|By Robert Eve||
|December 6, 2011 09:30 AM EST||
Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility is the first book published on the topic of data virtualization. Along with an overview of data virtualization and its advantages, it presents ten case studies of organizations that have adopted data virtualization to significantly improve business decision making, decrease time-to-solution and reduce costs. This article describes data virtualization adoption at one of the enterprises profiled, Pfizer Inc.
Pfizer Inc. is a biopharmaceutical company that develops, manufactures and markets medicines for both humans and animals. As the world's largest drug manufacturer, Pfizer operates globally with 111,500 employees and a presence in over 100 countries.
Worldwide Pharmaceutical Sciences (PharmSci) is a group of scientists responsible for enabling what drugs Pfizer will bring to market. This group designs, synthesizes and manufactures all drugs that are part of clinical trials and toxicology testing within Pfizer.
For this case study, we interviewed Dr. Michael C. Linhares, Ph.D and Research Fellow. Linhares heads up the Business Information Systems (BIS) team within PharmSci.
BIS is responsible for portfolio and resource management across all of PharmSci's projects. This involves designing, building and supporting systems that deliver data to executive teams and staff to help them make decisions regarding how to allocate available resources - both people and dollars - across the overall portfolio of over 100 projects annually.
The Business Problem
A major challenge for PharmSci is the fact that it has a complex portfolio of projects that is constantly changing.
According to Linhares, "Every week, something new comes up and we need to ensure that the right information is communicated to the right people. The people making decisions about resource allocation need easy and simple methods for obtaining that information. One aspect of this is that some people learn the information first and they need to communicate it to others who are responsible for making decisions based on the information. This creates an information-sharing challenge."
Linhares estimates that there are 80 to 100 information producers within PharmSci and over 1,000 information consumers, including the executives who seek a full picture of the project portfolio - financial data, project data, people data and data about the pharmaceutical compounds themselves.
The Technical Problem
The data required is created in and managed by different applications, each developed by a different team, stored in multiple sources managed by different technologies, and the applications don't talk to each other.
This makes it very difficult to access summary information across all projects. Examples would be identifying how much money is being spent on all projects in the project management system, what the next milestones are and when each will be met, and who is working on each project. "We needed a solution that would allow us to pull all this information together in an agile way."
When Linhares joined PharmSci, there was very little in the way of effective information integration. Most integration was done manually by exporting data from various systems into Excel spreadsheets and then either combining spreadsheets or taking the spreadsheet data and moving it into Access or SQL Server databases. With no real security controls, this approach also lacked scalability and opportunities for reuse, generated multiple copies of the spreadsheets (with various changes), and it often took weeks to build a spreadsheet with only a 50% chance that it would include all of the data required.
To be successful, the solution to these data integration and reporting problems had to provide the following:
- A single, integrated view of all data sources with a common set of naming conventions
- A flexible middle layer that would be independent of both the data sources on the back end and the reporting tools on the front end to facilitate easy change management
- Shared metadata and business rule functionality so there would be a single point for managing and monitoring the solution
- A development platform that supported fast, iterative development and, therefore, continuous process improvement
Three Options Considered
BIS considered three solution architectures to meet their business and technical challenges.
- Traditional Information Factory: The first option was a traditional approach of an integrated, scalable information factory. Pfizer had already implemented information factories in the division using a combination of Informatica ETL tools, Oracle databases and custom-built reporting applications. However, according to Linhares, an information factory "seemed like overkill. We didn't have high volumes of data, nor did we need the inherent complexity of using ETL tools to transform and move data while making sure we included all the detailed data we might possibly ever need over time." Furthermore, because of the way the information factories were managed within Pfizer, change management entailed significant overhead. However, the architectural concepts of an information factory were not going to be ignored in the final solution.
- Single Vendor Stack: A second possible approach was to implement the solution in a single integrated technology (SQL Server with integration services). Major disadvantages were the lack of access to multiple data source types, the need to move data multiple times and the lack of an integrated metadata repository for understanding and organizing the data model.
- Data Virtualization: The third option was to create a federated data virtualization layer that integrated and accessed the underlying data sources through virtual views of the data. By leaving the source data in place, this approach would eliminate the issues inherent in copying and moving all the data (which Linhares described as unnecessary, "non-value added" activities). With the right technology and mix of products, data virtualization would enable PharmSci to migrate from inefficient, off-line spreadmarts to online access to integrated information that could be rapidly tailored and reused to dramatically increase its value to the organization.
The Data Virtualization Solution - Architecture
Pfizer's solution is the PharmSci Portfolio Database (PSPD), a federated data delivery framework implemented with the Composite Data Virtualization Platform.
Data virtualization enables the integration of all PharmSci data sources into a single reporting schema of information that can be accessed by all front-end tools and users. The solution architecture includes the following components:
Trusted Data Sources: There are many sources of data for PSPD; they are geographically dispersed, store data in a variety of formats across a multivendor, heterogeneous data environment. Here are some examples:
- Enterprise Project Management (EPM) is a SQL Server database of WRD's drug portfolio project plans. It includes detailed project schedules and milestones.
- The Global Information Factory (GIF) is an Oracle-based data warehouse of monthly finance data.
- OneSource, a database of corporate-level drug portfolio information is itself a unified set of Composite views across several different sources built by another group within Pfizer.
- Flat files are provided by the Finance Department on actual resource use.
- SharePoint lists are small SharePoint databases accessed using a web service.
- There are other data sources as well, including custom-built systems. As Linhares pointed out, "It doesn't matter what data sources we have. With a virtual approach, we are not limited by the types of data we need to access."
