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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!

Kim Stanick and Rick Glick of ParAccel were at the Boulder BI Brain Trust (BBBT) last Friday. They have an exciting announcement coming soon, and much of what was discussed was under NDA, so I can't give details here. But about half-way through their presentation, they threw up a slide saying simply "EDW: What's not working?"

Well, that's a negative question! And, anyway, I believe most of us have some good ideas about what's not working--from project scoping and delivery issues to problems of complexity of feeds and bottlenecks in timely data availability. So, let me re-frame the question: "Where next for EDW?"

I wrote a BI Thought Leader for ParAccel last April called "Analytic Databases in the World of the Data Warehouse" that began to address that question, and as the world of BI has evolved since, I want to revisit that question briefly. Back then, I wrote:

"Specialized analytic databases using [advanced] technologies ... now offer significantly improved performance for typical BI applications, enable previously impossible analyses and often lower cost implementation. They also have the potential to challenge the current physically layered Data Warehouse architecture. This paper ... argues that analytical databases may enable a move to a simpler non-layered architecture with significant benefits in terms of lower costs of implementation, maintenance, and use."

In brief, it's our old friend, the paradigm shift, enabled by a dramatic shift in the price-performance characteristics of data warehouses driven by a new generation of technology. The possibility I saw then was a return to a physically simpler, more singular implementation of the EDW. And indeed that may still be a first step.

My thinking has evolved further since then, and I'm really beginning to envisage a much larger problem space that we need to address--how to integrate the entire enterprise information set, operational, informational and collaborative. I call that Business Integrated Insight (BI2), described in a more recent white paper. The discussion at BBBT last Friday led by a number of physical database technology experts gave rise to some new insights into how BI2 could be physically instantiated.

Virtualization at every level of the environment--servers, applications, data and particularly databases--linked closely with advances in the technology (as opposed to the hype) of cloud computing is widely discussed today as a way to reduce IT capital and operating costs, consolidate infrastructure, simplify resource management and so on. However, database virtualization offers new possibilities in the physical implementation of an enterprise data architecture that spans all data types and processing needs. Chief among these are flexibility of implementation, adaptability, mediated access to and use of data across multiple database types, significant reductions in data duplication and the gradual construction of overarching models that describe the entire business information resource. I'm sure there's much more to be said on this topic, but I'd love to hear the views of some experts in the field.


Posted February 9, 2010 6:52 AM
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