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Centralization or devolved power?

The latest incarnation of this controversy appears to be about to hit the IT industry in what has referred to in a recent article as a looming database war. The catalyst for this conflict will be IBM's forthcoming Xperanto.

Market Analysis

Centralization or devolved power?
What goes around comes around. It is traditional within companies to reorganize themselves once every few years. In part this is because of the newest management philosophy of the day and in part it is because the latest management structure is not working as well as it was expected to do when it was introduced a few years ago (when it too was the philosophy of the day).

Or, of course, it may because you have just got yourself a new CEO who wants to apply a new broom. Whatever the reason anyone with any length of tenure in a large company will recognize the revolving door that is management structure, often with effectively similar strategies repeated on a regular basis.

One of the key questions amongst such re-organizations is the issue of whether power should be centralized, or whether it should be devolved. A classic example is the British National Health Service, where successive governments have wrangled about which is the preferred approach. A similar debate, with almost equally common reversals of opinion, has occurred with respect to computing, and whether this should be centrally controlled and, if not, how much power should be devolved to individual locations.

The latest incarnation of this controversy appears to be about to hit the IT industry in what has referred to in a recent article as a looming database war. The catalyst for this conflict will be IBM's forthcoming Xperanto. As its name implies this is sort of cross between XML and Esparanto (I will report in more detail once it is officially announced) and it is intended to resolve the problems associated with bringing together data from multiple sources and presenting the results as if these source were integrated.

What makes this a war, apparently, is that both Microsoft and IBM espouse this approach, which is based on the concept of federated databases, while Oracle does not. Oracle believes that it is more cost-effective to have a few large databases rather than a lot of smaller ones. Actually, this has been the position for some time, but to date neither IBM nor Microsoft has provided much in the way of software to exploit the concept of federated databases. This will change with the introduction of Xperanto and in the next release of SQL Server.

However, the integration of data from diverse sources is much more than a question of federated rather than centralised data. As notes in its article, BEA is also a vendor (in the same camp as IBM and Microsoft) in this market, with its Liquid Data product. But this begs the question as to whether this is really a database issue at all, or rather just a new spin on the question of data integration. For example, if one Application Server vendor has entered the fray, will others? Moreover, all the leading data movement and ETL (extract, transform and load) suppliers now offer real-time data movement capabilities, so it would be equally plausible to consider the use of their tools for this purpose.

The issue of federated versus centralized databases is a minority sport, and relatively few companies are big enough to care one way or the other. The issue of how you integrate data from a variety of sources in a seamless way is much more important to far more people. But it is by no means simply a database issue. Hardly a war: more likely a skirmish.

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