IBM pushes data middleware tools

IBM last month launched middleware offerings the vendor says will help enterprises deal with the incomplete data scattered various databases and formats.

According to Justin LaFayette, director, EMDS product strategy for IBM Canada, the new IBM middleware — WebSphere Product Center, Customer Center Version 6, and Integration Center — comprise a “information service” solution.

The software is designed to accelerate the adoption of service oriented architectures (SOA) and to help customers remove the traditional barriers to information sharing, LaFayette said.

The tools are primarily a consolidation of products acquired in an IBM shopping spree that included the purchase of Trigo Technologies (product information middleware); Toronto-based DWL (customer data integration software); Ascential Software (enterprise information integration); and SRD (identity resolution software).

On the tools side, IBM’s purchase of Venetica added technology for dealing with unstructured content, such as images and catalogues, while the Ascential Software purchase brought core tools for moving and synchronizing data among repositories.

On the analysis front, SRD’s identity-resolution software helps companies discover “non-obvious” relationships among their customers, while DWL’s technology helps consolidate customer data from multiple enterprise repositories, IBM said.

LaFayette said the tools are a part of IBM’s “master data” approach. Last month, IBM’s US$15 billion software division unveiled a newly formed business unit, dubbed master data management (MDM), a term IBM uses to describe its platform of information integration wares.

For example, WebSphere Customer Center Version 6, features improved integration and streamlined implementation to manage and access customer data, IBM said.

The company added the products have a common purpose: to help organizations gain control of the disparate data sources strewn across their IT infrastructures.

Combined, they can move data among systems, clean and synchronize data sources, and compile contextual snapshots of customers and products.

Another product, WebSphere Metadata Server, due to ship in the spring of 2006, is designed to allow metadata to be more easily managed, accessed and shared across heterogeneous systems, IBM said.

“MDM addresses the issue of how companies manage their master data, particularly very diverse, heterogeneous type companies that have lots of different systems,” Lafayette said. “The problem that companies are dealing with is that they look across their operations, and they want to be acting more holistically…but there are traditional channels and silos that have been built up, getting in the way of that.”

IBM doesn’t expect its customers to buy the entire stack at once. Rather, implementations typically will focus on solving a particular business problem, according to the firm.

In product-centric industries such as retail and manufacturing, companies tend to try to organize product-related master data, while services-oriented industries such as banking and insurance tend to look to first resolve customer data-integration issues.

Data quality is a huge driver, Lafayette said. “So if you’re always cleaning your data after the fact, your co-operational data never gets cleaned.” The tools are designed to “clean” this data on an ongoing basis, resulting in more accurate information, he added.

IBM’s master data suite fits in nicely with today’s overarching IT trend, service oriented architecture (SOA), which demands that a full range of applications distributed across the enterprise have access to a consolidated set of services.

Vendors competing in the master data management space include Oracle Corp. and SAP AG. IBM’s approach has been to acquire niche vendors that, together, will provide a broad data management suite, Lafayette said, and are based on standards-based technology.

Application management is particularly important as more companies deploy composite application environments and virtualized infrastructures, according to Jasmine Noel, a principal analyst at research firm Ptak, Noel & Associates.

The combination creates a dynamic environment that magnifies the need for application management. “Application managers cannot know with any certainty what the runtime application composition looks like unless it is actually discovered from the production environment,” Noel said.

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