Computer Associates Splashes Into the Data Warehousing Market with Platinum Technology Acquisition

  • Written By: M. Reed
  • Published On: September 1 1999



Product Background

In 1993, a vendor of artificial intelligence software named Trinzic acquired Channel Computing of Portsmouth, NH and inherited a product called InfoPump. InfoPump was a script-based data movement tool for the portion of the data warehousing market known as Extract/Transform/Load (ETL) tools, and was a market leader in the early 1990's. In 1995, Platinum technology International, inc. purchased Trinzic. The large influx of research & development capital from Platinum allowed the InfoPump developers to greatly enhance the 3.0 version of the product. Unfortunately, at the same time, market analysts began to predict the demise of scripted data-movement tools. The belief was that graphical tools were necessary to reduce the need for programmers and increase use by the business analysts who actually owned the data. In 1997 Platinum began development of DecisionBase 1.0, a combination of a GUI mapping tool (developed in-house), Platinum's Open Edition Repository version 1.6 (for metadata management, technology acquired by Platinum's purchase of the Reltech and Brownstone companies), and InfoPump 3.2 (for data movement).

DecisionBase 1.0 was released in March of 1998, but GUI mapping functionality was severely limited in the initial release. For instance, the mapper always assumed a row that was being moved to a target database was an insert and the code had to be manually modified to allow an update. By March of 1999, with release 1.9, a significant amount of new functionality had been added, including the ability to bulk-load data to Oracle and IBM UDB, support for Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, the ability to do pre- and post-processing, and the ability to modify the generated SQL from within the mapper.

InfoWorld Magazine favorably reviewed the product in March of 1999. The major drawback was the DecisionBase price tag, which was listed at approximately $200,000, depending on the number of metadata scanners and database interfaces necessary. This was the major contributor in the size of the installed base, which at last count was approximately 40 customers.

The market for ETL tools is expected to grow from $327 million dollars in 1996 to $620 million dollars by 2001, an increase of almost 90%. The number of vendors in the ETL market in the mid-1990's was small, comprised of basically four companies (Prism, Carleton, Evolutionary Technologies, Trinzic) plus some modest offerings from IBM. In the past four years, the space has become very crowded, with over fifty vendors competing in various market niches (e.g. specializing in access to VSAM databases). Four vendors still primarily control the general market, including Ardent, Computer Associates, Informatica, and Sagent, with some offerings from IBM and Oracle. Prism has merged with Ardent, Carleton with Apertus, and Platinum with Computer Associates. The major vendors are now working furiously to find a competitive differentiator, with the most popular differentiator being integration with Enterprise Resource Planning packages such as SAP and PeopleSoft.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

Computer Associates' DecisionBase strategy is to create a new product, to be known as "DecisionBase TND" (The Next Dimension). This product will include:

  • Integration with CA Unicenter TNG (The Next Generation) to provide integrated workflow services and replace Platinum's "Synergy" product. Unicenter will also provide high-speed data transport services, probably via CA's "TransportIT" product (probability 80%).

  • Integration with CA Jasmine TND Object Oriented Database. This relates to CA's "Aspen" repository effort, which is the new Microsoft Repository that Platinum co-developed with Microsoft.

  • Integration with Platinum's Forest & Trees product for data visualization. We believe portions of this integration are a result of an ongoing internal Platinum effort known as "Project C" (an integrated decision support infrastructure suite which would provide services that unify multi-vendor decision support tools)

Platinum technology's main competitive advantage is the metadata management aspect of the product, as it is one of only two true enterprise metadata repositories on the market. For customers interested in a true fully functional repository capable of functions like impact analysis and data rationalization, this is a strong selling point. However, for customers only interested in data movement, the price tag associated with the inclusion of the repository is a difficult sell. The other advantage is that the underlying data movement engine is the InfoPump product, which is feature-rich and has a very large installed base. Computer Associates appears to be positioning the product as a strategic end-to-end data warehouse solution. As stated in their press release: "A Data Warehousing strategy must be based on the most powerful technology for collecting all the information that might possibly be relevant, regardless of its form and its location - in-house, the Web or other public data - through a powerful infrastructure, and through intelligent data collection tools. And to collect, understand, to correlate and leverage this information, through comprehensive metadata management. And to analyze it, using intelligence technologies. And to present the results effectively, through sophisticated visualization technology. And to deliver it, through modern user interfaces and the Web." It is likely that this strategy will be refined over the next few years as CA acquires additional software companies and their technologies.

Product Strengths

  • The product exhibits strength in its metadata management layer, especially for companies with on-going metadata management projects. Platinum's repository technology was industry-leading, as evidenced both by its large installed base and the fact that it was chosen by Microsoft to co-develop the repository included in Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 (see http://msdn.microsoft.com/repository/). The repository technology is a significant competitive advantage with customers interested in metadata, since none of CA's closest competitors have a competitive offering.

  • Data Movement Engine: the InfoPump data movement technology is well known in the industry for its robustness, is very flexible and has a strong development language. It has the capability to handle virtually any datatype, including exact numeric and support for Binary Large Objects (BLOB's).

