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The Many Uses of Data Federation

Data federation is now regarded as a viable, necessary, and complementary DM practice, tapped alongside ETL to support an array of data integration scenarios.

When Composite Software Inc., IBM Corp. and other players first started promoting data federation a decade ago, some data management (DM) experts cried foul. The temptation to tap data federation technology in what DM pros deemed a kludgey manner — as an instant-enabling technology for data mart applications, for example, or as a quick-and-dirty replacement for a full-fledged enterprise data warehouse (EDW) — would simply be too great, they cautioned.

Seven years later, the worst-case scenarios of DM pros haven’t come to pass. More importantly, federation is now regarded as a viable, necessary, and typically complementary DM practice, tapped alongside ETL (or ELT) to support an increasingly complex array of data integration (DI) scenarios.

In the meantime, DM pros seem to have warmed to data federation’s strong suits — chiefly as an enabling technology in frequently-refreshed reporting, data warehouse modeling, or other rapid time-to-value scenarios.

“It makes a lot of sense to use data federation tools when it takes too long or costs too much to create a persistent store of consolidated data, such as a data warehouse or data mart,” writes Wayne Eckerson, director of research with The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), in his recent TDWI Checklist Report: Data Integration. Eckerson also praises data federation’s ability to facilitate on-the-fly access to heterogeneous data sources.

At the same time, Eckerson stresses, the data federation tools of today are considerably more powerful than their predecessors. Consequently, they’re increasingly used in a number of non-traditional (or not-strictly-DM) scenarios.

“[D]ata federation tools have broadened their capabilities and appeal and go by many labels, including data virtualization, data services, and distributed query,” he writes. “They are used in a variety of situations that require unified access to data in multiple systems via high-performance distributed queries, such as data warehousing, reporting, dashboards, mashups, portals, master data management, data services in a service-oriented architecture [SOA], post- acquisition systems integration, and cloud computing.”

From a data management perspective, data federation offers a number of compelling advantages. The trick, Eckerson says, is to use it when and where it makes sense. “Data federation software is designed for query-based applications that require current data from multiple systems,” he writes. “It’s ideal when the business needs a solution fast, doesn’t have a sizable budget for infrastructure and staffing, and wants to minimize the risk involved in deploying a new solution.”

In this respect, he explains, it’s a big improvement over the DM status quo.

“The traditional way to build query-based applications is to create a data warehouse or data mart,” Eckerson writes. “However, creating a new data mart … takes at least three months. The process involves understanding user requirements, creating target data models, and building and testing ETL transformations as well as purchasing, deploying, and testing server hardware and database software.” Federation can be a godsend in such scenarios. Its strongest selling point, proponents claim, is a rapid time-to-value.

“Data federation can minimize the risks, costs, and time needed to deliver query-based solutions because it doesn’t require a lot of upfront coding and doesn’t need an additional database to store source data,” he explains. “All you do is install the data federation development and runtime software on an industry standard server, create the views and services that form the global semantic layer, and tune the major queries. There are no ETL programs to develop or staging areas, data warehouses, or data marts to instantiate.”

Nevertheless, Eckerson stresses, data federation is not a silver bullet.

“Data federation software is ideal when source systems are consistently available and have enough capacity to handle streams of ad hoc queries without slowing down transaction processing tasks,” he counsels. “Also, it’s best if source data doesn’t require significant transformation or cleansing, and if the business application consumes mostly current data in relational or XML formats.”

For this reason, federation isn’t suitable for applications that involve very large data sets or which require complex transformations. Nor does it make sense in situations where a DM infrastructure is already overloaded.

Instead, Eckerson and TDWI outline a quartet of new or compelling uses for data federation, including using it as a means to extend a DW with additional (external) sources. Elsewhere, federation can be tapped as a tool to help augment existing ETL processes and accelerate ETL development; create a single (virtual view) of multiple data warehouses (a scenario that’s particularly compelling in M&A scenarios); and, lastly, as an interim solution to help facilitate data warehouse migration.

