June 6, 2004 9:00 PM PDT

IBM pushes into corporate search

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IBM will begin a broad testing program for integration software designed to bring order to unruly and far-flung patchworks of corporate information.

Code-named Masala, the software can tap into spread-out data sources and return results, much like a search engine crawls through the Web. Masala is a major update to IBM's DB2 Information Integrator product, released last year. This second version of DB2 Information Integrator has been tested with a limited number of customers and will enter a broad testing program on Monday. It will be available at the end of the year.

With Masala, IBM is stepping up its push into data integration, a field in which it competes mainly with smaller companies and BEA Systems' Liquid Data product. IBM's two largest database rivals--Oracle and Microsoft--have several integration products sold as database add-ons, but these lack the breadth IBM is aiming for, said Philip Russom, an analyst at Forrester Research.

IBM says it now has about 1,300 customers of DB2 Information Integrator. Customers are using the software to monitor the flow of transactions through their companies or to gather information to comply with government regulations, said Nelson Mattos, director of DB2 Information Integrator. The ability to "federate" data when querying multiple data stores also offers a replacement for large, centralized data warehouses that keep data used for analysis. About a fifth of its customers are using the product to integrate data from Oracle and Microsoft databases, Mattos said.

Masala will introduce a text-based search engine, based on research from IBM's WebFountain project. The combination of the text search and the traditional database querying tools will allow businesses to pull search both "structured data sources" such as database records of transactions and unstructured information like file systems, Mattos said. IBM has been using the text-based search in its internal portal, which encompasses about 10,000 Web sites.

"With search, you don't need, as a line of business, to be restricted to predefined or pre-canned queried," Mattos said. "Not only is the query interface extremely popular for structured data, but the search capability lets you deal nicely with the unstructured data."

The ability to query different types of data sources and return results instantly will help companies gain better insight into how they are operating and allow them to better exploit their existing data sources, Russom said.

"The two worlds of structured data and unstructured data are colliding. Interest in this combination comes largely from industries with the most burning pain in finding and integrating critical information from both types of data--namely, insurance, financial services and health-care industries," he said.

The update to DB2 Information Integrator introduces an "event publisher," which allows programmers to build applications that can send alerts based on specific events, such as a stock reaching a particular price. The alerts, sent through IBM's WebSphere MQSeries messaging software, can trigger another action, such as a stock purchase.

Masala will also include new replication software for caching queries and speeding performance. Using the self-managing technologies from IBM's autonomic computing initiative, Masala will have wizards for configuring databases and tuning queries.

The follow-on version of Masala will include the results of another IBM research project called Criollo, Mattos said. The capabilities will give corporate customers a better inventory of their data assets, he said.

 

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