatica keeps its word, Marketplace won't really fit the mold of either AppExchange or the App Store, however.

Marketplace is like Salesforce.com's AppExchange in that it aims to provide a one-stop shopping resource for Informatica-oriented data integration offerings; unlike AppExchange, however, Marketplace is as geared toward on-premises products or services as it is toward software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. (AppExchange has an on-premises aspect, too. Informatica, for its part, has a growing cloud-based DI business. At the same time, however, it still derives the bulk of its revenues from sales of on-premises software and services.)

According to Young, the App Store model makes for an even less appropriate comparison. Unlike Apple, Informatica won't constrain or control the applications, services, or resources hosted on Marketplace, he promises.

"When you think about [the] App Store, [Marketplace] may not be consistent with that model. I think Apple has been much more selective in terms of competition in their site. In terms of what they [permit to be sold] in the App Store," he observes.

"We are providing access to all companies, including competitive products. We believe in having an open marketplace that isn't a marketplace for just Informatica [products and services]. We want to promote the broader ecosystem. The ecosystem must be around data integration, data quality, and data management. That's what's driving our [Marketplace] strategy."

An obvious exception involves offerings that promise compatibility or interoperability with specific Informatica products. In such cases, Young indicates, Informatica will require that a vendor or integrator submit test results that substantiate its compatibility or interoperability claims.

"It takes from five to 30 days to get a so-called 'Seal of Approval' from Informatica," he explains. "We ask for sample test data so that we can run it against test sets to do validations."

The bazaar model seems apposite in at least one additional respect: Young says Informatica will at least tolerate (if not explicitly encourage) the sale of Marketplace offerings that compete with its own products or services.

"I know of one [Marketplace offering] in particular, we had some conversations [about it] internally, because [it] has crossover with some of the elements of our Metadata Manager product today," he acknowledges. "I had the product guys look at it, I had the support organization look at it, because I wanted to make sure. In the end, they understood that even though there is some crossover, we will actually be going out and listing this product and competing with it. They accepted that."

Initially, Informatica expects Marketplace to play host to discrete asset offerings: individual connectors, mappings, or data models, for example.

Over time, Young suggests, partners, integrators, and ISVs might choose to band together to promote pre-integrated analytic solutions. "This is what we hope and aspire to have on our site. Our possibilities are only limited by our thinking at this point," he concludes, citing a proto-all-in-one offering that's already available via Marketplace. "Somebody, for their solution, it's a fully-baked solution: they've encapsulated it in a VMWare container. If I want to run it, the beauty is … I download it, I put it right into one of my VMWare instances, and I run it; it's already preconfigured and preinstalled. I think we'll see more [offerings] like this."