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BigData: Article

Data Virtualization Reaches Critical Mass

Independent research firm publishes report touting data virtualization successes

Technology Advancements, New Patterns, And Customer Successes in the Spotlight
On June 15, 2011, the first ever analyst report 100% focused on Data Virtualization was published by a research team led by Brian Hopkins of Forrester Research. The report, entitled Data Virtualization Reaches Critical Mass: Technology Advancements, New Patterns, And Customer Successes Make This Enterprise Technology Both A Short- And Long-Term Solution by Brian Hopkins with Alex Cullen, Mike Gilpin, Boris Evelson, Gene Leganza, and Mackenzie Cahill, examines a range of data virtualization topics and provides a number of adoption recommendations.

Defining Data Virtualization
Forrester's earlier seminal research on Information-as-a-Service (IaaS) sets the stage for this new report. In it they make the following distinction between data virtualization and Iaas:

  • "Data virtualization is a technology that abstracts, transforms, federates, and delivers data taken from a variety of heterogeneous information sources. It allows consuming applications or users to access data from these various sources via a request to a single access point."
  • "Forrester differentiates data virtualization from the notion of data fabric and information-as-a-service, even though these terms are often used synonymously. Data virtualization refers to the core technology stack, and data fabric is used to indicate an enterprise deployment of data virtualization and supporting technologies, whereas IaaS refers to a broadly scoped data services deployment that includes data fabric and other SOA technologies such as ESBs."

Significant Drivers Propel the Data Virtualization Trend
Hopkins and team findings regarding what is driving demand for data virtualization are insightful. In particular they point out:

  • Shortcomings in ETL-based data integration approaches cause degradation of data quality and delayed information.
  • Traditional data integration approaches that consolidate multiple databases into a single warehouse are too slow, expensive and risky in today's dynamic business environment.
  • Cloud-based data sources add new integration complexity
  • Business cannot wait for long running initiatives such as MDM and will take the integration problem into their own hands if IT cannot provide better short term alternatives.

Data Virtualization Adoption Expected to Accelerate
Based in their research, Forrester estimates less than 20% data virtualization adoption overall. And even within the early adopters, usage levels have significant room to expand. Forrester provided Qualcomm as an example of expansion. "When we realized that we didn't have to physically move data around for integration, the technology started to really make sense. Now we have gone from point solutions to an enterprise deployment [of data virtualization]."

Forrester projects a significant acceleration of data virtualization adoption in the coming 18-30 months as new usage patterns and successes increase awareness and interest.

Technology Advancements Are Critical
The report identifies six technology advancements that are breaking down barriers to adoption.  These include:

  • "Cost-based query optimization increases the number of usage patterns.
  • Distributed caching enables enterprise-scale operations.
  • Improved discovery tools make virtual data stores easier to create.
  • Data masking adds element-level protection to virtual data sources.
  • More out-of-the-box third-party integrations create a true enterprise platform.
  • Integration of big data expands the potential for business insight."

Data Virtualization Adoption Goes Across Industries
The Forrester report details several data virtualization success stories, including Composite Software customers Pfizer and Qualcomm.  For Pfizer, moving to a single BI platform was simply not cost effective; however, operating with several platforms presented integration challenges that affected quality, speed, and cost. The drug company implemented virtualization technology from Composite Software early in the integration process to prototype new data sources prior to adding them to its enterprise data warehouse, and achieve better integration of data with existing BI tools. As a result, it significantly reduced the integration cycle time as well as its cost.

Qualcomm initially procured Composite Software's virtualization technology to access customer data in salesforce.com and combine it with ticket information from internal systems. It implemented a system leveraging vendor-supplied out-of-the-box integration to create a relational virtual database within its firewall. This provided better performance and was much simpler to implement that a straight web service approach; the company accomplished the project in a matter of weeks. Based on this success, Qualcomm has now deployed an enterprise information fabric architecture using the Forrester hourglass strategy.

Beyond Qualcomm in telecommunications technology and Pfizer in pharmaceuticals, adoption in heath care (HealthNow) and financial services (another Composite Software customer not specifically identified in the report)  was also described.  More in-depth case studies at these firms and others reveals the range of adoption patterns and business value opportunities outlined in the report.  And beyond these industries, other significant adoption has occurred in energy, federal government, media, retail and more.

Data Virtualization Recommendations
The report closes with tangible advice to Enterprise Architects charged with delivering business value.  In particular they counsel adoption of data virtualization to as a tangible immediate solution to current business problems.  For more insights into the issues, opportunities and next steps, a copy of the Forrester Research report is available here.

More Stories By Robert Eve

Robert Eve is the EVP of Marketing at Composite Software, the data virtualization gold standard and co-author of Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility. Bob's experience includes executive level roles at leading enterprise software companies such as Mercury Interactive, PeopleSoft, and Oracle. Bob holds a Masters of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science from the University of California at Berkeley.