Linking Data in Real Time

Data Junction, iWay, others target unified platforms for analyzing information from diverse sources.

As IT organizations are asked to provide more real-time views of data, the lines between technologies that integrate and manage data and applications are blurring.

Vendors that provide software for data integration, data ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) and EAI (enterprise application integration) are often claiming capabilities in their products that were previously distinct.

Data Junction Corp., for instance, has traditionally been known for its ETL software. But earlier this month, it announced a product called Integration Architect that is an integration broker for tying together systems and applications. The product includes tools for integration process, adapter, document, and extract schema designers and a data browser. It also includes an open XML-based metadata repository for managing and exchanging data and corresponding integration processes.

Officials at the Austin, Texas, company are positioning the product as a replacement for or an alternative to existing EAI technologies from companies such as TIBCO Software Inc., SeeBeyond Inc., Vitria Inc. and WebMethods Inc., although they concede that initially it will likely be used by most customers in a complementary way to those technologies.

Other companies in the data integration space, such as Informatica Corp., Cognos Inc. and Business Objects SA, although increasingly offering real- time analytical capabilities through Web services, see themselves only as complementary to EAI vendors.

In fact, a new acronym is emerging for this kind of real-time data analysis—EII, for enterprise information integration. IT managers can be confused.

"Its a very gray area," said Dale Ianni, chief architect at ING North America Insurance Corp., in Hartford, Conn. Ianni said that while EAI products tie together applications at the process level, EII applications federate the data generated by those applications.

With little prompting, Bob Stafford can reel off the names of all the laws and government initiatives that made application integration a key IT priority for the state of New Mexico while he was its CIO.

There was the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Integrated Justice Information Systems initiative, the Homeland Security Act and the Workplace Development Board initiative.

All required integration of applications and sharing of data among state agencies, as well as the federal and local governments, said Stafford, who left the position of CIO at the end of last year.

"Its a massive undertaking," Stafford said.

To solve the problem, Stafford turned to iWay Software Inc.s Intelligent Adapters EAI technology. He said the technology is the best hes seen at uniting data from disparate applications.

"They developed their technology on an open architecture based on XML," Stafford said. "We havent had the problems we encountered with a lot of early middleware that was proprietary."

iWays software minimized the custom coding normally needed in integration, Stafford said.

"Our integration challenge was that we had disparate databases, and information couldnt be shared between state agencies and county and local governments. The adapters allowed us to share information seamlessly and securely over the Internet."

With use of LDAP software from Oblix Inc., New Mexico manages authentication and authorization to that data for users, including citizens. It uses WebFocus, developed by iWays parent company, Information Builders Inc., to provide client-side reporting.

"We used iWay and LDAP to let people get information and avail themselves of government services," Stafford said.

The state uses iWays technology without using EAI technology, although it uses Microsoft Corp.s BizTalk product to integrate applications running on SQL Server, Stafford said.

Operating in the banking and financial services industry, which demands intensive information consolidation, ING has unique integration challenges as well. As recently as 2000, the Atlanta-based company made two major acquisitions, buying ReliaStar Financial Corp. and Aetna Financial Services.

ING uses IBMs MQ Series as its application integration broker in combination with Informaticas Power Center for data integration. The company does traditional batch processing of data for data warehouses and maintains an information hub with "near-real-time" information, according to Ianni.

With its latest acquisitions, INGs challenge was to keep its acquired entities operating independently of one another while presenting to the market one company with unified products and services.

Ianni said that given customers widely divergent integration needs from one enterprise to the next, hes skeptical that any single product can solve all a companys integration challenges.

"From the tools perspective, theyre all converging around XML as the underlying data representation layer and Web services interoperability, but I dont think one size fits all," Ianni said.