Entering the Era of Data Virtualization

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For those of you who never got too jazzed about concepts like Enterprise Information Integration (EII) and Virtual Data Federation (VDF), it looks like those ideas are being repackaged into an all-new data center initiative. And with IT vendors always looking to make the most out of a successful trend, get ready to hear a lot about "data virtualization."


One the face of it, it's the next step in the march of virtualization from the server, to storage, to the network, desktop and the application. The idea is to pull data from multiple sources into a virtual store that is available to everyone and anyone regardless of hardware or software platforms.


A company called Composite Software is claiming a stake in data virtualization with a new middleware stack called the Composite Information Server, recently certified for the HP Neoview warehouse platform. The system broadens Neoview's reach by providing access to data from any source on either the local- or wide-area network.


Robert Eve, vice president of marketing at Composite, lays out the company's DV philosophy in this article on Sys-Con. In it, he cautions against both over- and under-use of the technology through a proper assessment of organizational requirements. Most enterprises will likely pursue a hybrid approach that involves both virtual and physical technologies.


Another vendor in the running is Radiant Logic, which recently unveiled what it calls the first "context server" based on DV technology. The RadiantOne Virtual Context Server is designed to pull "contextual information" -- that is, data that can be put to use by business processes -- from disparate application silos. Radiant's software can then publish the data as standard English sentences that can be arranged as contextual links across multiple processes so it can be more easily be searched, extracted and combined into meaningful information.


A lot of this may sound like reinventing the wheel to some of you, but according to software analyst Wayne Kernochan, data virtualization is both a logical extension of virtualization in general and offers clear benefits to the enterprise, although it may not be as easy to implement as some vendors would have you believe. The biggest obstacle is philosophical, rather than technical, in that it requires a reassessment of existing information architectures and how they can be applied to 21st century business requirements.


Next to your human resources, data is the most valuable element of your organization. Data virtualization is still a relatively new concept, so it will likely go through a number of permutations before it finds a real footing in the enterprise. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth keeping an eye on today, if only so you'll be better prepared when the time comes to make a move.