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Technologies for Enterprise Application Intergration (EAI): HyperRelational Analysis

  • January 01 2001, 1:00am EST

In earlier columns, we discussed two technologies for enterprise application integration (EAI). Data content analysis is used to normalize live databases or files, to reverse engineer third-normal form data structures and database designs directly from the live data content. A second technology ­ inter- enterprise data integration ­ is based on XML and is used to expose all aspects of databases, including business rules, for enterprise application integration.

A third approach ­ called hyperrelational analysis ­ is the subject of this month's column. Hyperrelational analysis is used to analyze the implicit relationships between tables that reside in databases developed by the enterprise, as well as databases developed by enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors such as SAP, Baan and others.

There is growing interest in enterprise portals, also called corporate portals. Quite distinct from Internet portals such as Yahoo, an enterprise portal provides a single gateway to an enterprise that is tailored to the requirements of each individual. A general definition follows: An enterprise portal is a single gateway ­ accessed via the corporate intranet, via a secure extranet used by customers, suppliers and business partners or via the Internet ­ to the relevant workflows, application systems and databases. A portal is typically integrated using XML and tailored to the specific job responsibilities of each individual.

For example, an employee portal enables employees to access the processes, the systems and the databases ­ via intranet or Internet ­ that they need to carry out assigned job responsibilities with full security and firewall protection.

Similarly, a customer portal is a single gateway across the Internet or via a secure extranet to details about products and services, catalogs, and order and invoice status for customers ­ all integrated using XML and tailored to the unique requirements of each customer. It offers clear opportunities for customer personalization and management with one-to-one customer relationship management (CRM).

The problem, however, is in achieving a level of effective application and database integration so that the single point of access of an enterprise portal appears seamless. Each database to be accessed in this environment may have been originally designed for use by specific application systems, but they may not be easily integrated with other databases as they were never required to work together. We discussed in earlier columns that XML can assist this enterprise application integration. But another technology is also available ­ hyperrelational analysis.

Hyperrelational analysis is a patented database integration technology that is used by TopTier Software to analyze explicit and implicit database structures. It uses primary and foreign keys in a database catalog to analyze explicit relationships that are defined by primary and foreign key constraints. It analyzes these keys to identify other relationships that are implicit. It uses them to integrate dissimilar databases in an enterprise integration portal.

For example, if Table A is related to Table B, and Table B is related to Table C, then Table A is implicitly related to Table C. In another example, a relationship may be explicitly defined from an Order table to a Customer table based on a common key of Customer-Number. This same Customer- Number key may also exist in other tables in the database and in other databases throughout the enterprise. Hyperrelational analysis identifies all explicit and implicit relationships based on this common key.

Following this database analysis, TopTier then supports integration across databases by using a drag-and-relate access technique from their enterprise integration portal interface. The power of this integration access is dramatic. For example, a Customer-Number or a Product-Number key value from a SAP R/3 database can be dragged by an end user onto relevant Customer or Product tables in a Baan ERP database or in its own databases. The result is direct access to details of that customer or product across different ERP vendor and enterprise databases.

Another example further illustrates this power. A Return-ID from a Shipping Return (with a foreign key of Shipment-Tracking-Number) is dragged by an end user onto the shipper's icon in a TopTier enterprise integration portal interface ­ to drill down automatically to delivery details for that tracking number directly retrieved from the shipper's Web site. The product CD provided by TopTier includes movies that dramatically show the jaw- dropping power of this technology in action.

We have all seen the double- page spread advertisement by SAP of a beautiful woman looking out from the page of a newspaper or magazine with four simple words: You Can. It Does. This refers to the flexibility of, a portal capability that was developed by SAP based largely on the power of TopTier hyperrelational analysis. Flexible TopTier drag-and-relate database integration capability is an integral component of and in other environments within and across enterprises.

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