REVIEWER: Jim Finnerty, vice president of operations for I- Centrix.
BACKGROUND: I-Centrix is a customer relationship management (CRM) application service provider (ASP) focusing on customer- centric data integration, analysis and warehousing. I-Centrix offers customer identification, prospecting, fulfillment and database maintenance services for several industries including banking, political campaigns, catalog marketers and higher education institutions. I-Centrix has extensive experience working with large, customer-focused data. Sorting and data manipulation is a daily requirement. The volume of data passed for a given project is typically measured in tens and hundreds of gigabytes.
PLATFORMS: Sun UltraEnterprise servers running Solaris version 7. Sun A5000 storage arrays.
PROBLEM SOLVED: I-Centrix uses CoSORT for many sorting and manipulation activities and has integrated CoSORT into a specific product addressing data segmentation. For many CRM initiatives, the ability to separate customers into distinct groups or segments is critical. Due to the complex nature and requirements of the segmentation process, traditional relational databases with SQL cannot efficiently process the information. I-Centrix has developed a segmentation engine as part of a larger data fulfillment application that leverages CoSORT's ability to rapidly sort data. I-Centrix utilizes Oracle8i as the database engine and has integrated CoSORT as a key component of the segmentation engine. By utilizing CoSORT's sort and join capabilities, I-Centrix is able to produce full customer segmentations in a fraction of the time required using Oracle without CoSORT.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: CoSORT sorts data very rapidly, and it includes support for functionality not common in most data sorting software. CoSORT's sort control language (sortcl) program, for example, uses an approachable scripting syntax which is very easy to learn and use. Being long-time users of various sort utilities, CoSORT's sortcl language is the most flexible and extensive language we have seen. Sortcl allows I-Centrix to very quickly perform data manipulation tasks without having to integrate multiple development and programming environments. A person knowledgeable in the sortcl syntax can be very productive with this tool alone in data manipulation and translation tasks. CoSORT also provides an application programming interface (API) that allows for the integration of sort functionality into other, broader applications. The current CoSORT API is very rich and is thread safe. With the integration of CoSORT, I-Centrix is able to leverage a very capable and high performance sort engine with no extra development effort. Thread safety was a strong incentive, especially considering CoSORT's competitor was not supporting this functionality at the time of our evaluation. Support for SQL-like joins and aggregations are important and strong features of the product. Other key features for I-Centrix are CoSORT's support for cross-column mathematical calculations. With these features, expressions can be carried out in-line with sorting and summarization. The product also interfaces well with its environment, supporting a data definition file, strong support for shell variables and ease of incorporation with named pipes and standard input and output.
STRENGTHS: CoSORT's strengths begin with excellent sort performance. In our tests, CoSORT was slightly faster than its major competitor and provided a more tunable environment that allows the product to not overwhelm the system. CoSORT sortcl language, as mentioned earlier, is also very strong.
WEAKNESSES: The ability to reference an external data definition file is a great feature that helps with meta data management. It would be nice if CoSORT did not require the file name to be imbedded in the .ddf file. This would allow a generic definition to be used with multiple same layout files.
SELECTION CRITERIA: I-Centrix evaluated CoSORT and its main competitor. The selection criteria included performance, functionality and price. CoSORT performed well, had more functionality in the areas I-Centrix was most concerned with and was less expensive.
DELIVERABLES: CoSORT shipped with several interfaces and run time capabilities including: sortcl; sorti, an interactive sort parm generation program; support for API calls; and replacements for common sort commands from various packages including the UNIX sort command.
VENDOR SUPPORT: The CoSORT support staff has been helpful and competent when called upon. We find its programs to be very easy to use and well documented which has all but eliminated the need for additional support.
DOCUMENTATION: CoSORT shipped with a very good Adobe Acrobat manual which includes many helpful sample job scripts. UNIX man pages for each interface and utility were also provided.
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