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DataMirror: Surging Ahead on a Real-Time Data Wave

  • March 01 2004, 1:00am EST

It's a good time for DataMirror," says DataMirror CEO and President Nigel Stokes. Stokes is candid that during the dot-com boom DataMirror's progress was not as prominent as that of other companies. However, the company stayed the course and is surging ahead: "We weren't doing as well when there was just pure hype in the market and people were buying strictly based on that marketing hype, not on substance. DataMirror does well when people spend the time to do due diligence and go through a vendor evaluation."

When stacked up against other enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors, says Stokes, DataMirror shines because "we're profitable, we're stable, we're growing ­ and customers will usually choose us based on those factors. This tougher, more performance-oriented economic climate has fit well with our culture because that's how we sell. We always want to sell from a basis of credibility and actually being able to deliver complete solutions to customers."

DataMirror offers end-to-end solutions for live data integration and protection solutions, bringing market-leading technology with open architecture, high performance and ease of implementation. Among DataMirror's 1,850-plus customers, its software is valued for performance and simplicity. DataMirror's LiveBusiness solutions distinguish themselves by offering live, on-demand synchronization across a wide variety of platforms. These LiveBusiness solutions for data integration, protection, audit and capture enable firms to feed real-time operational data into live data stores and drive enterprise-wide initiatives, including business continuity, legacy integration and regulatory compliance.

Nigel Stokes – President and CEO, DataMirror

Pulling for Change: DataMirror and Dragon Boating

From his start with DataMirror in 1994, Stokes has taken DataMirror's mission –­ to help customers manage, monitor and safeguard their corporate data ­– seriously. He's also seriously into the company's participation in dragon boat races, a 15-year tradition in Toronto that combines water sports with fundraising. Imagine a 40-foot-long canoe with a colorful dragon's head and tail. Right behind the dragon head, a drummer sits and beats out a rhythm to spur paddlers on. "Dragon boating is a sport that comes from Asia, but it fits very well with Canadians," explains Stokes. "You put 22 people in a long canoe and you paddle very hard for about 500 meters ­– we use it as a fundraiser. Everyone in the boat raises money for worthwhile charities." Through dragon boating, Stokes and DataMirror have raised money for breast cancer research and a number of Toronto-area children's charities. DataMirror's team pulls its weight in the fundraising category, and its skills in the water are steadily improving. "We're either the number one fundraiser, which we were for five years in a row, or we're number two, which we have been for the last four years," says Stokes, who has paddled on the DataMirror boat every year. "We're not going to quit our day jobs to paddle in the Olympic races or anything –­ but it's an event that the whole company shares in and we do have a lot of fun."

Architecture Fuels the Difference

Competitors in the dragon boat races must use identical boats and equipment so that no team gains the upper hand through engineering. However, in the marketplace, DataMirror relies on differences in the fundamental architecture of the software to give its products an edge over the competitors'. "We're uniquely positioned with change data capture technology that runs across everything from mainframes to midrange servers –­ whether they're iSeries or UNIX or Oracle platforms or Linux or NT –­ so we have a broad cross-section of technology islands that we service," says Stokes. "We also provide the real- time vertical and horizontal integration companies need to gain independence from their application layer and their database and operating system layers. The architecture of our software is very different than the ETL [extract, transform and load] architecture or the EAI architectures that have been used to try to solve this problem. As a result, 90 percent of our customers use our real-time capabilities for integration or protection or auditing. They don't do periodic extractions. They don't use the snapshotting approach because there's substantial business benefit to having that continuous flow."

In other words, it's as if DataMirror took to the water with an outboard motor on its dragon boat –­ leaving other paddlers to chop at their wake with out-of- sync efforts. "Not many other vendors have the technology to do it," says Stokes, referring to DataMirror's real-time capabilities. "Some of them are looking at SOAP [simple object access protocol] and Web services architectures to develop a solution like that, but there are fundamental flaws in that approach that are similar to the query loads that we used to run into with the pull architectures for data access. The same problem occurs in Web services. The architecture of our product is unique and the ability to do it in real time is unique. And when we talk about real time, we're not talking about right time –­ we're talking about the continuous flow of data through the organization because that's exactly what people need."

Changing Uses of Data

DataMirror's innovative approach to "change data" provides the kind of live, on-demand synchronization across platforms that legacy ETL tools cannot handle. Their method –­ what DataMirror calls change data capture, transform and flow (CTF) –­ permits true real-time integration that translates into business advantage. "In the last five years, we've focused on building out a variety of different live data stores and technology to build live data stores that help customers improve and change how they do business," explains Stokes. "We've always had live data stores for business intelligence purposes or analytics, the operational data store, but today we see other live data stores that are just as critical. The live data store that's needed for data protection, the live data store that's needed for data audit, live data capture technology –­ these are new areas that we've really grown into," says Stokes.

Consequently, DataMirror technology shows up in areas beyond the traditional data integration fields including data protection and resiliency, data auditing, and in Web and wireless services. "I think we've been able to bring together a multipurpose view of integration, protection, audit and capture," concludes Stokes.

