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Barry Devlin

As one of the founders of data warehousing back in the mid-1980s, a question I increasingly ask myself over 25 years later is: Are our prior architectural and design decisions still relevant in the light of today's business needs and technological advances? I'll pose this and related questions in this blog as I see industry announcements and changes in way businesses make decisions. I'd love to hear your answers and, indeed, questions in the same vein.

About the author >

Dr. Barry Devlin is among the foremost authorities in the world on business insight and data warehousing. He was responsible for the definition of IBM's data warehouse architecture in the mid '80s and authored the first paper on the topic in the IBM Systems Journal in 1988. He is a widely respected consultant and lecturer on this and related topics, and author of the comprehensive book Data Warehouse: From Architecture to Implementation.

Barry's interest today covers the wider field of a fully integrated business, covering informational, operational and collaborative environments and, in particular, how to present the end user with an holistic experience of the business through IT. These aims, and a growing conviction that the original data warehouse architecture struggles to meet modern business needs for near real-time business intelligence (BI) and support for big data, drove Barry’s latest book, Business unIntelligence: Insight and Innovation Beyond Analytics, now available in print and eBook editions.

Barry has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years, mainly as a Distinguished Engineer for IBM in Dublin, Ireland. He is now founder and principal of 9sight Consulting, specializing in the human, organizational and IT implications and design of deep business insight solutions.

Editor's Note: Find more articles and resources in Barry's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel and blog. Be sure to visit today!

I've been meaning to resurrect this blog for some time now, but, hey! life gets in the way. But, the recent coverage of Microsoft's acquisition of DatAllegro proved to be the trigger to get me going, though. It's all about feeds and speeds, bigger volumes, faster access and cheaper warehouses. Debates about how this will help Microsoft move up in the market and how it will impact the other vendors.

That's all very well and good, but, excuse me, have I missed something? Since when did data marts become data warehouses? I know that the appliance vendors tend to label themselves as data warehouse appliances, but I thought we all knew that was marketing. Of course, any appliance will be part of a data warehouse system in the broader sense. But when you look at the features and strengths that appliances have, you can see that they are really data marts. Data "hypermarts" perhaps, but marts nonetheless.

By definition, a data mart is a subset of the data in the enterprise data warehouse that has been optimized for use by a particular set of users. Such optimization includes selecting the data needed for some set of business purposes and structuring it to allow the fastest, most appropriate query access for users. It's all about how you get the data out! Sounds to me like exactly what the appliance vendors emphasize.

On the other hand, the data warehouse focus is on getting the data in. How to cleanse and reconcile the diverse data. How to ensure the cross-source timing is right. How to create a model that reflects the needs of the wider enterprise. And finally to make the consolidated view of the business available to the users - usually through data marts.

So, does the Microsoft acquisition disrupt the entire data warehouse market, sending the large players into a spin? I doubt it. Building a real data warehouse will continue to be as challenging as ever, requiring the same strong integration and project management skills as before as well as the deep database integration and manipulation technology that only the big relational databases possess as of now.

Posted July 30, 2008 7:36 PM
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