During local, state and national elections, the Chicago Sun-Times receives data from various sources in varying formats, as does its competition. With every second counting in the effort to be the first to inform readers of breaking news—particularly with the upcoming November elections—the challenge for metropolitan daily newspapers like the Sun-Times is to be able to quickly standardize and integrate incoming data.
"On election night, so much is going on that worrying about getting data up is the last thing you want to do. You want to worry about the news," said Jack Berry, general manager for the online edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. "On election night, youve got tons of data coming in from a variety of sources in a variety of formats—some of which is not good enough to become a format. My goal is to get it up as fast as we possibly can while keeping it accurate."
To accomplish his goal, Berry turned to systems integrator Pathfinder Associates LLC and developer Web Den Interactive, the development division of Brunswick New Technologies, for its Redberri 6.0 middleware platform.
Brunswick Corp., the Lake Forest, Ill., company that makes bowling balls, boats and billiards, is also in the technology game. Facing its own integration crisis several years ago, Brunswick developed internal software that worked so well the company decided to take it public. Originally slated as an open-source project within Brunswick for supply chain and dealer integration, Redberri, released earlier this summer, underwent a lengthy development cycle—hence its 6.0 versioning—that eventually included new functionality for commercial use.
Redberri 6.0 connects with legacy systems and converts data from one format to another. The software takes incoming data from outside applications or other sources and passes it to a companys internal systems for processing in its native format. Responses and other required outgoing actions are translated back into the native format the outside sources use for those systems. The result is a loose coupling of information that follows a service-oriented model, officials said.
A Map Builder capability in Redberri 6.0 provides a GUI that lets users depict relationships among external and internal systems. Redberri 6.0 also comes with its own source code, enabling users to make changes to the basic product for added functionality.
That ability to generate code automatically is what the Sun-Times Berry was looking for. Prior to implementing Redberri 6.0—previously code-named Business Integration Engine—Berry had to have a programmer on staff during elections to hand-code results coming from the field.
"One of the issues was trying to get local data as quickly as possible. The way data comes from local areas—commissioners and local races—is traditionally a reporter would sit out at a county election board and write [results] down, phone them in, and [someone else] would type them into the system," said Berry. "As you could guess, that wasnt the most timely way of dealing with this."
With Redberri, the Sun-Times takes a variety of file formats—XML from The Associated Press and FTP files from the city of Chicago and Cook County, Ill., for example—and pulls them into the Redberri engine, where they are translated into a unified format. That format is pulled into the MySQL AB database, which creates pages that are published in HTML on the Sun-Times Web site.
The technical and editorial leader of the Sun-Times online division, Berry said he looked at other technologies, such as Microsoft Corp.s BizTalk Server, for similar capabilities but didnt find what he needed.
"There were a number of reasons why [BizTalk] wouldnt have worked—[primarily] the added infrastructure that would have come with it. ... The cost was comparatively high, and its much more involved in terms of the amount of integration and development," said Berry. "Other tools, like WebMethods [Inc.s integration software], were too big and too cumbersome."
In contrast, what Berry liked about Redberri is its relative noninvasiveness and easy installation.
IT research company ZapThink LLC said that ease of use is the one differentiator that sets WDIs middleware apart.
"Its key differentiator is its ease of use," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink, in Waltham, Mass. "[Redberri] is better-suited to midmarket companies rather than large enterprises. Since its a new product on the market, its value proposition is its quick implementation."