From Software Futures, a sister publication In 1990 or 1991 I don’t think people sat down and said, gee, I really need to build a distributed computing architecture. They just didn’t know what that was! If anyone has a basis for saying that it has to be John Senor, vice president of privately-held 4GL and […]
From Software Futures, a sister publication
In 1990 or 1991 I don’t think people sat down and said, gee, I really need to build a distributed computing architecture. They just didn’t know what that was! If anyone has a basis for saying that it has to be John Senor, vice president of privately-held 4GL and data access company Information Builders, Inc (IBI). For Senor has led his company’s efforts to win hearts and minds for its EDA/SQL (Enterprise Data Access/SQL) middleware product these past five years.
By Gary Flood
Sometimes there’s been a certain chicken-and-egg runaround in what EDA is, stands for, means. Does EDA define what middleware is, or does it chameleon-like become what middleware is deemed to be this year? This potentially $3bn market is fraught with muddled middleware definitions and strategies. That’s not to suggest wicked manipulation of facts and perceptions by Senor from his Broadway, Manhattan, office. It’s more that the market and the product have drastically changed and EDA has morphed to fit. EDA – originally derived from the data source connectivity software in the backbone of IBI’s well-known 4GL Focus – first saw the publicist’s forceps as part of IBM’s prehistoric DB/2-oriented Information Warehouse (IW) announcement way back in September 1991. And in 1996, after incarnations as a means of accessing mainframe data, of linking relational and non-relational data sources, as a popular OEM-ed database gateway tool, and now as a Web and message-oriented middleware friendly thing, EDA is still there, in what we now call data warehouses, though DB/2 is far from being the prime database engine used. But we don’t intend to provide a history lesson here. As Senor says above, we didn’t know where any of this middleware stuff was going way back then, and we’re certain IBI didn’t either. Software Futures wanted to know where IBI sees the product going in this Wintel, Inter/Intranet-ed world. Does it still have a place?
Month by month
The first way of finding that out is to see if it’s making the company any money. Though closely held in some ways, IBI does give figures out on its performance. It reckons last financial year it was profitable at around $255m. Breaking that down further, we discover a number of figures – some as high as $70m – for EDA’s share of that largess. We’ll quote Senor’s figure of $40m, deriving from 4,500 server copies deployed across some 2,000 corporate accounts, but we’ll add his caveat: Around 70% of that figure represents leased as opposed to sold software, reflecting a long-held IBI tradition of not recognizing software sales outright but only month-by-month. For now, let’s understand a little better what’s been going on at some of those 2,000 corporate accounts, and why they chose the product as opposed to offerings from Sybase (MDI) or Platinum (Trinzic). We spoke first to a prominent North American IBI customer, Philips Semiconductor, a subsidiary of the Dutch electronics multinational Philips Electronics. PJ Matarese is a senior programmer analyst based in its Sunnyvale, California facility (where among useful things like custom chips and microcontrollers they make the small red mouse buttons you find in the middle of many laptop keyboards!). Philips Semiconductor currently uses three IBI products – Focus/EIS at the front-end, Focus for Windows as a reporting tool, and the mainframe (VM) version at the back-end. Why is EDA important to this picture? According to Matarese, it’s because of a decision taken by information managers at the organization to better integrate various sources of management data eight years ago – well before data warehouses. The plan was to combine information from Focus databases in North America with Europe and Asia Pacific. Important to implementing this plan was Focus/EIS on the desktop, a tool that he describes as being as easy to use as a Web browser in terms of hitting hot spots on the screen. But one of the key challenges to getting that data to the PC were the many different ways Philips was storing information worldwide. EDA/SQL, since it uses a high level API industry standard, ensures that developers are insulated from worrying about all these local differences. In other words, EDA/SQL helps the warehouse (now called the World Wide Sales and Information System) get all that useful data from the VM boxes – as it will also aid access data held in other servers formats, including Adabas and Oracle. Very little code will need to be changed to do that, thinks PJ. If EDA is doing such a useful job, you’re not going to be too surprised to hear that Matarese has a high opinion of IBI as a partner. I’ve been working with them for 12 years now, and I prefer their approach as a privately-held vendor to that of big companies like IBM or Lotus, where I’m just another number. The workforce is smaller and more personally-focused; it’s easier to get a hold of a product manager.
Hearts and minds
It’s software functionality rather than good access that has won the hearts and minds of another IBI customer we interviewed. Caterpillar Inc, HQed in Peoria, Illinois, is a well known designer and manufacturer of earth-moving and construction machines, diesel engines and gas turbines. It also competes in a number of service businesses, including finance, insurance and global counter trade. To support its global activities, it has built an information network spanning 160 countries and 23 time zones, and has EDI (electronic data interchange) links with nearly 1,000 suppliers worldwide. Software Futures spoke with Jerry Hosler, systems manager within the company’s corporate information services arm, who explained how Caterpillar is using EDA/SQL on a host of servers including HP-UX, DEC VAX and MVS platforms. There is also a wide range of client systems, including Windows 3.x, NT, 95, OS/2 and MS-DOS. Given this heterogeneous environment it’ll come as little shock to hear that Caterpillar had an objective to get good middleware in there to access relational and non-relational data sources, for which it elected to pick EDA. This need was originally highlighted three years ago by a database steering committee made up of differing groups, but while the company was already using IBI products it didn’t just automatically select EDA, says Hosler. We drew up a list of requirements, talked to various corporations, and carried out a six month proof of concept evaluation before a phased implementation, he adds. And after this proper procedure, is EDA delivering? We can’t really say we’re selling more tractors or more parts – but people are doing new things they couldn’t before with the data, he answers. How is IBI working out as a partner? [Its software] does complement our environment, but we had some initial problems. They’ve gone through some growing pains in terms of having to build up their support desk. But that now seems to have stabilized, though the environment is complex and requirements constantly changing.