“If you need to migrate or replace a data warehouse, data federation can help minimize the impact on downstream reports, reducing costs and risks,” Eckerson writes. “To migrate the data warehouse, you need to rewrite report queries to run against data federation software instead of directly against the old data warehouse. Once the new warehouse is in place, you modify the semantic layer in the data federation tool to point at the new source. This insulates your reports and queries from source system changes.

By Stephen Swoyer


SAP cancels NetWeaver BW 7.2 release, plans to roll features into 7.3 release

SAP has cancelled its planned NetWeaver BW 7.2 release, and will instead roll 7.2 functionality into a NetWeaver BW 7.3 release set for later this year, the company said today.

Today, SAP told customers participating in a ramp-up program for NetWeaver BW 7.2 that it would be cancelled. The program was set to begin on March 1, and about 10 customers were participating, according to SAP. SAP’s ramp-up is its process for introducing a product to the market, and the program allows a select group of customers to use the software before it becomes generally available.

“The feedback from our customers was loud and clear: while they appreciated the features that would be available via the 7.20 release, they prefer one more complete feature release and fewer upgrade steps,” Franz Aman, vice president of platform marketing for SAP BusinessObjects, said in an email. “SAP listened, and will consequently not release SAP NetWeaver BW 7.20 in favor of consolidating the 7.20 and 7.30 functionality into one go-to release.”

SAP last released a version of NetWeaver BW, in October 2005 NetWeaver BW 7.0. Customers have had complaints about NetWeaver BW, including slow query responses, limited data volume scalability and limited visibility into non-SAP data, according to analysts. SAP released the BW Accelerator to deal with the performance issues.

Some of the functionality customers can look forward to getting in the NetWeaver BW 7.3 release includes the full technology platform release supporting all of the NetWeaver hubs, tighter integration with the SAP BusinessObjects tools and enhanced business planning, Aman said.

NetWeaver BW 7.3 will also include support for Teradata and HP Neoview.

MS, Google slug it out in local languages

It’s difficult to say how many in India understand English. But it might be fair to say, as a Microsoft release recently did, that about 95% of the countrys population prefers working in their regional language. That means computing and the web, which is probably 99% English, is largely beyond the vast majority in this country.

This is increasingly being seen now as a huge opportunity. The biggest players in computing are creating applications and tools that make it simple to compute in the local language. For Microsoft, this means it can sell more of its Windows 7 or Office Suite. But as more and more of our activities move to the internet, its a fight with the likes of Google to see who can create the most acceptable applications for local language emailing, messaging, blogging, or social networking.

The attempt is also to help create more local language content. As Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, senior product manager in Google India, says, Unless this content is there, the value of search is diminished. And search, with its associated advertisements, is where Google today makes most of its money.

Transliteration is a tool that is now available with a range of applications. All you need to do is write the local language word using the English alphabet and it converts to the local language script. For example, you can type, Bharathathil pala bhashaigal pesapadugirathu to get the sentence automatically in Tamil. Sanjay Manchanda, director in Microsoft India, says the desktop version can be used with any application working on Windows, such as Word or Outlook, and the web version allows the user to enter text on any web page such as Live mail or Windows Live Messenger without requiring a software download.

Google initially introduced this facility in online services like Gmail, Blogger and Orkut. More recently, it launched an offline transliteration technology for 14 languages that could enable businesses, students, teachers, etc to leverage local languages to communicate with their stakeholders.

Transliteration, of course, requires that you know the English alphabet. Google has provided this technology to SEWA (Self Employed Womens Association) in Gujarat. The women told us that they used to write to their managers in English, but they knew they were not writing it properly and would feel embarrassed about it.

But with this technology, they now write in Gujarati and they say they know they are writing it correctly and feel good, says Roy-Chowdhury. Google has also developed an application programming interface (API) that can be used by any website to enable it to use local language inputs. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation used it to enable people to enter their voter registration information in Marathi. The sulekha.com blogging platform uses this API.

Microsoft recently developed what it calls the Captions Language Interface Pack (CLIP) that makes it easy for developers to develop sophisticated local language applications using Visual Studio. Google, and recently MShave also created translation technology, but these remain far from perfect.