A New Day for Audits

Stokes points out that auditing and monitoring will continue to be crucial business concerns for enterprises to watch: "I think there's going to be more audit and monitoring technology put into play because of the nature of the economic and social environment we're living in today, and we expect those areas to grow."

Auditing capability and governance are certainly at the forefront of executives' to-do lists, notes Stokes: "I think governance is the overriding issue that most companies are having to face –­ whether it's Sarbanes-Oxley, whether it's specific industry regulations such as e-records compliance or HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] in the healthcare space, or just risk management, and availability and business continuity."

While some CEOs may gripe about increased auditors' fees, Stokes stresses that meeting the standards has benefits because reaching compliance properly can resolve deeper integration issues: "Most boards of directors today are looking for technology that helps them deal with the governance issues. Our software is unique in that we have live auditing capability that allows companies to track every add, change and delete that occurs in their operational databases and continuously monitor that."

Stokes predicts that over the next 18 months, companies will go beyond simply paying more for auditors' fees and will move into actually investing in technology that helps provide that solution.

"It's been a strong growth market for us," notes Stokes. "We think we're quite uniquely positioned as an integration firm that combines these concepts of risk management, data protection and fraud detection and auditing into a complete solution."

In the past four years when the tech sector has suffered through a downturn, DataMirror has become stronger and more profitable. In fact, says Stokes, "we're actually stronger today than we were at the start of the technology recession. We've been more profitable and have had more positive cash flow every quarter for almost four years." Stokes continues, "We've shown that we can build a viable growing business model in what is probably the most difficult tech environment from a software perspective in the history of technology companies. I think we have shown that we have a very adaptable and profitable business model and we can manage for changing circumstances."

Being nimble in a fast-changing field requires an experienced and creative management team. "There's a lot of stability in the management team as a whole. We've broadened out our management team, we've brought new people on ­– some recently and others that have grown with us over a course of time –­ and that has really paid off," says Stokes. "People are getting enough cycle time with us to really understand the business and grow with the business. We're trying to complement our team both with people who've been in the business for quite a while and with newcomers who can add new dimensions." With this management team, Stokes says that DataMirror has been "very innovative in how we engage the technology," noting that the company has done "interesting Web positioning over the last year, and that's led to substantial increase in interest in our technology."

Stokes adds that DataMirror is expanding its viability and capabilities, thanks in part to a handful of recent acquisitions, most notably Constellar (a hub-and- spoke ETL architecture used extensively in Oracle), BDI Systems Inc. (resulting in DataMirror's Transformation Server for XML) and, most recently, PointBase (strategic technology in the Java databases that links Web and wireless services). "Our company is very viable, and we invest in these technologies on an ongoing basis. We grow them out, build them out and support them well. In terms of baseline profitability, cash flow, all of the key metrics, we show up well especially in the integration space," Stokes declares.

Stokes acknowledges that there are challenges ahead for DataMirror: scaling up to meet the accelerating growth cycle in the integration market. "We need to get to a $100 million U.S. revenue run rate as quickly as we can, and we're well on our way to doing that," states Stokes.

DataMirror has given special attention to wireless ­ in particular, RFID, or radio frequency identification. Stokes explains: "RFID lends itself to applications in the wireless device side of the market, and we already have experience with similar technology using wireless handheld barcode readers. We think that RFID is going to drive a lot more demand. It's probably one of the areas we're getting the most interest in today. If you look out over the next few years, we'll go beyond the pilot and project phase of this technology into a broader rollout." RFID will make its way into the mainstream market as retailers demand it from their suppliers, says Stokes. "Companies like Wal-Mart are announcing that if you're not RFID compliant, you won't be able to do business with them in 2005. This indicates a major shift that's going to occur in the retail space."

By acquiring PointBase, says Stokes, DataMirror is anticipating that expansion in the market. "PointBase adds to our story by allowing us to store data on Java platforms and synchronize data from a variety of different devices. It runs on Palm and a variety of Java virtual machine [JVM] environments, giving us mobility of applications. We certainly have PointBase positioned for RFID use; we have it positioned for some other interesting Java data storage and synchronization uses as well."

In a market that rewards those companies that can capitalize on "the next big thing" with solid products rather than retooled hype, DataMirror has its paddles in the water and is ready to make waves. Given the predictions about RFID and wireless applications entering the mainstream by 2005/6, DataMirror looks poised to make a big splash.


Year Founded: 1993

Publicly traded: NASDAQ: DMCX and TSX: DMC

Number of Employees: 284

Revenue: $62.5 million in fiscal 2003

Number of Customers: 1,850+

Number of Licenses: 8,287

Nigel Stokes

Last book read: Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

Most entertaining game: Poker

Dream car: GM Truck

Perfect vacation spot: Costa Rica

Hobby: Fishing

Favorite food: Dark chocolate

Favorite beverage: Dom Perignon

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