MDC and OMG unite to seek common meta data standard

The recent teaming of the Meta Data Coalition (MDC) and the Object Management Group (OMG) is seen as a positive step toward developing a single meta data standard. However, their path amongst a very proprietary market remains a little unclear.

In April, the MDC and the OMG announced their first cooperative effort to develop meta data standards. Under the formal technical liason, the MDC is a platform member of the OMG and the OMG is a member of the MDC.

“I think the interesting thing about the OMG and the MDC getting together is it’s really the result of Microsoft giving its Open Information Model (OIM) standard to the MDC,” said Guy Creese, senior analyst with The Aberdeen Group in Boston.

“Before, you had three relatively strong and equal players. You had the OMG, which was relatively well connected with Web groups and a lot of vendors in the marketplace. Then you had Microsoft, who certainly had the ear of the development community. And then you had the MDC which ended up representing the group of people who are very worried about meta data.”

After the MDC’s adoption of the OIM, Creese said, “all of a sudden you had a two-legged stool instead of a three-legged stool and it ended up where the two remaining legs were the MDC and the OMG…instead of trying to figure out who was going to be dominant…they sort of realized, ‘Maybe it would be better if we just cooperated.'”

But although the two groups share members and work on overlapping areas of technology, they have been working with separate and distinct models.

The MDC, in December 1998, gained Microsoft as a member and with it, the rights to maintain and evolve the OIM, their specification for representing meta data.

David Marshall, senior vice-president of Austin, Tex.-based Evolutionary Technologies International (ETI), a founding member and current co-chair of the MDC, explained: “The main benefit that we saw in adopting [the OIM] in the MDC was that while there was emerging work in companies relating to a potential standard…the work that Microsoft had done was really the only practical model that existed.” Microsoft’s model, he said, had been validated by the experiences of the customers and vendors who had worked with it.

The OMG, on the other hand, has received several proposals, one of which includes the Common Warehouse Meta Data Interchange (CWMI), designed by a number of industry players, including Oracle.

Sridhar Iyengar, Unisys Fellow at Unisys in Mission Viejo, Calif., who also sits on the architecture board of the OMG, pointed out that although the newly-formed relationship is a combination of competitors, a precedent for consensus has already been established with the Unified Modeling Language (UML) standardized by the OMG in 1997.

“UML was the first standard which the whole industry, including Microsoft, got behind and is already an example of how the OMG will be able to establish consensus between IBM, Oracle, Unisys, Microsoft and a number of vendors.”

That said, however, Iyengar concedes “the comparative issues clearly exist. Microsoft would obviously like to see just the Open Information Model dominate and be used by everybody, and the OMG would like to see just the Common Warehouse model be used.”

And that is where the differences exist. “Speaking for the OMG,” Iyengar said, “I can definitely say that…clearly, if the OIM was good enough and did all the things that Unisys and Oracle and IBM wanted, we would just use it. I think it’s a question of, is the technology mature? Is it ready for the enterprise? And is it close to being compatible with efforts underway by the vendors in the industry who really have credibility in data warehousing?”

ETI’s Marshall said getting a consensus on a core set of standards offers the opportunity to look at where “the OIM might have been missing some specifications, (where) there might be more in the Common Warehouse Meta model and vice versa.”

However, one of the proposals made was “there could even be a solution that said for a portion of the submission that refers to the Common Warehouse Meta model, it could point directly to the OIM standard in the MDC. That could be one of the solutions. It ranges from that to don’t use the OIM at all and diverge,” Marshall said.

“So we’re looking at finding something a little bit closer to using the OIM almost directly.”

Marshall said a process has been set up whereby each submission coming into the OMG is considered and each will have looked at the OIM to “see if we could find a way that they could just request some small changes in the OIM and use that as is. That’s the intent.”

According to Michael McKee, marketing manager of database servers with Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co., “from Microsoft’s perspective, having a unified industry standard is tremendously beneficial to customers and it would be disappointing if anything fragments that because we have already a good momentum behind the Microsoft repository,” McKee said.

The bottom line, Iyengar said, is that “we want to see the Microsoft environment work well with the OMG environment. Oracle and Microsoft might compete, but many of the members of the OMG are having to deal with both the platforms anyway, including Oracle who has their database on NT.

“The competition will continue and I’m sure there is going to be some tension over time as it evolves…but at the end of the day I think time will tell how these groups will work together,” Iyengar said.

Creese agreed. “If it turned out that the OMG and the MDC should in their minds meld and truly see the world as one, then one of them would collapse into the other and they haven’t done that. So there are clearly still a few differences between the two groups.”