Ranking the DI Players

There's plenty of competition in the fractious data integration market.

IBM Corp. and Informatica Corp. are once again the runaway "Leaders" in the most recent edition of Gartner Inc.'s "Magic Quadrant for Data Integration Tools" assessment.

"Runaway" isn't an exaggeration, either: in Gartner's representation, there's a glaring gap of white space between both vendors and the rest of the players that populate the DI "Leaders" quadrant. This doesn't mean IBM and Informatica have the DI market locked. Even though Gartner's Magic Quadrant has shed a few competitors over its last few editions -- whatever happened to DI stalwart Evolutionary Technology Inc. (ETI) or up-and-comer Pitney Bowes Business Insight? -- Big Blue and Informatica still have plenty of competition, even in a "Leaders" quadrant that, as spatial representations go, doesn't appear all that competitive.

Getting Down to the DI Nitty Gritty

Among the two runaway leaders, IBM has by far the largest installed base, with close to 9,000 customers. Users tend to opt for InfoSphere over competitive offerings for several reasons, according to Gartner. "Reference customers routinely cite ... the range of functions IBM offers, the shared use of common metadata by key components of IBM's product set, and the interoperability with related IBM data quality products," write Gartner analysts Eric Thoo, Ted Friedman, and Mark Beyer.

In its InfoSphere Information Server 8.5, which shipped in late 2010, IBM claimed to address a long-simmering customer pain-point: a complicated installation and upgrade experience. One year on, installation and upgrades are likely still a significant pain point. Very few customers have upgraded to InfoSphere 8.5 (and IBM introduced yet another version -- InfoSphere 8.7 -- late last year).

That's one reason why time-to-deployment remains a thorny issue for InfoSphere users. "[R]eference customers indicate that average times to deployment were longer for IBM than both the market average and most other vendors," the trio writes. "With an estimated 20 percent of the customer base running release 8.5, the majority of IBM customers have yet to experience the improved usability offered by this latest version of the technology."

Informatica DI, like IBM InfoSphere, is the data integration standard for most of its users: according to Gartner, nearly all -- 97 percent -- of Informatica's reference customers use its DI toolset as their data integration standard. In its recent development efforts, Informatica has focused on beefing up the self-service capabilities of its DI toolset. To some extent, Gartner reports, it's had success with this. "Significant data management skills are still required for this self-service data integration, but the interface provides the right level of support to enable a business analyst to accomplish simple data integration," they explain.

In its previous DI assessments, Gartner had always judged Informatica's support as a strength. This time around, that isn't necessarily the case, with customers reporting that new capabilities (such as Informatica's Web services functionality) aren't "as robust or strong as expected." Reference users cited a number of other support shortcomings -- e.g., weak database push-down capabilities, "uneven" professional services -- that didn't show up in previous Gartner surveys.

"[T]hese reports indicate that Informatica's growth and the expansion of its delivery capabilities are straining its infrastructure," Thoo, Friedman, and Beyer write. "Informatica's action plan in response to these 'growing pains' includes a partner accreditation program, and new methodologies and support-related processes -- but, for 2011 and 2012, organizations should be aware of this strain."

Oracle Corp. markets a patchwork of DI offerings, starting with its venerable Oracle Warehouse Builder (OWB) -- which ships with the Oracle RDBMS -- and including Oracle Data Integrator, Oracle Data Services Integrator, and Oracle GoldenGate, its data replication and data synchronization technology. With about 3,500 users, Oracle DI enjoys a large DI footprint, thanks to its installed base of DBMS and Oracle applications customers.

"Oracle's strong presence ... and its ability to bundle data integration tools with high-growth products such as the Oracle Exadata Database Machine, will continue to create opportunities for increased penetration," Thoo, Friedman, and Beyer write, noting that the majority of adopters -- more than 80 percent -- typically use Oracle DI to support ETL-centric BI initiatives. This is changing, however: "More Oracle customers are adopting GoldenGate to support real-time and granular data flows, also in support of BI needs and various operational integration patterns involving heterogeneous DBMS environments."

Customers tend to value Oracle as a "one-stop shop" for data integration, according to Gartner. That being said, a chief complaint -- viz., gaps or shortcomings with respect to product support and documentation -- can perhaps be attributed to the manner in which Oracle built itself into a one-stop shop for DI: by dint of acquisition. (In this case, of former DI best-of-breeds Sunopsis and GoldenGate Software.) In addition to these issues, "customers routinely cite weaknesses in operational and administrative functionality" -- i.e., monitoring, error handling, and version control -- "as well as a desire for deeper integration across the product set," according to the Gartner report.

