IBM Makes InfoSphere Information Server a Force in IT

In the weeks leading up to and as part of its Information On Demand Conference that my colleague assessed, IBM introduced version 8.5 of InfoSphere Information Server and several related product updates. As my colleague suggested earlier, IBM has an ambitious agenda to provide comprehensive information management capabilities through a combination of product development and acquisitions. The breadth of this portfolio is impressive, and InfoSphere Information Server 8.5 makes significant strides in tying the various pieces together.

In the same way that IBM has sought to unify capabilities further up the BI stack with IBM Cognos 10, as I assessed, one of the key pieces of InfoSphere 8.5 is a new interface. InfoSphere Blueprint Director provides a broader view of the process associated with data integration projects. It also improves reusability, access to metadata, life-cycle management and collaboration. At first blush Blueprint Director might look like a data integration workflow, but it is really much broader, extending to the reports and analytics for which the data is being prepared. Throughout the process you can access the specs and metadata using some of the same tools that end users access, such as the Business Glossary. It will be interesting to learn how far these blueprints extend the reusability paradigm. The key will be how fine-grained it is and how well the developers have encapsulated and exposed the end points, which could occur at any step in the process if it is granular enough.

This release includes many under-the-cover enhancements, too. Version 8.5 includes autodiscovery of warehouse schema and some of the business glossary information from existing systems. High availability via clustering and fail-over mechanisms is available in both production and development environments. The release also provides scalability and load balancing at the domain and database tiers for development teams. Parallel processing of XML data provides another area of performance improvements.

I was impressed to learn that IBM has created a shared transaction context from change-data capture all the way through the date integration and data quality stages so you can insure integrity and recoverability of the movement of data through the system. And support for third-party source-code control systems is available via the SCCS standard.

If your organization uses data in multiple languages, you can now apply data-quality rules to more locales, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, the Netherlands, India, Traditional Chinese and Japanese Kana.

In its data warehouse portfolio, IBM announced InfoSphere Warehouse enhancements, a new Warehouse Pack and extensions to its Smart Analytics Systems. Optim Performance Manager and IBM Mashup Center are now bundled with InfoSphere Warehouse. In addition, SAS functions can execute inside the DB2 database engine. SAS has been making efforts to partner with other data warehouse vendors to provide similar capabilities. It makes for interesting bedfellows in that IBM owns SPSS, which competes with SAS, but the collaboration is good for joint SAS/IBM customers because it minimizes the need to move data around in order to perform advanced analytics.

IBM also added a third Warehouse Pack to its offerings. Supply Chain Insight comes with a predefined data model and 20 Cognos reports designed to perform analyses across vendor performance, inventory and distribution aspects of the supply chain process. Supply chain analytics are generally well understood, as my colleague noted, so a packaged offering can automate and speed the process of implementation, but you should expect additional work to be required. IBM describes these analyses as “examples” of the types of analyses you would perform and provides customization guidelines.

Announced in April, IBM’s data warehouse appliance offering, Smart Analytics, has been extended with three new systems. Two systems based on x86 architectures have been added to the lower end of the product family, and a system using IBM’s Power technology has been added, including a version with solid-state storage. The result is a product line that is nearly as broad as Teradata’s but much less unified. It will be interesting to see how the Netezza acquisition will affect these appliance offerings, assuming the deal is completed. I would expect the Netezza products to play a prominent role in future Smart Analytics offerings, so we suggest caution with respect to purchasing the existing products.

In addition to the enhancements above, IBM updated a variety of other pieces of the stack. This is where I think IBM still faces some challenges. The product set is complicated and could use some rationalization. Several updates were announced. Initiate Master Data Service 9.5 has capabilities helpful for creating and managing trusted data with external data sources and partners. It also provides a mashup composer for operating on trusted data. Traceability Server 3.0 adds more connections to master-data sources, serial number management and performance enhancements. Data Architect 7.5.3 adds support for Cognos and InfoSphere Warehouse with autodiscovery capabilities. And Guardiam Data Redaction 1.1.2 supports French, German and Spanish and can provide redaction for unstructured documents in FileNet.

Somewhat buried in these announcement was a technology preview of Hadoop-based “big data” analytics software called IBM InfoSphere BigInsights running both on premises and in the IBM Test Development cloud. It is only available for development purposes currently, but it is worth noting because it indicates the importance of Hadoop to IBM, which has even created its own distribution of Hadoop. I expect to see other vendors embracing Hadoop as well, as indicated in my earlier blog post regarding Hadoop World.

IBM is a force to be reckoned with in information management. It competes head-to-head with Oracle and SAP and also with Informatica, which has been steadily building its portfolio through acquisitions. IBM’s recent announcements help unify its stack. In contrast with the Cognos 10 portion of the stack I assessed recently, the company seems to have done a better job of integrating with third-party technologies but still has further to go in unifying the many components it offers. That said, the integration with its offerings for master data management and data warehousing make IBM InfoSphere Information Server 8.5 worthy of consideration.

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Ventana Research

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