Vendors Struggle to Unite Data Integration with Metadata

News Analysis: Marrying business process with IT process integration is the grand plan for the next generation of data integration products. But where, analysts keep asking, is vendors' metadata story?

"Federate," IBM says as it pitches its latest data integration installment: to wit, the folding of ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) technology acquired in IBMs Ascential acquisition into its WebSphere/Information Management family of data integration products.

IBM says, "Leave your data wherever it is"—in disparate databases or what have you. Somewhat magically, IBM technology will know how all that data relates to each other.

Its a nice story, and IBMs certainly not the only vendor telling it. Weve got vendors such as Informatica Corp. and Pervasive Software Inc. adding functionality like profiling to their ETL tools as prices on ETL-only tools deflate. Why the price drop, why the added goodies, why the emphasis on data integration?

Customers are looking for products to unite what eWEEKs Renee Ferguson calls "the two sides of the integration equation"—to wit, application integration to link business processes inside and outside an enterprise, and ETL for managing the quality of data in applications that are to be integrated.

"The technologies have long been seen as complementary, but now they are moving ever closer," Ferguson wrote back in 2003 when she was looking at this trend of companies "seeking simpler ways to unify inward-facing business processes and outward-facing business-to-business IT processes."

The goal is lofty. Some two years later, analysts say no vendor has reached it. Thats in spite of IBMs recent unveiling of the WebSphere Data Integration Suite, which is a repackaging of Ascentials next-generation "Hawk" data integration platform and the latest in a blur of IBM Software acquisitions in its Information Management strategy as it seeks the nirvana of integrating the two sides of data integration.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs latest unveiling of data integration products.

In essence, what data integration experts are begging for is the metadata story, from IBM and other vendors, since metadata is the way in which those two sides of data integration must be tied together.

"Ive sat through four or five briefings on Information Integrator, which was the precursor to all the acquisitions [IBM has] made," said Charlie Garry, a consultant and former Meta Group analyst. "Every time we have these briefings, Id ask them, Wheres the metadata story? How are you going to manage, in a federated environment, the metadata? I dont see how youre unifying that. They admitted, Yeah, we dont have a good metadata story.

"Thats the crux of the whole thing. If you dont have a good metadata story, you cant integrate. You just cant. Its impossible."

Next Page: Ascential was on the right path, but how far has it gotten?