For the past 80 years, each Green Bay Packer/Chicago Bear NFL contest has produced a brilliant display of rivalry. Throughout the years, however, the teams have also developed respect and admiration for each other. This is not to say that the Packers don't aim to put the Bears in a world of hurt each time they meet on the line of scrimmage (and vice versa). They love to hate each other.

Another well-known love-hate relationship is the product of increasing data in today's business world. Gartner, Inc. estimates that by 2004, enterprises will be faced with 30 times more data than 1999 levels. While the mass quantity of data available to businesses today is often overwhelming, few will argue that access to this data does not provide competitive edge. In fact, Gartner believes that enterprises will increasingly compete on the basis of their ability to narrow the "knowledge gap" – the difference between the data available to an enterprise and the enterprise's ability to use that data efficiently and effectively.

Thankfully, Pete Fiore, president of Ascential Software Corporation, is leading his company in a singularly focused mission to provide the most complete and scalable enterprise data integration platform in the industry – a platform complete enough to narrow the "knowledge gap." The company's data integration business, launched in 1996 (DataStage was first introduced to the market in January of 1997), was simply a portion of the company's vocation until 2001. "Our most significant strategic step in 2001 was selling the Informix database business to IBM in a $1 billion cash transaction and turning our complete focus on the enterprise data integration market," explains Fiore. "The financial resources provided to us by this transaction, as well as our strategic alliance with IBM around our data integration products, added significantly to our arsenal and provide us with the opportunity to build Ascential into a major force within the enterprise software market."

You read that correctly. In an unorthodox move, Ascential sold Informix, their parent. Fiore elaborates, "We did what was right for our customers, employees and shareholders. Informix was a pioneer. They were always recognized for wonderful technology. Unfortunately, market conditions had changed, and IBM, Microsoft and Oracle were the obvious leaders in the database business. We felt the best thing to do was to find a way for all of the assets – the technology, employees and customer relationships – to be put into the hands of somebody that could take advantage of them and leverage these resources; and IBM was the perfect answer. They have a great reputation with customers and they're supporting the technology," confirms Fiore. "They have a plan to take advantage of the best parts of Informix database technology by including them in DB2. At the same time, Informix shareholders received shares in a company that was very well positioned in a high-growth market. The company has great products, great people and a good customer base."

During that year, Ascential discontinued the remaining Informix products that proved to be peripheral to their customers' data integration requirements. At the same time, they significantly enriched their popular core data integration platform, DataStage. All of 2001 was spent building the uniquely comprehensive, performance-oriented data integration platform – and the corporate organization to deliver it – that Ascential has today. This focus meaningfully differentiates Ascential from its competitors.

It is this singular focus of Ascential that enables Ascential customers to operate enterprise-wide. In this, the Internet age, the increasing velocity of information from an ever- growing variety of data sources including databases, applications, documents and clickstreams makes the task of managing enterprise information even more formidable. The ability to make sense of all this data, to manage it, to derive insight and formulate effective action from it is not optional for global companies today; it is required.

DataStage XE, Ascential's flagship product, is the industry's most comprehensive data integration platform for use within the financial services, telecommunications, healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, transportation, consumer packaged goods and retail sectors. It supports the collection, integration and transformation of high volumes of data.

The INTEGRITY data quality product family provides a full suite of powerful data cleansing, standardization and probabilistic matching capabilities. MetaRecon is Ascential's data profiling solution that automates source systems analysis. The process of deciphering the content and meaning of terabytes of data and determining relationships between thousands of rows and columns of data from disparate information systems is typically a labor- intensive first step in successful data integration projects. With MetaRecon, not only is this critical step automated, it is much more effective than manual methods.

These three core products have just been refreshed with new releases as part of Ascential's new Enterprise Data Integration Suite announced on October 1. The Ascential Suite incorporates DataStage, INTEGRITY and MetaRecon as modules on a platform of common integration services, which include unlimited linear scalability and end-to-end meta data management. The products are available from Ascential as best-in-class standalone components or as elements of the complete enterprise data integration suite.

Ascential's suite of products enables the integration of internal and external data. Together, these products transform, integrate, cleanse and then deliver enterprise data to the required applications, giving users a complete view of their business, thus unlocking the value of data for decision-makers throughout a company.

Why hasn't every corporation adopted Ascential's solution? Fiore reports that many companies initially believe they can address data integration issues themselves. Fiore admits that solutions developed in house often work – initially. "When you write data integration code internally and then test it, you're only moving small amounts of data from one or two sources. It's later when you try to go into production that you realize you need to determine and address the data quality issues, cleanse the data and manage the meta data. That's when you realize that your code will not cut it for the 30, 40, 50 or 100 million rows of data that you need to integrate. The 3 or 4 million rows you used in testing your home-grown systems didn't tell you that."

