BACKGROUND: Hewitt Associates, based in Lincolnshire, Illinois, is the largest employee benefits consulting firm in the United States with 11,000 associates in 37 countries worldwide. Hewitt serves more than two-thirds of the Fortune 100 and one-third of the Global 500.

PLATFORMS: SyncSort UNIX runs on all major UNIX platforms including Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Compaq Tru64 and SVR4.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We created a data warehouse to deal with nonuniform data from different operational systems within the company and from numerous customers worldwide. Standardizing that data for the warehouse was a huge challenge, both in terms of the programming required and the volume of data to be processed. SyncSort played a key role in building the warehouse and is now integral to its functioning. We use SyncSort to select the required data from numerous sources, greatly reducing data transfer time over the network. SyncSort's data conversion, aggregation and reformatting functions standardize data rapidly and eliminate having to write special C programs. High- volume presorting with SyncSort speeds database loads. In general, flat file processing with SyncSort is far faster than processing within the database. The warehouse is now an efficient, reliable information center used for customer queries, benchmarking, financial analysis and strategic reporting.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SyncSort UNIX is high-performance ETL tool designed for flat file preprocessing in data warehouse and large-volume database environments. Its functionality includes data conversion, reformatting, record selection and grouping, field extraction, summarization and report writing as well as file merging and copying. It accepts COBOL data definitions and a wide variety of data types and record formats.

STRENGTHS: SyncSort's speed is critical to us. We process large volumes of data daily, and SyncSort gives us the performance we need to finish within our processing windows. SyncSort functionality is equally important. We rely on the data conversion and reformatting features including if-then logic. SyncSort also lets us easily split source files into multiple extract files to be fed into the data warehouse. All these functions are much easier to implement than writing an equivalent C program, and the performance and functionality are far superior to the native UNIX sort utility.

WEAKNESSES: Our team has developed creative uses of SyncSort, such as pivoting database data from vertical to horizontal. This technique is not fully covered in the documentation, but SyncSort technical support helped us out. Also, the installation documentation could have been more extensive. SyncSort is now including timely information in release notes.

PRODUCT CHARACTERISTICS: SyncSort is a high-performance product designed for large- volume processing. It uses patented sorting algorithms and advanced I/O techniques, and it is optimized to exploit UNIX and hardware architecture. SyncSort includes an array of data processing functions that are easily implemented through SyncSort syntax.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We use SyncSort extensively in our mainframe (MVS) environment, where we are very pleased with its performance and are familiar with its functionality. It was a natural step to bring SyncSort to our UNIX platform.

DELIVERABLES: SyncSort outputs data that has been selected, sorted, reformatted and aggregated according to our specifications. The preprocessed data can then be rapidly loaded into our warehouse or handed off for further processing. In both cases, SyncSort dramatically reduces our processing time.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Technical support is available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. SyncSort support technicians have special expertise in sorting and data manipulation applications, and we have always found them to be responsive and knowledgeable.

DOCUMENTATION: SyncSort UNIX documentation includes a comprehensive reference guide, manual pages and two useful introductory booklets that provide sample applications and an overview of SyncSort capabilities.

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