  • Database interfaces: Another key differentiator is the fact that the interfaces which interact with the source and target databases are written to the native C API ("Application Programming Interface" for the C/C++ programming languages) supplied by the vendor, where possible. Many other vendors use generic ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity, a Microsoft technology that is becoming a de-facto standard) for connectivity. Using the C API (for example Microsoft and Sybase call theirs "DBLib" and "CTLib", Oracle's is "OCI") allows the interface to take advantage of specific vendor features, some of which are quite powerful. ODBC is the least common denominator, so these specific features become unavailable. The C API also allows for support of non-standard datatypes that the vendor may implement, while the ODBC standard only supports a limited number of datatypes.

  • Integration with CA Unicenter will provide CA with access to its large installed base. Depending on the pricing model CA chooses, customers may regard it as just another Unicenter "plug-in".

  • CA will probably improve the method currently used to access legacy "flat files". A more intuitive approach to mainframe and UNIX file systems would be a big improvement.

Product Challenges

  • Computer Associates only recently completed the acquisition of Platinum technology. Since CA previously had virtually no presence in the data warehousing space, and a great number of Platinum employees either were not retained by CA or left on their own, it will likely be some time before the CA sales force can effectively market the DecisionBase product.

  • Another consequence of CA's new arrival to data warehousing will be market perception. Customers about to set out on expensive, long-term data warehouse projects will want strong assurances that CA is committed to data warehousing, both from a research and development perspective, and from a product line perspective. Customers who have doubt about CA's commitment to the product will go elsewhere.

  • Platinum was tardy in porting DecisionBase to the most popular UNIX platforms (HP/UX, Sun Solaris, and IBM AIX), while DecisionBase's closest competitors are already strong on those platforms. CA's position on UNIX ports has not been publicly announced, and DecisionBase is only available currently on Sun Solaris, and only in beta.

  • CA also lags behind the competition in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integration. The product does have the ability to read SAP data, but there is no SAP BW integration (already present in the Ardent product), and no integration with PeopleSoft (present in both Ardent DataStage and Informatica PowerMart). If industry rumors are correct and CA acquires PeopleSoft, integration may occur sooner, but as with all CA acquisitions, integration of the corporate cultures and products would be long and painful.

  • Release dates have been pushed back and many customers are frustrated. Since the CA acquisition of Platinum, a number of key employees have left the company or had their positions redefined. This, in conjunction with the fact that the product future has been completely changed, will make it difficult for CA to meet the announced "Q4 1999" beta release date.

  • Cost. DecisionBase costs a great deal more than many of the competing technologies (from 50% to as much as 500%).

  • Widgets and Wizards. Competing products have pre-defined "widgets" (code snippets to perform more complex processing) which can be dragged and dropped into the GUI. DecisionBase is currently woefully short in this area, and provides no pre-defined widgets with the shipping product. DecisionBase is also short in the area of wizards, assistants that walk the user through a "question and answer" session to help fill out complex dialogs.

  • Mainframe data access. Some competing products have embedded technology to access non-DB2 data residing on IBM MVS mainframes, as well as other systems, often without the need to convert the data into a "flat file". Ardent's acquisition of Prism should give them a leg up on CA in this area.

  • InfoPump upgrade path. There is no way to migrate existing InfoPump code into the repository. This means that existing InfoPump customers can not upgrade to DecisionBase unless they are willing to re-write all of the work they have already done.

Vendor Recommendations

  • CA should make sure that enough developers are committed to the product to ensure timely releases.

  • DecisionBase is already behind competing products in its feature set, so any further delay will hurt sales.

  • A strong effort should also be made to complete the UNIX ports in a timely manner.

  • As many pre-defined widgets as possible should be included.

  • Mainframe data access needs to be improved.

  • CA should increase the amount of pure product development effort to add needed features, especially in relation to the effort being expended on integration with other CA products. DecisionBase is a viable product, but it lives in a highly competitive market, which is growing rapidly. The product needs to be managed with this in mind.

User Recommendations

DecisionBase contains powerful technology which customers should investigate. If there is a strong need for metadata management, DecisionBase with its Open Edition Repository is a good candidate. Current CA Unicenter customers may also find the forthcoming integration with DecisionBase a powerful feature. DecisionBase's use of native database interfaces will also be important to some users, especially ones who use the more precise datatypes available in some RDBMS's (i.e. Oracle's Number datatype when used with a greater precision/scale than the standard Float datatype, the Exact Numeric Decimal datatypes in Sybase and Microsoft).

Due to pricing, DecisionBase is not a good candidate for customers who have no interest in metadata management, or for smaller data mart implementations. Incomplete integration with ERP products also makes DecisionBase a poor candidate for customers who wish to extract data from SAP or PeopleSoft.

Given its incomplete integration with mainframe data access products, DecisionBase may also not be the appropriate product for customers with a heavy reliance on legacy mainframe data sources (i.e. IMS, IDMS, and VSAM).

 
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