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Ascential World 2004: Next Evolution of Data Integration

Brave new future for integration vs. market and customer adoption.

VentanaMonitor™

Summary

Ascential Software's annual customer event, Ascential World 2004: The Global Data Integration Conference, was held in Las Vegas in late October. Highlighting progress already made on its development roadmap outlined a year ago, Ascential provided a peek at what it calls a "superior customer experience" to improve the out-of-the-box experience. The goal is to alleviate what remains a complex, skills intensive, IT-centric process. With demonstrable evidence of real innovation coming from its development efforts, Ascential is still faced with the challenge of moving a seemingly reluctant market toward accelerated adoption of their newer offerings rather than older versions. Ventana Research recommends organizations take a more focused "integration management" approach, assess hard and soft costs of one-off data integration projects and maintenance tasks, and understand how the ongoing data churn below the surface impacts the ability to manage the business.

Assessment

In his opening comments at Ascential World 2004 in Las Vegas last month, President Pete Fiore reflected on how, despite obvious changes to technological features and functions, fundamental data integration (DI) approaches have not significantly changed in 10 to 20 years. The process is still too complex, skills intensive, and IT centric. In the face of this relative inertia, he reiterated Ascential's vision of DI as a growing, strategic initiative and promised to push forward on its pledge to improve both efficiency and effectiveness for its customers.

Ascential continues to show progress on its development roadmap, initially laid out a year ago. Jim Welch, VP of Product Operations, admitted the timing of some features and certain expectations for future releases code-named HAWK (due now for G.A. in late 2005), and later RHAPSODY, have been modified since being announced. On the plus side, features originally expected with HAWK came early with the interim release of Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite 7.5 last May and 7.5.1, due out before year-end 2004. These features include 3x improvement in processing throughput, full integration of Mercator's mainframe access capabilities as the web services-enabled DataStage TX, extended SOA infrastructure throughout the suite, production-ready grid computing enablement, as well as usability and self-documenting upgrades.

Citing unprecedented design interaction with customer advisory boards and investments in a new testing facility and a usability design center, Mr. Welch itemized four key development tenets underlying HAWK and RHAPSODY:

  1. Simplify the complexity of DI projects
  2. Address the most demanding issues
  3. Facilitate collaboration
  4. Expand the reach of integration to all modes of business processes and functions

Providing an exclamation point to his comments, Mr. Welch's session concluded with a live demonstration of Ascential's next-generation data profiling and auditing capabilities that will be part of the HAWK release. This demonstration provided insight to the simplification and process-driven aspects of the future of Ascential Enterprise Data Integration, which we believe will accelerate IT adoption.

To hear Ascential tell it, and as the music group Timbuk3 has put it, "Future's so bright, I gotta wear shades." However, as Ventana Research has repeatedly observed, and customer case studies at the conference illustrated, the newest features and infrastructure vision are often slow to find their way into practice. This is meant as no indictment of Ascential, nor of its vision, which Ventana Research continues to view as a positive influence on the market. Rather it is an observation on the market adoption rate, which is confirmed by our research and which Ascential will continue to be challenged to influence.

Market Impact

Ascential Software continues to impress Ventana Research with its single-minded pursuit of its vision of the future of enterprise data integration. We sense the organization is adapting reasonably well to the slower-growth realities of today's tentative marketplace. While Ascential has been very active in communicating customer success, Informatica has been fairly quiet in its communications while working through significant changes in senior management. We anticipate Informatica will emerge from these changes with a renewed focus and competitive presence. Microsoft cannot be forgotten as the upcoming release of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Integration Services will put new low-end pressure on Ascential and Informatica.

Recommendation

Data Integration (capital "D" capital "I") can no longer be encapsulated in the overly simplified ETL three-letter acronym. Years of one-off data warehousing projects have left many organizations with no data integration strategy to speak of, and an ill-conceived integration infrastructure. All organizations are challenged to do more with less in today's business climate. The role of Data Integration is critical to define as part of the larger Integration Management agenda. Ventana Research strongly recommends capitalizing on this mandate to assess both hard and soft costs of existing, often disconnected data integration projects and maintenance tasks for IT process and performance improvement.

Jack Hafeli is Vice President & Research Director - Customer Intelligence and Demand Chain Performance at Ventana Research, a research and advisory services firm.

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