A Union of Data

Managing data marriage of EAI, ETL eases integration of applications, data.

As companies seek simpler ways to unify inward-facing business processes and outward-facing business-to-business IT processes, vendors are converging EAI and data integration technologies.

Companies including Ascential Software Corp. are uniting the two sides of the integration equation: enterprise application integration for linking business processes inside and outside an enterprise and ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) for managing the quality of the data in applications that are to be integrated.

The technologies have long been seen as complementary, but now they are moving ever closer. ETL software developer Ascential this month said it would buy Mercator Software Inc. for $106 million; Mercator has its roots in EAI.

Mercator, of Wilton, Conn., provides integration, data transformation and routing software that enables companies to exchange information internally and externally with customers, partners and suppliers. The Mercator products create an opportunity for Ascential to add real-time integration to its predominantly batch data integration capabilities, according to Ascential officials, in Westboro, Mass.

"The acquisition of Mercator is completely 100 percent about expanding our capabilities in enterprise data integration. A lot of people think thats a fancy term for EAI; our definition includes ETL," said Ascential President Pete Fiore.

While software makers from the EAI and ETL camps have operated independently for the most part, some developers have started linking the technologies. Data Junction Corp., which last week said it would be acquired by embedded database maker Pervasive Software Inc., unveiled in February its Integration Architect, a broker for tying together systems and applications.

EAI software developer WebMethods Inc. and the big ETL player Informatica Corp. in April rolled out Business Activity Platform, software that combines features of their respective platforms to enable users to put an Informatica data extraction routine into a WebMethods workflow.

WebMethods, of Fairfax, Va., and Informatica, of Redwood City, Calif., want to further the union of EAI and ETL and are co-developing a common metadata repository that will enable both sets of technologies to share business rules so that any transformation that is applied in one tool can be reflected in the other.

At the same time, the companies respective developers have talked about creating a manager tool that allows users to manage business processes, whereby Informaticas tool set will be exposed to the WebMethods Manager tool as part of the management process.

The convergence of EAI and ETL tools is a good thing for end users who are looking for ways to deal with fewer vendors in their IT shops, according to Bob Leo, director of data management and administration at Landstar System Inc.

"The things ETL vendors do they do very well, and the things that message brokers do they do very well, so it really muddies the lines to have [so much] technology out there," said Leo, in Jacksonville, Fla.

"If I have one throat to choke that can get my data moved when it needs to be moved, either in real time with the broker or in batch, I can leverage my relationships as those companies start to come together," said Leo.

Even as the two worlds grow close together, Ascentials Fiore doesnt want to alienate the EAI vendors his company could still work with.

"We dont want to be in EAI per se; we dont want to provide messaging, etc.," Fiore said. Rather, he said, Ascential wants to remain complementary to the EAI vendors that Mercator once competed with.

Industry analysts disagree, saying the two technologies will converge, rather than complement, each other.

"ETL, in and of itself, will start to transform over the next six to nine months, as its at an inflection point with e-business," said JoAnne Friedman, CEO of Connekted Minds LLC, an IT research group in Toronto. "ETL will become part and parcel of integration, [including] business process integration, tying process to data integration."