Opposing vendor groups merge for Metadata

Two opposing camps of database and data-warehousing software vendors have ended a five-year rivalry, deciding to combine forces in search of a single metadata standard aimed at creating a plug-and-play environment for users who are building data warehouses.

In a joint announcement Monday, the Meta Data Coalition (MDC) and the Object Management Group Inc. (OMG) said the MDC would cease operations and merge with the OMG to work on a combined set of specifications for metadata interoperability between different data-warehousing tools. Until now, the two industry groups have supported competing standards for metadata, which functions as a card catalog for warehoused data.

The merger signals an end to a political tug of war between the Microsoft Corp.-affiliated MDC and the OMG metadata effort, which was backed by vendors such as Oracle Corp. and IBM. The MDC last month voted to discontinue its operations and the two groups now plan to work together to merge the features of the OMG’s recently ratified Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM) standard with the MDC’s Open Information Model (OIM) specifications.

A unified metadata standard should be issued by the OMG as the next version of CWM within six to 12 months, the two groups said. The resulting specifications should allow companies that run data warehouses to exchange metadata between products developed by different software vendors, improving interoperability and eliminating headaches that users currently face.

Michael Schiff, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va., said he was somewhat surprised by the timing of Monday’s announcement given the previous battles between the different vendor groups. “The important thing here is that there will be one standard evolving out of this,” Schiff said. “I expected this to occur, just not in my lifetime.”

The MDC is a consortium of 50 vendors and end users that was founded five years ago, and its metadata standard was first proposed by Microsoft and other members include BMC Software Inc., Informatica Corp., Computer Associates International Inc., NCR Corp. and SAS Institute Inc. By contrast Oracle, IBM, NCR, Unisys Corp., Hyperion Solutions Corp. and other vendors developed the OMG’s specification.

“If you get one standard that the industry supports, it stands a better chance of being implemented,” Schiff said. “The big problem with standards has always been the ‘s’ at the end.”

Users prodded the two groups to merge their standards efforts, said Jagdish Mirani, senior director of data warehousing marketing at Oracle. “The invisible hand of the marketplace has spoken,” Mirani said, adding that users will have more choices of data-warehousing tools because “the care and feeding of interoperability is now a non-issue.”

“The time is right for convergence,” said David Marshal, chief technology officer at Evolutionary Technologies International Inc. in Austin, Tex., and co-chairman of the MDC. “For end users, the value is tremendous,” he added. “It’s an opportunity for users to mandate that their vendors support a single standard.”

OMG president Bill Hoffman said the two groups had always worked together to an extent, but it became apparent in the past few months that consolidating the two standards efforts would produce better results.

But, Hoffman added, it will likely take six to 12 months to complete work on the combined standard to have an impact on the data-warehousing market. “A lot of it is up to when the membership gets it done,” he said. “The companies have to get their folks lined up behind this.”