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The Future is Now

  • December 01 2001, 1:00am EST

In 1609 Galileo, the Italian astronomer and physicist, produced a telescope that could magnify objects twenty times. It was one of the many interesting and innovative mechanical devices that he designed in his lifetime. While the hydrostatic balance, the sector and the pendulum clock he developed were equally innovative, their discovery and documentation did not have the negative personal and professional effects that Galileo's documentation of his discoveries with the telescope did. Unfortunately for Galileo's career, his publication of the book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems documented the fact that the earth was not the center of the universe. This view ran counter to the prevailing establishment's doctrine, and that led to Galileo spending the rest of his life under house arrest. Unfortunately, Galileo didn't live long enough to see his proof of Copernicus' theories accepted by society.

In today's rapidly moving landscape, forward- looking thinkers often see their predictions realized. This is currently happening in our world of business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing.

Just a few short years ago, one of the brightest people in our market segment, Neil Raden, was delivering speeches and writing about his view that our current models of hardware, software, database and data warehouse design were not the end-all, be-all. He predicted that the walls between online transaction processing (OLTP) systems and data warehouses would come down and that advances in technology would yield a blending of operational and analytical capability.

Of course, these views were heresy to the establishment and ran contrary to every prevailing opinion. Fortunately for Neil, there was no inquisition such as there was in Galileo's time – and there are no sentences of lifetime house arrest for unpopular BI views. Also fortunate for Neil, the world moves quickly enough today that he is getting the chance to witness his predictions become reality.

As Neil predicted, we now have tools and technologies to allow OLTP capabilities, operational data store (ODS) capabilities and data warehouse capabilities in the same database. While the products are proprietary in nature today and limited to niche-sized market share, these capabilities will become widespread and mainstream in the years to come.

In the systems that are running today, teams are combining near real-time data feeds, heavy user loads, detail- level transaction records, extensive transaction history, analysis and trending functionality, hundreds of gigabytes to terabytes of data, OLTP field- level update/edit functionality and OLTP response time.

With this approach, these teams have eliminated four separate relational database management systems (RDBMSs) instances (OLTP, ODS, data warehouse and data mart); the extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) and replication of data across these four instances; the software license fees for the multiple instances; and the ongoing cost of software support and personnel to maintain all instances.

The only question is what do you call one of these things? If you call it a data warehouse, you ignore its OLTP and ODS capabilities and fundamentally limit the market potential of this revolutionary capability. I believe online information processing (OLIP) would be more appropriate, as it would define a new space.

Another major trend moving our market is a spate of new technologies that is changing the fundamental way data is integrated for BI purposes. This market-shifting capability provides seamless integration of disparate data sources and systems. These powerful federation enablers create and sustain the free flow of information between the many heterogeneous BI systems that are typical in today's business organizations.

These new capabilities – one inherently centralized, the other inherently decentralized and federated – threaten the established order of BI and data warehousing in a way that can only be compared to that of Copernican thought.

The geocentric view that was prevalent in the seventeenth century was based on the teachings of the two great masters, Aristotle and Ptolemy. They had taught that the earth was the center of the universe. In our new world, the data warehouse may no longer be the center of the universe. It may be replaced by OLIP systems, federated BI systems, or a mix of the two. Welcome to the future.

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