In March 2005, IBM announced its acquisition of data integration vendor Ascential. Four years previously, it had bought Ascential's parent Informix for its database portfolio but left the data integration element behind. What happened in those intervening years that changed IBM's mind about owning its own data integration technology portfolio? A major factor was the burgeoning market for business intelligence.
Business intelligence (BI) promises to turn the oceans of data that businesses have acquired into meaningful insights. But while analysing and interpreting data from a single source is a relatively simple task, frequently businesses need to analyse data from multiple sources. Unless the quality of the data is maintained, the analysis can prove fruitless.
And while the task of building a data warehouse has always relied on data cleansing, CIOs are now being asked to provide real-time information. This inevitably creates a tension between quality and speed of analysis. The result of this tension has been a renewed interest in data integration.
According to analyst group Forrester Research, the market for ETL (extract, transform and load) tools capable of reaching into legacy databases and transporting data to centralised stores grew 13.5% in 2004. As recently as 2002, that growth was a mere 3%.
Indeed, the link between BI and data integration is reflected in the number of BI vendors that develop and sell integration tools. Information Builders, Cognos and SAS all have data integration offerings of their own. Forrester's Philip Russom writes, "The market is getting the message that a high-quality ETL tool can come from a BI vendor."
Microsoft and Business Objects have also strengthened their data integration capabilities, and both have signed partnership deals with data integrator Attunity. In part, this is because getting value from BI means that businesses must attempt to collate all their data, says Richard Branch, managing director of Attunity. "Web services will heighten user's expectations of the amount and nature of data available to them," says Branch. "BI users will expect to access new forms of data that web services allow such as video, all of which will need to be integrated."
The fact that IBM, which has concentrated its efforts on application integration, has acquired one of the leading players in data integration demonstrates that the two functions now play equal, pivotal parts in enterprise information management. Stand-alone data integrators will battle application and BI vendors with affiliated integration tools for control of the market, because if data is to be analysed quickly and simply, it will need to be integrated.