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As onStrategies’ analyst Tony Baer puts it, IBM’s announcement to buy Ascential Software Corp. for $1.1 billion was clear in hindsight. It means that IBM gets a profitable company plus product that fills a “clear gap,” Baer wrote in a recent analyst’s note. “… It’s a company with which they’re quite familiar, having accrued over four years in a close relationship that has generated significant joint sales. We’re rarely this bullish on a deal, but this one makes sense.”

Ascential is the latest in a string of investments IBM has made in information integration over the course of a numbers of years. Database Editor Lisa Vaas recently caught up with Janet Perna, general manager of data management solutions for the IBM Software Group, to chat about the move.

What gap in IBM’s approach to information integration does this fill?

Our platform has been pretty much focused on enterprise information integration. If you look at the whole area, there’s enterprise application integration, with WebSphere; enterprise information integration, which is around data federation and aggregation of information; and there’s ETL (extract, transform, load).

The areas where we’ve been strong in are EAI and EII with Information Integrator. In fact, we’ve enhanced it with acquisitions like Venetica [Corp.] to handle unstructured information.

In addition to the SQL interface into all these data sources, in November we offered OmniFind, [Information Integrator technology used to open direct search interfaces from IBM to partners and customers, leading toward the creation of new applications capable of gleaning information and real-time analysis more quickly across systems and documents].

What IBM did not have was high-volume, scalable ETL capabilities. This is about movement of information. It’s about data placement as well as cleansing of information and transformation of information. This is where we’ve been partnering with Ascential for the last four years in providing this capability. So with this announcement, we’re taking this partnership one step further and putting it under the IBM umbrella here for information integration.

We’ve been doing a lot of technical work to make sure their info integrates with ours. This is a super fit for us. It provides us with the most comprehensive platform in the industry for being able to integrate information.

It’s been said that Ascential has a one-size-fits-all model that may meet the needs of an industry whose problems are well-defined and static, but not one wherein data quality is growing ever more complex and wherein customers need data quality in real time. What’s your take on that?

We’ve done extensive due diligence around the technologies that are available in this area in terms of transformation, cleansing and real-time ETL. We see Ascential as having the broadest, the leading technology in transformation quality as well as high-speed ETL. They by far have the leading platform for providing these capabilities.

Next Page: Not just for mainframe data movement.

Here’s what Andreas Bitterer, vice president of Meta Group, had to say about Ascential: “Potential buyers should not become fixated on cleansing performance or accuracy as much as other key capabilities, such as data enrichment, data profiling, compliance, non-name/address logic, international data quality support and long-term viability.” Where is Ascential at with those capabilities?

If you look at the Ascential platform, it’s a very comprehensive platform in and of itself for providing all these capabilities. And Ascential over the last four years has been filling out their platform with acquisitions they’ve made in parallelism, scalability and performance, as well as data cleansing and data quality.

Ascential’s strength is in its ability to move data in and out of mainframe databases, right?

Their strengths have been in moving information into any type of database. A lot of the Ascential business is moving information into databases on Unix or Windows platforms and into Oracle or IBM databases. Regardless of the source of the data. They have a presence in moving data from mainframe platforms into other data stores, as well as moving from Unix to Unix. They also move information into NCR Teradata data stores. All these capabilities, we share this part of the strategy with our Information Integrator technology, which allows you to federate information regardless of where it is.

The types of capabilities Ascential has with DataStage is movement of data in batch mode, so you can batch it up and move it. They also have real-time movement of data, as well as trickle-feed from source to data.

[Ascential has a] strong presence in movement of transactional information as well as information to be used in analytical systems.

Does it make sense to talk of product plans, when IBM has been working so tightly with Ascential for so long?

Ascential has product plans, and we intend to deliver on the product commitments that Ascential has made. Up until we close, it’s business as usual for both companies. We’ll continue to work together as we have in the past. With the same joint marketing and co-selling we do today.

The integration and type of integration you’ll see [with IBM products] is largely in place today. We have customers today who are using [Ascential technology] with Information Integrator. They might use DataStage to provision a data warehouse for historical data and at the same time use Information Integrator to federate information in a warehouse with real-time information coming in. That’s available today. Today we also can use transformational capabilities there as part of Ascential products from Information Integrator. Thru WebSphere Business Integrator, we can access transformations that are in Ascential products today through a service-oriented architecture, so we can bring them in as Web services. A lot of integration has been done. What will happen in the near term [will be] making these [into] IBM products.

Because of the partnership we had, we have a head start in a lot of the technical work that needs to get done there around these products. As soon as we close, we’ll be shipping products from IBM that are integrated. …

That’s what makes a lot of this so compelling in terms of being able to pull ahead in the marketplace. It was a very, very natural fit as we look at the work we’ve been doing together over the last four years. This is not about “wait and see what develops.” … We’re combining two leadership technologies. IBM’s a leader in EII; Ascential’s a leader in ETL technology. … It’s the marriage of two very strong entities coming together to help companies integrate all their own information.

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