Thursday, October 27, 2005

Love amongst vendors is fickle

Informatica just announced a partnership with SAP. This illustrates just how difficult it can be for software vendors to develop lasting mutually beneficial relationships, since SAP had exactly such a relationship with Ascential (presumably this is now moot). Reportedly, Ascential got a lot less from this relationship than they had originally hoped, so it remains to be seen whether Informatica will do any better. Just to add to the haze, SAP has been stating recently that its Netweaver brand of technology will do ETL functions itself. So what is a customer to do: continue with Ascential, switch to Informatica, or wait for Netweaver to provide functionality?

I would suggest that the correct response is: "continue whatever you are doing". If you were using Ascential, then it is perhaps less comforting that SAP no longer promotes this, but the technology clearly works the same both pre and post press release. If you were using Informatica anyway then nothing changes, while waiting for Netweaver to do ETL for you and so obviate the need for a separate tool is perhaps the only dubious choice. SAP's record with products not at the heart of their application platform expertise is patchy at best. SAP first tried a BI product (actually more than one) in the mid 1990s, then replaced this set with LIS and other tools, then switched yet again to BW and Business Explorer. SAP's MDM product did not exactly set the world alight. Despite heavy marketing through its vast installed base, it turns out that just 20 customers had deployed SAP MDM by mid 2005 (revealed at an SAP conference). 20 out of an installed base of 18,000 customers is about 0.1% penetration after two years of trying. SAP has since dropped this and bought A2I, and will rebuild a new MDM offering around that, which is another hard lesson to customers that buying from big vendors is by no means always "safe".

So customers with ETL needs and no committed product yet should just evaluate Informatica and Ascential Datastage (now an IBM product) and let them slug it out. These two vendors emerged as the leaders in the ETL market, with previous pioneers like ETI Extract shrinking to near oblivion, and Sagent disappearing entirely. Only the eccentric and secretive company Ab Initio has retained a niche in high volume ETL, though since customers have to sign an NDA just to peek at the product it is hard to know much about their market progress.

IBM's relationship with SAP also continues ambivalently. IBM makes a stack of money from services around SAP implementation, and gets some database revenue if the customer runs SAP on DB2, so in principle their relationship should be on solid footing. Yet SAP's Netweaver announcement put this (including its XI technology) smack up against IBM Websphere in the middleware space, a core business for IBM, who have eschewed the business applications market. The path of true love is a rocky one.

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