November 16, 2009 — The Data Warehousing Institute, an educational and conference hosting group, today released a report called Checklist Report on Data Federation. Written by Wayne Eckerson, director of research at TDWI, and sponsored by Composite Software, the report explains when and how enterprises should or should not use data federation middleware.

Data federation, also called data virtualization, offers business users and application developers an interface to access multiple information sources, making remote data appear as if it resides in a single local database.

“Data federation is an established technique and technology that every one should have in the data integration portfolio,” said Eckerson. “Think of it like a carpenter who comes to your house with all the tools for the situations. The same thing goes for the data integration team. They need a variety of tools.”

Data federation software consists of four basic components:

  1. Data discovery tools that assist developers in understanding the structure and contents of remote data sources.
  2. Business modeling or “abstraction” tools that create business-oriented models of data that reside on different systems in various locations.
  3. A distributed query optimizer and execution engine that calculates the most efficient way to join remote data sets, perform needed transformations, and deliver the results back to the user or application.
  4. Data adapters that provide native (and thus optimized) access to major databases and applications.

Notably, some technical constraints may tip the balance for whether an organization employs a virtual or physical architecture to support an application. “The data-on-the-fly queries are subject to things outside of your control, such as speed of network and quality of data. To ensure success, make sure you don’t try to do more than is possible given your infrastructure,” said Eckerson.

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