IBM releases Hawk and Serrano to beta

Less than two months after closing its acquisition of Ascential Software Corp., IBM Corp. is releasing to beta testing two data integration technologies, Ascential’s software codenamed Hawk and IBM’s Project Serrano.

Serrano is a refresh of IBM’s Information Integration portfolio, which includes tools to help customers centrally tap into corporate data from various sources.

In March, IBM announced plans to buy Ascential for US$1.1 billion and add Ascential’s complementary technology to its portfolio. Once the deal was complete, IBM began working to integrate its Serrano project, which focuses on unstructured data, with Ascential’s developing Hawk software, which targets structured data.

IBM hasn’t yet decided whether the two products will be bundled together and sold as one, according to Nelson Mattos, an IBM engineer who focuses on its Information Integration line. Pricing and version numbers are also up in the air. IBM expects to complete the beta period and release Hawk and Serrano by the end of the year.

One major focus in the Hawk and Serrano products is simplifying the user interface and streamlining development to make it easier for users to create application integrations, Mattos said. Serrano also features significant new work on search technology. IBM is exploring the use of automatically populating metadata tags to make it easier for users to search for concepts.

“Search engines don’t understand semantics,” Mattos said. “Rock: That could mean a stone, a movement back and forth, or music. How do you find documents that refer to facts instead of words?”

Metadata tags and analytical tools can break documents down into parts and identify the way phrases and other data are used, making it easier for software to contextually categorize information. IBM is working with partners such as iPhrase Technologies Inc. to create industry-specific annotation plug-in applications.

IBM is recruiting beta testers through its Web site, where more information on the beta is available.

Ascential customer Atique Shah, vice president of CRM (customer relationship management) and technology solutions for Churchill Downs Inc., said he looks forward to the user-interface changes and additional system integration capabilities promised in Hawk. Shah is nearing the end of a massive, multimillion-dollar IT overhaul at Churchill Downs that involved selecting and deploying new backend infrastructure and a new Epiphany CRM system for the Louisville, Kentucky, race track and betting facilities operator.

When Shah heard IBM was buying Ascential, he worried the change would topple Churchill Downs’ carefully assembled stack of heterogeneous software systems. “The fear was, does this mean I have to change all my database schemas and clusters? Oracle is the foundation for us,” he said.

But, while he’s resigned to weathering some adjustments — “IBM’s going to WebSphere-ize [Ascential],” he said. However, Shah is reassured that IBM is committed to playing nicely with software from rival vendors.

He’s been pleased with the job Ascential has done supporting Churchill Down’s million-plus daily transactions and gluing together its enterprise information. “We have 27 unique data sources,” Shah said. “From a quality perspective, Ascential is a weapon. if you use it the right way, it does miracles for you. It makes ETL (extract, transform and load) look easy.”

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