Perhaps the biggest contribution EDA is making to Hosler and his team in this situation of flux is that it’s taken away the need for his developers to do a lot of the low-level tedious systems management things while they move on to the more business critical stuff. Which seems to be a very useful bit of functionality! London-based financial services company Sedgwick James Inc’s Memphis, Tennessee, operation is acting as a VAR for some Information Builders’ products, including EDA/SQL and the new Focus Fusion multidimensional database, since it plans to build data warehousing apps and sell them on to clients like Pepsico. Alan Josefsek is corporate resource group manager for its Information Services division, which writes risk management information systems. Why EDA? It gives us the ability to get into the client/server arena, onto real Windows and Windows 95 PC client software, he answers. It’s very responsive and provides greater depth than regular SQL. Basically it’s robust and quick and enables us to sell more systems. Even though most of these clients were drawn to the mainframe data access strengths of EDA, Senor says its future is where the market is going – in numbers, the biggest share of those 4,500 servers is now on Windows NT. But companies more active in those spaces – like Microsoft and Informix – have partnered with Senor’s company for its enterprise and host skills more than for any possible NT weenie genius. Gary Voth is Microsoft’s group product manager for Strategic Technologies and Standards in its Desktop and Business Systems unit. It was in his previous role – as marketing manager for SQL Server – that he negotiated the deal with IBI (sponsored and driven by Information Builders) where Microsoft licensed SDKs to IBI so it could build a BackOffice-mainframe link. We recognized that IBI is an important provider of middleware and enterprise interoperability products, he says. As part of Microsoft’s evolving WOSA (Windows Open Services Architecture) standard, he adds, Big Green has an interest in making sure our products work with our [enterprise] customers’ existing infrastructure. As in, stuff that doesn’t come from Microsoft…
IBI is very proud of its relationship with the Redmond Rampager – it made sure we got a copy of an interview it published in its house mag with Microsoft’s Bob Muglia, VP of Windows NT and BackOffice. Information Builders is an important partner for Microsoft because they help make it possible for SQL Server and Windows NT customers who also store data on host systems to easily access this data. And why pick IBI? [It] has a great middleware product and the first [such] product to move to Windows NT. But in the same article, lest you be swayed into thinking this lovefest marks IBI out for extra special love from Redmond, Muglia reminds us that Microsoft is Mohammed, and ISVs like IBI are the mountains that have to move to Him. We are not jointly involved in joint development activities with [IBI] per se. But I should point out that we rarely engage in joint development activities with third parties. As Voth acknowledges, IBI is driving the relationship (maybe too strong a word since IBI sells and supports the Open Database Gateway between EDA and SQL Server). And also note that Microsoft has had no hesitation in talking to other middleware providers, notably Platinum Technology, whose DBA tools likewise support SQL Server. However, Voth notes: Microsoft has a good relationship with IBI. We’re trying to make client/server technology and Windows help the enterprise and bring them to a broader market. Partnering with companies like IBI is great in helping us understand those customers.
Making life simple
Similarly, Informix’s Patricia Lai, product marketing manager for services and connectivity, which now has 20 Fortune 500 clients using the jointly-developed EDA-enabled Enterprise Gateway (sold and supported by both firms separately), was quite cheerful about why she’d chosen IBI. It’ll make her life simpler by allowing her to ignore stuff she or her company aren’t interested in. I don’t want to learn Adabas, she says simply. But Senor and IBI don’t mind that partners are coming to it for such (on the face of it) unglamorous reasons. We believe middleware should be off-the-shelf software that insulates customers from any of this low-level stuff. After all, if low-level was that important DCE (Distributed Computing Environment) would have won hands down a long time ago. Instead, he wants EDA to disappear from sight – into packages and applications, becoming a ubiquitous software connectivity standard. His vision is that EDA will in fact become EDA-in-the-box, lifting the line from the immensely successful Intel Inside campaign, and EDA will become as enabling a technology as a microprocessor in distributed computing applications, but not bought overtly by a customer, as it was in its first days as a product by Big Iron sites. Instead, he’s sure partnerships, VAR and package deals will deliver this for him. As proof of this concept he pointed us to a deal with the guys he came to the dance with – IBM. Of all the alliances the one I’m disappointed with is the IBM one, where it elected to invent its own middleware solutions [DataJoiner]. While it’s still important, that relationship is not as strategic as it once was. But we’re now very excited about our partnership with Lotus, where there’ll soon [July] be a copy management product version of NotesPump with an EDA driver. The range of partnerships Senor can point to does suggest he has an excellent chance of success. He has inked deals with hardware partners (Bull, ICL, Siemens, Sequent among others), VARs and database companies like the ones above and market leader Oracle. While there are still others in the game like IBM, Sybase and Platinum, Senor says these players aren’t as committed to making their middleware as open a standard as he is with EDA. Software Futures thinks he’s right. There are many middleware companies, and many middleware types, but there’s only Information Builders which is bringing old mainframe discipline and commitments to as broad a market as possible. We grew up in the IBM mould, and that affected a lot of the way we think about big accounts and support them. For every salesman we have two technical support people; there are hundreds of trained technical support personnel worldwide, Senor concludes. Who better to transition us from the world of 1991 to 1996 to the year 2000?