SAP and German Universities Develop Master’s Degree Program With SAP Certification

SAP® Corporate Master Program Includes a Master’s Degree and Certification as an SAP Consultant Combined With Hands-On Project Experience

HANNOVER, Germany – March 03, 2010 – Together with several prominent German universities and the SAP® Education organization, SAP AG (NYSE: SAP) has developed a postgraduate study program as part of its SAP® University Alliances program that culminates in an internationally recognized master’s degree. Initially available only in Germany, the two-year SAP® Corporate Master program was co-developed with the Steinbeis Center of Management and Technology (SCMT) in Berlin, the SRH University of Applied Sciences Heidelberg and the Technical University in Munich (Technische Universität München). Participants may pursue a master’s degree at one of the participating universities while being simultaneously trained by the SAP Education organization to become approved SAP consultants. Those with bachelor’s degrees, skilled professionals and experienced executives from all industries now have the opportunity to gain additional education and qualification on a part-time basis with the costs for the program covered by the sponsoring companies. The announcement was made at the CeBIT trade fair, being held in Hannover, Germany, March 2-6.

In consulting firms as well as in many companies across industries, the success of projects depends on the qualifications of skilled professionals as well as their hands-on experience with SAP projects. This is of particular importance for SAP partner companies.

“With the SAP Corporate Master program, we offer advanced training that meets market needs,” said Prof. Dr. Gerd Moeckel, SRH University of Applied Sciences Heidelberg. “Companies profit from the verified specialization of the graduates, while participants enhance their qualification with a state-recognized master’s degree.”

During the first part of the SAP Corporate Master program, participants are trained and certified as “SAP Certified Associates” by SAP Education for a selected consultant profile, allowing them to immediately put their SAP knowledge to use in their companies. They can complete additional training for process integration for the enterprise resource planning (ERP) application SAP® ERP later in the program. The universities are responsible for the academic content that is taught part-time in seminar modules.

Hands-on project work is a central component of the SAP Corporate Master program. As part of the program, students work as junior consultants on a customer project or on one at their own company. Consultants from the universities act as advisors throughout the project.

“Combining study courses with project work allows participants to immediately test and deepen their theoretical knowledge in the field,” said Rainer Gehrung, CEO, Steinbeis Center of Management and Technology. “Their approach and the success of their projects are documented in their master’s thesis.”

The participating universities offer study courses in the areas of management and technology. Immediately following completion of their undergraduate studies, students can work toward obtaining a Master of Business Engineering (MBE), Master of Computer Science (MCompSc) or Master of Science (MSc) degree. Graduates with at least two years of work experience can additionally choose to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Added Value for Students and Companies
The SAP Corporate Master program enriches the IT job market while opening up promising career perspectives and opportunities for students. They not only gain project experience but also receive an internationally recognized certification as a qualified SAP consultant. After completing the program, they have access to a growing alumni network as well as the worldwide SAP and partner network.

“Students gain a significant amount of experience that they can apply in their jobs,” said Prof. Dr. Helmut Krcmar, Technische Universität München. “The combination of advanced training in SAP technology and comprehensive, in-depth academic studies is what makes the SAP Corporate Master program attractive.”

For companies and SAP partners, the SAP Corporate Master program allows them to foster and retain young professionals at an early stage.

“By offering this additional qualification, partner companies show that they recognize and value young talents and are committed to fostering their careers,” said Björn Interthal, head of the Consultant Academy at SAP Germany. “In doing so, they become more attractive employers.”

Moreover, the program offers access to a joint talent pool comprised of all universities participating in the SAP Corporate Master program.

“As several SAP projects are run by partners, the continuous training of young professionals in our worldwide consultant ecosystem is of the utmost importance to us,” said Volker Piegsa, head of SAP Education Germany and vice president, SAP Education EMEA. “The program meets the needs of our partners who are looking for cost-effective and flexible training of SAP consultants, and increases the number of qualified SAP consultants on the market.”

For more information about the participating universities, visit:


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