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Mainframe plays key role in information on demand

The mainframe remains the data server for the majority of the world's business-critical data. However, data-mining analysis tools to take advantage of this data are typically narrowly confined.

Ten years ago, the idea of a computing utility that would dispense information on demand first began to be bruited; and today, it is beginning to be implemented in the real world. The key value-add from such a utility, compared to today's fragmented applications and data stores, is not only IT cost-effectiveness but also, and more importantly, full access by the business to the right bit of information or the right change in information immediately. This kind of real-time information access translates not only to better decision-making, but also to comparative advantage by identifying key proprietary data that allows the enterprise to create and maintain better relationships with customers and suppliers -- and because that data is proprietary, competitors cannot imitate it.

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Because information on demand depends on the ability of the enterprise architecture to find and combine all key data in real time, no matter the format or location, the key foundations for an information on demand architecture are a high-performance database, a high-performance EII (Enterprise Information Integration) solution, and a global metadata repository (often provided by the EII solution). The EII solution finds and carries out transactions on all enterprise data stores; the database provides the transactional engine for caching the data or for managing the repository of enterprise metadata.

There are two key ideas that users need to keep in mind when assessing the large potential of a mainframe-focused information on demand strategy:

  • Information on demand is not the same as the on-demand business; it demands different skills and a different architecture.
  • The mainframe is the typical enterprise's greatest repository of key information. However, to unlock that information and leverage it fully, users need to upgrade their mainframe's "information architecture" substantially.

    The mainframe clearly remains the data server for the majority of the world's business-critical and mission-critical data. However, in most installations achievement of a single interface for the mainframe (much less all platforms) seems far from achievement, and the OLAP and data-mining analysis tools to take advantage of this data are typically narrowly confined to expert users and a data warehouse.

    EII ties it together

    EII is software that combines heterogeneous data sources at a transactional level (in real time, via "query federation") in order to support applications that present or analyze the data in new ways. In other words, EII provides a "database veneer" or service that allows administrators, developers, and end-users to treat a broad array of data sources as if they were one large database or data service.

    Today's EII has three key features:

  • It is software infrastructure, not an application. EII supports creation of applications such as enterprise portals that display and analyze data combined across data sources. EII can therefore play a key role in any enterprise-wide e-architecture.
  • It bridges the second and third tiers of a typical enterprise architecture via "many-to-one-to-many" connectivity. That is, EII is a single software "node" that gives a wide range of Web applications running on the second tier of an e-business architecture access to multiple back-end and legacy databases and file systems running on the third tier without replicating data.
  • It provides an enterprise-scale, integrated approach. Before EII, most applications created their own links to back-end data sources, without coordination. EII provides a common infrastructure on which all links can be built. This common infrastructure enables more rapid development, more cost-effective centralized administration of data from multiple data sources, and more flexible presentation and analysis of more data sources.

    EII software serves four constituents: the data owner, the developer, the administrator, and the end-user. In order to serve the developer, EII provides a "framework" that allows the developer to treat multiple, disparate databases, data management systems, and files as one huge organization-wide database. To aid the administrator and data owner, EII creates a "metadata repository" of data and object types (often XML-based) across multiple data sources, either via semi-automated import from databases' data dictionaries or by user-driven generation of metadata about each data source. Typically, the EII solution will provide tools that allow the administrator to monitor, maintain, and implement security for the metadata. Data owners determine access privileges to the source data and determine when and how queries are generated against the source system.

    To aid the end user, EII supports basic SQL and XQuery operations, including querying for decision support, and can support stored procedures, or services that look like stored procedures. EII support for these operations enables Web-analytics queries across databases, and abets enterprise portal and operational application use of combined information from employees, customers, and the supply chain. Some EII suppliers support XQuery a powerful XML-based cross-data-type querying language. IBM's WebSphere Information Integrator now dominates the EII market in visibility and revenues. It provides not only exceptional mainframe data access (the old Information Integrator Classic Edition) but also rich-media access (Information Integrator Content Edition). It also abets formation of a cross-data-store metadata repository (and other products in the IBM master data management solution support metadata repositories as well).

    DB2 9 -- Viper

    DB2 UDB 8.2 (the current version) is a full enterprise relational database, including support for two-phase commit, SMP (symmetric multiprocessing), clustering, Extenders to support rich-media and complex data types, and remote/GUI (graphical user interface) database administration utilities. For connectivity to other data sources, DB2 UDB provides ODBC, JDBC, SQLJ, OLE DB, and X/Open CLI APIs. For programmers, DB2 UDB offers a visual "stored-procedure builder" for Java or SQL stored procedures, client-side code, and user-defined functions.

    The key value-adds of DB2 9 for z/OS for a mainframe-focused information on demand strategy are the new ability of just one database and data store to store all types of data (and metadata) with high performance, the support for XQuery (which allows DB2 9 to mesh with Information Integrator much more easily), and the improvements in performance which can allow users to store more key data in a single data store. Note that a zIIP coprocessor can improve performance even more, and in a cost-effective manner.

    Today's information utilities may have the fanciest business-intelligence, OLAP (online analytical processing), CRM (customer resource management), SCM, and other applications in the world, but without a scalable infrastructure that accesses all key data in the enterprise, they take advantage of only a fraction of the organization's leverageable data. This scalable, flexible information-on-demand infrastructure, in turn, demands a powerful EII tool and complementary database and metadata repository that leverages key mainframe data for more than it ever has been before.

    About the author:Kernochan is president of Infostructure Associates

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