Database Diplomacy

Metagon Technologies gives users a single view of very different databases

Everything the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) needs to know about its outstanding loans, borrower demographics, loan costs, staff deployment and other information is stored in a SQL Server database. Unless the information is in a Progress database. Or in its legacy VAX RDB database. Or in a Btrieve database. Or in an Access database or a spreadsheet.

But analysts and directors at the agency, a quasi-governmental organization in Boston that secures mortgages for low- to moderate-income borrowers, have easy access to a combined view of everything through DQpowersuite from Charlotte, N.C.-based Metagon Technologies LLC.

DQpowersuite provides a unified data view (also called a federated view) of all data sources and lets end users build reports and make queries as though the heterogeneous databases were one relational database system.

According to MHFA project manager Carl Richardson, the installation of DQpowersuite was a painless way to bridge the agency's data islands without having to retrain the 100 end users of Cognos Corp.'s Impromptu executive information system or conduct a massive effort to re-engineer the back-office systems. DQpowersuite "gives me a lot of flexibility," says Richardson. "I no longer have to worry about what database the data is contained in."

Juggling Databases

Organizations that are juggling a mixed set of databases as the MHFA is are ideal Metagon customers, says CEO Lance Becker. And there are plenty of them, he adds.

"The concept of a single database has been destroyed," he says. "(Companies) have got lots and lots of different data types, in lots and lots of different data sets, in lots and lots of different computers."

Metagon originated within Decision Support Inc., a vendor of reporting software for Unisys Corp. computers. In January 1998, Decision Support spun off Metagon to focus on building reporting products for heterogeneous computing environments.

The key technology behind Metagon's products -- DQbroker, its query engine; DQview, which enables data access via an Excel plug-in; and DQpowersuite, a set of products that includes reporting, extraction-transformation loading, programming application programming interfaces and an Excel plug-in -- is a metafile, says Becker. The metafile pulls all the metadata stored in the original databases, collecting information on where and how the corporate data is stored and enabling the query engine to break down the SQL request and send subrequests to the appropriate database engines. Processing stays at the source machine as much as possible to optimize performance. Result sets can come to a third location for further processing if need be, such as in the case of a join across database engines.

In Need of Native Support

Metagon has built native support for today's popular relational databases but has a less compelling story for corporations with legacy mainframe systems, where it uses third-party tools for access, says Becker.

Although Metagon supports DB/2 natively, it's weak on support for IBM mainframe databases, which Peter Urban, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, says he regards as a negative. And customers will have to contend with the unavoidable performance hit that comes from using a federated data view, Urban says. Unlike a data-warehousing architecture or direct queries to a database, queries are slower to process, especially in the case of complex combinations of disparate databases.

Adding native support for more databases is part of Metagon's plans, Becker says, as is improving installation procedures and finding ways to incorporate desktop data, such as the information stored in personal databases, into the mix.

Metagon has already taken notice of the desktop and has introduced a new product, DQview, that allows users to embed SQL queries into Excel spreadsheets and have them executed against back-office databases through the DQbroker query engine. DQview is a compelling product, says Urban, because it puts SQL expertise in the hands of business analysts, in a spreadsheet format they're familiar with it. The end result is that the product eliminates the need for an information technology person to serve as the interface between the business users and the databases.

The Buzz: State of the Market

Not a New Idea

Metagon has several competitors, split among traditional enterprise-reporting vendors and newer companies that provide unified data-views software.

DataDirect

Merant International Ltd.

Morrisville, N.C.

www.merant.com

DataDirect is middleware that creates a single-sign-on, real-time, integrated view of almost any database management system. It supports stored, XML, Web and packaged-application data. Like Metagon, it works with third-party query and reporting tools.

E-Catalog System

Cohera Corp.

Hayward, Calif.

www.cohera.com

Cohera's software has the same key features as Metagon's, but Cohera's niche is so specific -- business-to-business firms that want to build integrated electronic catalogs combining information from multiple vendors -- that it crosses just a thin slice of Metagon's market.

Focus and WebFocus

Information Builders Inc.

New York

www.ibi.com

Information Builders is making a play for the heterogeneous, intranet-infrastructure market with its WebFocus tool, which translates results into HTML pages. Focus products rely on their own query tools; Metagon lets users work with third-party query and reporting tools.

Integrity

Vality Technology Inc.

Boston

www.vality.com

Integrity operates on free-form data and data stored in relational database applications. Vality differentiates Integrity by focusing on uncovering hidden relationships among data for business analysis, whereas Metagon emphasizes DQpowersuite's purer querying capabilities.

Rapid Diagnostic

InfoRay Inc.

Cambridge, Mass.

www.inforay.com

This suite of products offers the same kind of access-anywhere capabilities as Metagon's DQpowersuite. It has modules that handle access to data and apply a company's business rules to the requested data.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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