There's also this age-old complaint: "[C]ustomers are most often satisfied with the general functionality of each individual product, [but] many state that the degree of integration across the products, and with other Oracle infrastructure software such as Oracle Enterprise Manager, does not live up to the expectations set by Oracle Sales and Marketing," Thoo, Friedman, and Beyer note.

SAP in Second Place

SAP -- not IBM -- has the second-largest DI installed base with an estimated 10,000 users.

Customers seem to value SAP's emphasis on a single run-time platform in its SAPBusiness Objects Data Services; they likewise applaud its strategy of combining both data quality and data integration services. Because Data Services comprises a number of components that were (at one time) discrete best-of-breed offerings -- from the former Acta ETL technology (which powered Business Objects Data Integrator) to Firstlogic's data quality technology to any of several Sybase technologies (e.g., PowerDesigner and Sybase Replication) -- customers perceive Data Services as a very wide offering.

"The breadth of functionality available across the portfolio to support a wide range of data delivery styles, plus options to integrate with data quality capabilities and SAP's MDM offering, remains attractive to SAP's existing customers and prospective customers," Thoo, Friedman, and Beyer write.

All isn't sweetness and light in SAP DI, of course. "References reflect uneven experiences with interoperations between data integration tools and the rest of the SAP technology stack," the trio explain. "Customers report concerns about costliness of implementations when making products work together."

SAP ostensibly addressed several of these concerns with SAPBusiness Objects Data Services 4.0, which shipped last year. "However, a shortage of developers skilled in SAP's newly introduced product functions has caused frustration for customers wanting to implement complex functionality," they write. "Reference customers describe self-help functions available through the vendor's support portal as time-consuming and difficult to use when initiating and opening support cases, and further undermined by the unintuitive navigation required to obtain software downloads."

With an installed base of more than 13,000 customers, DataFlux, a subsidiary of SAS Institute Inc., has the largest overall DI footprint. Parent company SAS, for its part, has arguably the most storied pedigree of any player in the DI space: it's been moving data into and out of systems for almost four decades now. In the past, SAS Enterprise ETL was regarded as one of the ETL Big Three -- along with Informatica's PowerCenter and the former Ascential Software Corp.'s DataStage. Two years ago, SAS reorganized its DI offerings under the DataFlux umbrella, announcing, at the same time, the DataFlux Data Management Platform, a platform-centric vision for data integration. There's a lot to like in this vision, Gartner suggests -- even if the platform it's yoked to isn't yet widely adopted.

"SAS's aim to link quality and governance strongly with data integration capabilities is well aligned with market trends and positions the company well to capitalize on growing demand," they write, noting that SAS must draw on its "long history as an innovator of analytic applications" to exploit emerging opportunities in DI, particularly those involving big data and advanced analytics. To some extent, it's doing this: last year, SAS/DataFlux improved from DI market "Visionary" to DI market "Leader." Thoo, Friedman, and Beyer cite the relative immaturity of the DataFlux Data Management Platform at that time as an immediate constraint: SAS/DataFlux might envision itself as a platform play, but most customers use it as a standalone tool.

"[C]ustomers continue to use the individual products that existed before the release of the DataFlux Data Management Platform ... [and] few are using the full breadth of the new product," the Gartner analysts say. "Many customers cite as challenges the complexity of the products, a longer learning curve, and longer times to implementation."

Final Thoughts

That's it for the DI "Leaders." Elsewhere, Gartner's "Challengers" quadrant is still (mostly) unchanged: it's populated exclusively by Microsoft Corp., which -- if anything -- lost ground between 2010 and 2011, receding on Gartner's X ("Completeness of Vision") and Y ("Ability to Execute") axes.

Last year, however, DI stalwart Syncsort came ever closer to cracking Gartner's "Challengers" quadrant, such that it's now actually clipping the X axis which separates DI "Niche Players" from "Challengers."

In addition to the trio of players that has long haunted Gartner's "Visionaries" quadrant -- viz., Talend, iWay Software, and Pervasive Software, minus SAS/DataFlux -- there are likewise dozens of vendors that -- because they don't meet the (still controversial) criteria that Gartner uses to populate its Magic Quadrant -- aren't even counted.

Although players such as Composite Software Inc., ETI, Expressor Software, and WhereScape Inc. -- just to name a few -- might lack the platform vision or ability-to-execute bona-fides of an IBM, an Informatica, or an Oracle, they're nonetheless challenging the DI Powers that Be.