Mark Cothron, data warehouse architect for Oak Brook, Ill.-based Ace Hardware Corp., was never one to take on beta testing of new technology.
But when Informatica Corp., a Redwood City, Calif.-based data integration vendor, made its new PowerCenter 8 available in beta, Cothron elected to try it out. Representatives had asked Ace what sort of features the company would like to see in the next release.
"The two things I talked about -- getting more power out of the database and looping logic -- were in there, so I said let's try it out," Cothron said.
Today, Informatica unveiled PowerCenter 8, scheduled for release at the end of the year. The software features federated data queries that create a virtual data access layer. It's a change from the data hub approach where someone like a call center agent would need to wait for a customer's information to be moved into a hub before it's available.
"With federated queries, you can virtually integrate immediately, which can then be repurposed to physically move the data later," said Ivan Chong, vice president of product marketing at Informatica. "You've got the flexibility to immediately provide response."
Ace uses Informatica to integrate its Eagle Vision point-of-sales system. At 400 of Ace's 5,000 stores, the system conducts inventory and purchasing at the point of sale. Informatica grabs the sale and reduced inventory data that flows into the corporate network and is loaded into the data warehouse later that day, Cothron said.
Besides adding grid computing capabilities, PowerCenter 8 has also improved performance and reliability to help minimize service interruption in the event of hardware or software outages. That's a major concern for Ace Hardware.
"Right now, I'm running on one server," Cothron said. "When that lease runs out, I'm going to look at grid computing. Now if I have a server failure, I have to go to development. Ace bought Informatica for ETL [extract, transform and load] originally, but as we've branched out, it's become more business critical. A failure now would be very bad."
Informatica, along with IBM through its Ascential acquisition, has taken the lead in building out grid computing capabilities for data integration by allowing customers to add server nodes over time, according to Phillip Russom, senior manager of research and services for Seattle-based Data Warehousing Institute. PowerCenter 8 helps distribute the workload.
Another key feature in the new release, Russom said, is the productivity enhancements for developers. PowerCenter 8 features support for Java transformation to leverage existing Java libraries and a new mapping template reduces repetitive tasks.
"If you look at ETL in the '90s, they were clearly designated for one developer working alone," Russom said "Integration tools nowadays look like application development tools -- file versioning, file locking, collaborative features. Informatica is ahead [of the competition] in the multi-developer collaborative environment."