IBM aims to ease pain of data-intensive tasks

IBM Corp. used its inaugural Information on Demand conference in Anaheim last month to launch its data integration technology, formerly code-named “Hawk,” which the vendor acquired through its US$1.1-billion purchase of Ascential in 2005.

The IBM Information Server is intended to be a one-stop shop for companies seeking tools for dealing with such data-intensive issues as business intelligence. Priced at US$125,000 and up depending on the number of product modules, it uses many existing products and capabilities available from IBM’s information integration and server lines, including offerings from its WebSphere line such as Information Analyzer, QualityStage, DataStage and Federation Server.

But IBM officials said this server represents a new architectural approach that provides common metadata, user interfaces, reporting and logging access information in a service oriented architecture.

“A whole new category and industry will develop around it,” said Tom Inman, vice-president of marketing at IBM’s information management unit. Much in the same way that application server and portal server industry segments have emerged over the past few years, IBM expects an information server market to develop, he added.

Information Server will ship with a copy of IBM’s DB2 database and the vendor’s Application Server, but the product can be used with third-party offerings as well, according to Pete Fiore, IBM’s vice-president of information integration solutions. The product is a set of components so customers “can purchase as much or as little as they need,” he said.

However, Fiore stressed that Information Server was more than a simple software bundle. IBM has fully rearchitected the technologies it gained from Ascential and automated as many common data integration tasks as possible, he said.

Frank Brooks, the chief data architect at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Inc., has been using many of IBM’s data management tools, and he said the Information Server product struck him as an umbrella offering. He said it’s an approach that’s needed because “the problems are getting far too complex” for any one tool.

Managing data used to be a matter of just taking data on a relational database and running a report, Brooks said. “Now,” he added, “it’s not just internal data, it’s external and it’s also content,” which includes material such as e-mail — anything that’s not in a relational database.

Brooks said IBM has been good about working with third-party tool vendors on the use of their products with its product sets.

The Chattanooga-based health care provider, for instance, is using a tool developed by ClearForest Corp. for analyzing unstructured data.

The IBM Information Server works with third-party tools, but IBM officials said those tools won’t have the same ability to leverage the integration and analysis capabilities of its integrated offering.

The evolution of Information Server will be “a journey,” said Ambuj Goyal, IBM’s general manager of its information management business. Customers will determine what future functionality will be included. And a lot of that future development work will have a Canadian connection, as well as the work that led to the Information Server launch.

Cindy Taylor, information management sales executive, Canada software group, IBM Canada, said IBM’s Software Solutions Laboratory in Markham, Ont. played a major role in Information Server’s development.

“We’re developing a lot of good skill sets in Canada,” said Taylor.

She said the Canadian market is focused on reducing operational costs and is looking at total cost of ownership around technology, looking to incremental upgrades rather than rip-and-replace upgrades.

Taylor said IBM’s new offerings support this, adding that with flexible, component-based pricing, she expects Information Server to be particularly well received by Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses.

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