Information aggregation

XML’s coming-of-age as a data equalizer is fueling a furious information management push as vendors ranging from BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp. to a cadre of small players aim to simplify the way companies access data scattered across the enterprise.

EII (enterprise information integration) technology is middleware that sits on top of applications and other systems. It provides transactional access to data from such disparate sources as packaged applications, e-mail, or content management servers, and delivers it in standard XML format to external targets.

Although approaches to EII vary from XML querying to data modeling, they all eliminate the need to physically upload and centralize data, unlike ETL (extraction, translation, and loading) tools for data warehousing or content management databases. Instead, EII leaves data where it is, leveraging metadata repositories across multiple back-end sources to pull information transparently into new applications or portals.

Several observers described EII as providing a single “database veneer” for what is actually a system of virtual, federated databases.

“It looks to the outside user as if you are dealing with one database and carrying out the usual operations of access, update, and delete,” said Wayne Kernochan, managing vice president of platform infrastructure at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc. “But beyond [this front-end view] are separate systems with their own code and engines. EII in front of them makes it look like one.”

Application server giant BEA is the latest heavyweight to get behind EII with an initiative last month called Liquid Data. Liquid Data is expected to sit in front of databases and file systems, allowing users to search for data in various locations, including databases from Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., and IBM.

BEA, which has been moving aggressively to offer integration solutions, has not announced how it will position Liquid Data in its product line or when it will be released.

Database giants IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle are concocting ways to leverage XML and enable multiformat data access, transformation, and integration. Meanwhile, the EII space is seeing a raft of small companies rolling out solutions ahead of their larger brethren.

“Everyone is still in wait mode about what IBM, Oracle, and the other relational players’ [EII] solutions are going to be and how they are going to play out,” said Susan Funke, an industry analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “In the meantime, smaller vendors and the application server and integration guys are really picking things up with their XML functionality.”

At the recent XML Web Services conference in Boston, Ipedo Inc. unveiled Ipedo XML Views, which provides virtual connections to external XML and non-XML data sources and presents these snapshots in standard XML format to ease integration for portals, Web-based applications, and Web services, according to officials at the Redwood City, Calif., company.

New York-based MetaMatrix plans this week to release MetaMatrix System Version 3.0, a data modeling solution that creates an abstraction layer that sits atop application-data silos and manages metadata in a virtual database. The MetaMatrix System is comprised of a Java-based data integration engine, dubbed MetaMatrix Server, and MetaBase, a data management system and repository.

Business intelligence vendor Sagent Technology Inc. last month took the wraps off a new EII offering designed to allow users to combine ad hoc data from multiple sources. Sagent’s DataFlow server – repackaged as an ETL – provides real-time integration by combining external information on the fly with data from a data warehouse. The view can be called from within reporting tools and spreadsheets or via Web services.

Nimble Technology Inc. and startup Enosys Software Inc. each also released EII products last month that support XQuery, an XML query language currently under development with the W3C. Both solutions enable access to data, regardless of format or location, based on a single query.

Despite the influx of solutions from smaller vendors, observers expect the large database players to take a dominant position.

“It’s still a wide open market for a lot of these small players, but it’s very likely that they will be targets for acquisition once the big guys really start weighing in,” explained Aberdeen’s Kernochan.

For its part, IBM is touting its forthcoming Xperanto initiative, which is expected to exploit XQuery as well as the XML Schema standard to describe data and XSLT to carry out transformation as data moves in and out of systems, according to IBM officials.

Xperanto will be delivered as part of the next version of DB2 Universal Database as a way to present a federated approach to data integration through XML, text search, and data mining technologies, said Nelson Mattos, director of information integration and distinguished engineer at IBM’s Silicon Valley Labs.

“The goal of Xperanto is to deliver data in XML format so that new applications can manipulate and integrate it easily, and it can be used for analysis,” Mattos said.

Microsoft is making EII waves on two fronts: the next version of SQL Server database, code-named Yukon and due out in late 2003; and with its SharePoint Portal Server, according to officials at the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

“We are interested in the idea of transparency of data, so that no matter where it lives, we find it,” said Tom Rizzo, group product manager of SQL Server at Microsoft, adding that tight coupling of the database with SharePoint Portal will play a key role in their data integration strategy.

Last week, Microsoft announced SQL Server Notification Services, a platform that lets customers subscribe to enterprise application and other events and receive notifications via e-mail, instant messenger, cell phone, or Microsoft’s .Net Alert System. Data can come from a variety of sources inside and outside the enterprise, including non-Microsoft applications, Rizzo said.

Meanwhile, Oracle’s 9i application server translates data into a common view, supported by XML, via its transformation engine or via prebuilt adapters for common applications like popular ERP solutions, said Marie Goodell, Oracle’s 9i application server director of marketing. Oracle leverages its portal as the visualization mechanism that links and displays data from disparate sources, Goodell added.

Matt Berger of the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate, contributed to this report.

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