Is There Finally a Metadata Exchange Standard on the Horizon?

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Event Summary

"REDWOOD SHORES, California, BLUE BELL, Pensylvania., SOMERS, New York, DAYTON, Ohio, and SUNNYVALE, California, Sept. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Oracle Corp., Unisys Corp. (NYSE: UIS), IBM Corp., NCR Corp. (NYSE: NCR) and Hyperion (Nasdaq: HYSL) today announced the submission of the common warehouse metadata interchange (CWMI) standard to the Object Management Group (OMG). The proposed standard is designed to help companies integrate e-business systems quickly and easily by supplying a common format for enterprise systems to exchange data.. Today, the many software products used to create warehouses or other e-business systems are based on proprietary data formats, which often prevents information sharing between products and hampers access to the knowledge needed to make timely business decisions".

The advent of e-business, enterprise portals and other new technologies makes metadata interchange even more critical, since tools from many different vendors must work together in a single solution.

Market Impact

For a number of years, customers have been frustrated by their inability to share metadata (data about data) between different vendors' tools. Most vendors use proprietary database formats to store the metadata captured by their warehousing tool, and either don't publish an Application Programming Interface (API), don't have sufficient market share to convince other vendors to interoperate with them, or refuse to interoperate with other vendor(s) for competitive reasons. This forces users to deal with "islands of metadata". For example, a user may have captured all the information about his database tables in a business intelligence tool. The user then wants to work with a data movement tool, but that tool can not read the BI tool's metadata repository. The user is then forced to re-describe all of the metadata within the data movement tool's repository, and that likely can not be shared with any other product. In addition, the user is now forced to ensure that both repositories are synchronized when the source tables change.

To alleviate this and other issues, many vendors have been considering using the Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard. The Common Warehouse Metadata Interchange (CWMI) standard is the next step in this effort. The Object Management Group (OMG) is an industry standards body who will attempt to promote this standard across the industry. A revised specification is expected in the winter of 1999 with ratification in the spring of 2000.

User Recommendations

There are two types of industry standards in Information Technology. The first is de jure (legislated) and the second is de facto (in fact). An de jure example is the OMG CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) standard for inter-process communications. This standard was agreed to by many of the major vendors, but Microsoft used COM (Common Object Model) instead. As more vendors moved towards the Microsoft standard, CORBA fell from prominence. The de jure standard failed in favor of the de facto standard. There are also often competing de facto standards being advocated by different industry groups. There have been many other occurrences of this phenomenon over the past several years, as documented in Table 1.

Table 1: A brief sampling of the standards wars
Standard Sponsor Competing Standard Sponsor Winner
MD-API OLAP Council OLE-DB Microsoft OLE-DB
IDAPI Borland ODBC Microsoft ODBC
OIM MDC CWMI OMG ??????????
Note that MDC is a proponent of a standard originally crafted by Microsoft.

There are already competing standards for integrating metadata repositories, including CDIF (Case Data Interchange Format), and MDIS (Metadata Interchange Standard). The conspicuous absence of the major repository vendors, Computer Associates (which now owns the Platinum Repository, the market leader), Microsoft (whose repository was co-developed with Platinum technology), and Viasoft (which purchased Rochade), makes us believe this will be another failed standardization attempt. Also conspicuously absent are many of the major business intelligence tool vendors, such as Cognos, Microstrategy, and Business Objects. Many of these vendors are members of the Meta Data Coalition (MDC) which has proposed the Open Information Model as a standard. In April of 1999, the MDC and the OMG announced a cooperative effort to develop metadata standards. However, we find it odd that the MDC is not mentioned in this press release, nor are the vendor members of the MDC.

A standardized approach to metadata would be very much in the customer's interest. However, in order for it to benefit users, all of the major vendors must adopt the same standard. We recommend that customers investigating purchases of e-business and data warehousing products press vendors to adopt this standard for any products timed for release after the standard is adopted, but realize that de facto, not de jure standards will likely rule.

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