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The data warehousing year in review

Nothing is permanent except change...especially in the data warehousing world.

As we pass from one millennium to the next (whether you think that it started in 2000 or 2001!) the past year was exciting for data warehousing. As I reflected with some of my friends over the changing landscape of the industry, one thing became very clear--Heraclitus the Obscure (who was born at Ephesus about 530 B.C.), was right. He said, "There is nothing permanent except change."

In 2000, there were a growing number of consolidations that will continue to occur in 2001. One of the leaders in this area is Accrue Software who bought Pilot Software and Neo Vista. Small data mining companies are being bought. The big operational companies are buying them because they see a great future for their technology and they work on large amounts of data. These operational companies realize that they are providing about 1/2 of the requirements currently and need more to meet the needs of their customers. The proof is in the question "How many independent data mining companies can you name?" SPSS and SAS are the first to come to my mind. Even consulting companies are merging (Braun Consulting and Intelligent Solutions to name one).

Consolidations and then split-ups is another interesting trend that will continue in 2001. Michael Schiff of Current Analysis ( summed this up the best: "After finalizing its acquisition of Ardent earlier in 2000, the company realized that Ardent's partnerships with database vendors are being hurt by concerns about having a relationship with a database competitor; sales may have suffered by competitive FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt] claiming that DataStage would be optimized to populate Informix databases. Informix decides to split into two companies showing that sometimes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole." If you were an Informix competitor, why would you bring Ardent into your customer's site? Nothing like inviting your competitor to visit your customer!

From a technology standpoint, we have started to see stronger analytics being pushed into the database engines--Microsoft SQL Server 2000 with its Analysis Services (OLAP) and Oracle9i (or at least its announcement of them!) with the including of its Oracle Express functionality. By pushing these analytics into the database engine, better performance will occur. This is a good thing. It also levels the playing field for the end user access tools (although they may not believe this is in their best interest!).

Portals started coming into the own for the data warehouse marketplace in 2000. Hummingbirds's Humdinger EIP (enterprise information portal) continues to make a presence, while some of its competitors--Vidaor, Plumtree, and Sequoia Software, to name a few--are holding their own quite nicely. Having no strong player, no real direction, and no industry standards makes it difficult to evaluate and predict the future. This will be a strong place for start-ups in 2001. However, this continues to make me believe that there will be a major shakeout in this part of the industry.

There will be a continued set of announcements and pronouncements of the support of XML. The problem comes when you ask the vendors just what that means. Without an extremely clear meaning of what each tag means, it is going to be hard to accomplish total sharing of data. Some vendors will add new tags but what will happen when they are received on the other side? The good thing about XML is that is starting to force this sharing much like ODBC enabled a single way to talk to databases. And then the question of performance comes up.

Also in the data warehousing space is Extraction, Transformation, and Load (ETL) tools, data cleansing tools, and tools that provide name, address, and demographic information. ETL tools are plentiful, data cleansing tools are few, and name, address, and demographic information are far between. In 2001, I would expect to see better tools to provide demographic information, based on the 2000 census, with well-cleaned name and address.

As in the past, I have heard a lot of bad press concerning data warehouses. Some say that promise has been oversold (and it some cases it has). Some say that you no longer need the data warehouse, just access the operational system. I think not (see my Letter to the Editor in Computerworld, Nov. 20, 2000). When I asked Bill Inmon on his thoughts about the negatives, he commented that he has not been seeing a lot of them, only lots of companies building data warehouses with success.

About the Author

Chuck Kelley is president and founder of Excellence In Data, Inc. and an internationally known expert in database technology. He has more than 20 years of experience in designing and implementing operational/production systems and data warehouses. Kelley has worked in some facet of the design and implementation phase of more than 35 data warehouses and data marts. He also teaches seminars, co-authored a book with W. H. Inmon on data warehousing and has been published in many trade magazines on database technology, data warehousing and enterprise data strategies. Please feel free to email him at with comments (negative or positive) about this column or ideas for future columns.

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