Build Your Data Warehouse With DataMirror/400 And Fall In Love With Your AS/400 All Over Again. Say what? AS/400s and Data Warehouses in the same sentence? Surely some mistake? For when we think about Data Warehousing, the building of informational cleansed, historical aggregated databases for decision support from disparate operational databases and data sources, we think Unix, relational database, Windows NT and mainframe mostly. No matter that according to analysts the Gartner Group there will be something on the order of 450,000 of IBM Corp’s still well-rated proprietary mid-range boxes out in the world by next year: the AS/400, for all its manifold attractions, has never seemed a particularly good bet as either the source (read, usually huge mainframe-based) or target (read, relational-on-Unix) of such a project. Well, maybe it’s time to think again. Take toy superstore Toys R Us. Each of the retailer’s 387 stores has an in-house AS/400; and the firm uses the aforementioned DataMirror/400, from newly-public Canadian outfit Data-Mirror Corp, to move data from a production database to a Data Warehouse at each of those sites. Think of how much that database is being hammered these past few days, and maybe the idea of an AS/400 based Warehouse strategy doesn’t seem so exotic.
By Gary Flood
The key is understanding that, in building a Warehouse, a useful technology – once the data has been scrubbed, organized, and otherwise massaged – is Replication, a database technique for creating copies of data and moving those copies from a source to a target database. Once that seemed a simple matter of moving a tape from one machine to another. In the era of distributed computing across wildly heterogeneous systems between incompatible formats (intra-SQL databases, and between older data sources and flat files, for example), this is a potentially disabling bottleneck to the huge predicted growth in Data Warehousing. While replication has been offered by the database vendors in one form or another for some considerable time, cross- system replication has been slower to emerge. It seems to have taken the explosion in interest in Data Warehousing to kickstart the market. And the market is now large enough for new vendors like DataMirror – authors of the advertising tagline we opened our show with – to thrive. From a standing start in October 1994 the outfit has done remarkably well. Tagging itself as offering transformational data replication for enterprise networks, DataMirror’s last seven quarters ending September 1996 have shown an enviable compound quarterly growth rate of 77.1%, and it took only two years from shipping its first product in October 1994 for the company to offer itself to the public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. That’s the kind of flight path one might expect of an Internet company, making the success of this vendor in a somewhat obscure part of the market on the unfashionable AS/400’s back even more noteworthy. DataMirror has won 150 corporate customers in that period, selling 700 licenses of its three main offerings: DataMirror/400 (the AS/400 to AS/400 product), DataMirror/400 ORA (AS/400 database to Oracle on an IBM RS/6000 or Hewlett-Packard Co HP/9000), and DataMirror/300 SQL (from the AS/400 to SQL Server under Windows NT on Intel and DEC Alpha). It’s also worth bearing in mind that even in this small world DataMirror has faced stiff competition; from not just IBM’s own tools (DataPropagator), but also AS/400 system mirroring products (like OMS from Vision Solutions Inc and Mimix from Lakeview Technology Inc), as well as the generic replication tools from the relational database vendors, as well as Data Warehousing specialists like Prism Solutions Inc and Platinum Technology Inc. DataMirror says its Unique Selling Point to customers like Motorola Inc has been that its version of replication enables selected data only to be analyzed and transformed, rather than the entire database, a process it has dubbed efficient replenishment. Think back to all those
files of sales of Talking Buzz Lightyear figures at Toys R Us and you’ll see that chugging just the bits you need to move is a more efficient way of carrying on than sending the database down the wireevery day instead. The mix of DataMirror’s customers and platforms has also expanded beyond the cult of the 400 (to Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server on NT and Unix), and also well beyond the land of the Maple Leaf – the company claims less than 10% of sales are generated in its home country, with the bulk (57.6%) in the US and a respectable third (30.1%) in Europe. In July it also completed its acquisition of a smallish AS/400 software products reseller and integrator called IPM International Ltd, based in Surrey, to expand its presence in the European market.
However, this being real life, excellent as DataMirror’s track record has been so far, it’s not all roses. The initial public offering was a relative disappointment, raising only $8m when the company and its underwriters had been predicting $14.5m. But its chief executive and chairman, Nigel Stokes still talks of very aggressive growth plans, albeit with this smaller war chest. We’re going to go to customers and pose them the question, Who owns your data – you or your database? By which it turns out he means that one of the side benefits of replication may be better data organization. Most field names are thought up by programmers at 3am after one too many cups of coffee; that’s why they tend to be called ‘F001’ when they should be ‘Order Status.’ We can reveal the real shape of data through techniques like dynamic indexing and the capture of every add, change or delete action on the database, he claims. We’re going to move the data from where it just is to where it needs to be. Bold claims from a semi-obscure AS/400 independent software vendor? Or are we witnessing the birth of a new Red Brick Systems Inc, Prism, or some other Data Warehousing household name? We think the latter, and it must only be a very short time until DataMirror achieves its aim of cross-listing on NASDAQ and thus real recognition, ie Wall street starting to notice. Until then, by all means fall in love with your AS/400 again, with our permission.