"We make it more cost effective to deliver the solution and provide capabilities you can't develop internally because of the sophistication of the technology we have – complex data transformation, parallel processing, meta data management and data cleansing. This is all very sophisticated – and in many cases, patented – technology," states Fiore.

Fiore admits Ascential is somewhat unique. "We are an infrastructure vendor in a world of tools vendors. The old view of us as a tool-oriented company with tool-oriented products for the IT community doesn't encapsulate what we do today for our customers. Our areas of focus and the things that have driven the evolution of our company over the last year have all been oriented around driving more business value. This has been in response to customer initiatives – customers want to get more value to drive more revenue to become more operationally efficient to get better returns on their assets. We help them to realize the benefits they expect from their massive information technology investments."

"Successful deployment of large enterprise applications, such as CRM (customer relationship management), first requires an effective data integration effort. There is a series of steps a company must go through to execute effective data integration. The first step is to analyze the source systems to determine the location, nature, genesis and relationships inherent in all the information you will need. Second, you need to determine what is in your source systems, the common or duplicate elements and the data quality issues you must deal with. Then, you must cleanse and load the data. Ascential has developed a platform that addresses all of those steps. Even if you don't buy the entire solution at one time, it is important to know you can get what you need today, then get all the other elements of a complete solution later from a single vendor, and that it will all work together seamlessly," Fiore explains. "What we've done in the last year is build a platform that allows customers to deploy the most strategic applications using our infrastructure. We can meet whatever performance requirement they have by virtue of the parallel processing capability we acquired with Torrent. With the ability to scale to virtually an unlimited number of processors, our platform can handle gigabytes, terabytes and petabytes of data."


Pete Fiore, President
Ascential Software Corporation

Fiore relates that industry analysts estimate that the data integration software market will grow to $3.5 billion in 2004, thus validating the market force driving Ascential. Additional facts reveal the extent of this market's growing need for data integration. According to industry experts, the average enterprise will manage 100 terabytes of data by 2005, and large enterprises will manage 500 terabytes.

Additionally, Fiore indicates that by increasing interoperability of applications, Web services will also increase the need for data integration, which could drive this market exponentially.

Enterprises have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on large-scale enterprise applications such as SAP, Siebel, i2, PeopleSoft and SAP. "These are all great enterprise applications," says Fiore, "but, in many cases, those who bought these products have not gotten the ROI they expected when they implemented the applications. This is not because the product is in any way deficient. It's because they didn't solve the base data problem first. They were unable to feed those applications with a good, continuous, reliable stream of high-quality data. That's the business we're in. We help customers get the value that's inherent and locked up in their scattered enterprise data."

Two years ago, businesses assumed they would receive a substantial ROI from all implementations without any effort. Now, however, everyone is concerned with ROI. Fiore suggests customers look at ROI in two ways. One way to look at ROI is from a pure productivity point of view. He says, "The traditional way of solving a data integration problem is to put a team of internal developers to work custom-coding data integration solutions. Absent experience, it's easy to think that all you'll have to do is move data from one place to another and perhaps you could also clean it up along the way. The problem with this approach is that it's a lot more expensive than anybody ever believes it will be at the inception of the project. What Ascential can do here is shrink the cost and complexity of a data integration problem. We save businesses time and money over the life of the project because the solutions developed internally become big, costly applications to maintain. The other way we deliver ROI is by maximizing the potential of the strategic application initiatives that we're supporting."

Ascential Software Corporation Fact Table

Year Founded: 2001
Publicly traded or Privately Held: Public (NASDAQ ASCL)
Number of Emplyees: 700
Revenue: $123,980, FY 2001
Number of Customers: 2,100

The desire to provide a complete data integration suite is the motivation behind some of Ascential's acquisitions, including Vality. "Internally, our product line already had the capability for data quality assessment. We could look at a data warehouse, or some other source or target and determine the types of data quality issues and problems that existed. However, our technology didn't fix the data per se – the technology that we acquired from Vality does the data correction piece."

How did a company founded in 2001 accomplish so much in just two years? "We've been on the mission of creating and establishing our company as the leader in the enterprise data integration space," notes Fiore. "What's important is that through our time as part of Informix, in the Ascential part of the company we've stayed focused on that same mission. Whether you look at us when we were VMark or Ardent or now as Ascential, the constant theme is that we've always focused on providing data integration solutions that allow our customers to get the fastest time-to-value and ROI from their investments in data warehousing, business intelligence and enterprise applications. Our mission has remained constant throughout that entire period – only the logos have changed."

Let the Packers and Bears give us our required dose of a love-hate relationship – after all, football season is upon us. As for our relationship with data, Ascential's suite of data integration products takes the hate out – benefiting us all.

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