Data Virtualization Layer: The Composite Data Virtualization Platform forms the data virtualization layer that enables the solution to be independent of the data sources and front-end tools. It provides abstracted access to all of the data sources and delivers the data through virtual views. These views effectively present the PharmSci Portfolio Database as subject-specific data marts. The Composite metadata repository manages data lineage and business rules.
Consuming Applications: The flexibility of the platform is demonstrated by the varied reporting applications that use the information in PSPD. Examples include:
- SAP Business Objects for ad hoc queries, standard reports and dashboards.
- TIBCO Spotfire for analytics and access to data through standard presentation reports.
- Web services for parameterized queries.
- Data services to provide data for downstream applications.
- QuickViews (web pages built using DevExpress, a .NET toolkit) for access to live data.
SharePoint Portal: Branded as "InfoSource," this team collaboration web portal is the front-end interface that provides integrated access to PSPD data for all PharmSci customers through the consuming applications described above.
The Data Virtualization Solution - Best Practices
Linhares and team applied a number of data virtualization best practices when implementing the architecture described above.
Two Layers of Abstraction: Linhares stressed the importance of building two clear levels of abstraction into the data virtualization architecture. The first level abstracts Sources (the information abstraction layer), the second consumers (the reporting abstraction layer).
"We built a representation of the data in Composite. If a source is ever changed by the owner, which often happens, we can update the representation in the information abstraction layer quickly. This allows control of all downstream data in one location."
The second level of abstraction is the one between the reporting schema and the front-end reporting tools. A consolidated and integrated set of information is exposed as a single schema. This allows BIS to be system agnostic and support the use of whatever tool is best for the customer. All of the reporting tools use the same reporting abstraction layer; they always get the same answer to the same question because there is only a single source of data.
Consolidated Business Rules: Another key piece of the solution is the ability to include the business rules about how PharmSci manages its data within these abstraction layers. The business rules are embedded in the view definitions and are applied consistently at the same point.
Rapid Application Development Process: Prior to data virtualization, data integration was the slowest step for BIS in fulfilling a customer request for information. Now it's typically the fastest. "For example, a request that came in Friday morning and was completed by that afternoon. The customer's response was an amazed, ‘What do you mean you already have it done?'"
BIS uses a simple development process. The first step is what Linhares calls "triage" - looking at what the customer wants, estimating how long it will take and communicating that to the customer.
BIS does not spend a lot of time documenting the requirements of the solution. Instead, the group first creates a prototype on paper in the form of a simple data flow, then creates the necessary virtual views, gives the customer web access to the views and asks: "Is this what you wanted?"
The customer can then play with the result and respond with any changes or additions needed. BIS arrives at the final solution working with the customer in an iterative process.
Summary of Benefits
Linhares described several major benefits of the data virtualization solution.
The ability to provide integrated data in context: Data virtualization has enabled BIS to replace isolated silos of data with a data delivery platform that integrates different types and sources of data into a comprehensive package of value-added information. Instead of only the team leader and a core group of eight to ten people knowing about a project, the entire organization has access to relevant project information.
The independence of the data virtualization layer: "This is one of the huge benefits of data virtualization. It allows me to manage and monitor everything in one place and it makes change management easy for BIS and transparent to users."
Fast, iterative development environment: The data delivery infrastructure already exists in the data virtualization layer (defined data sources, standard naming conventions, access methods, etc.) so when a request for information comes in, BIS can quickly put it together for the customer.
Elimination of manual effort throughout PharmSci: According to Linhares, people initially resisted going away from their spreadsheets. But once there was a single source for the data and it was all available through InfoSource, there was a dramatic reduction in the need to have meetings to reconcile spreadsheet data among teams.
• • •
Editor's Note: Robert Eve is the co-author, along with Judith R. Davis, of Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility, the first book published on the topic of data virtualization. The complete Pfizer case study, along with nine others enterprise are available in the book.
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, discussed how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at th...
Jun. 29, 2015 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,738
"We provide a web application framework for building really sophisticated web applications that run on a browser without any installation need so we get used for biotech, defense, and banking applications," noted Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit (http://DevOpsSummit.SYS-CON.com), held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York
Jun. 29, 2015 04:16 PM EDT Reads: 594
"Plutora provides release and testing environment capabilities to the enterprise," explained Dalibor Siroky, Director and Co-founder of Plutora, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jun. 29, 2015 03:34 PM EDT Reads: 560
The time is ripe for high speed resilient software defined storage solutions with unlimited scalability. ISS has been working with the leading open source projects and developed a commercial high performance solution that is able to grow forever without performance limitations. In his session at Cloud Expo, Alex Gorbachev, President of Intelligent Systems Services Inc., shared foundation principles of Ceph architecture, as well as the design to deliver this storage to traditional SAN storage co...
Jun. 29, 2015 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,797
Public Cloud IaaS started its life in the developer and startup communities and has grown rapidly to a $20B+ industry, but it still pales in comparison to how much is spent worldwide on IT: $3.6 trillion. In fact, there are 8.6 million data centers worldwide, the reality is many small and medium sized business have server closets and colocation footprints filled with servers and storage gear. While on-premise environment virtualization may have peaked at 75%, the Public Cloud has lagged in adop...
Jun. 29, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,240
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect t...
Jun. 29, 2015 01:19 PM EDT Reads: 789
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of pro...
Jun. 29, 2015 12:19 PM EDT Reads: 642
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust...
Jun. 29, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,542
Even as cloud and managed services grow increasingly central to business strategy and performance, challenges remain. The biggest sticking point for companies seeking to capitalize on the cloud is data security. Keeping data safe is an issue in any computing environment, and it has been a focus since the earliest days of the cloud revolution. Understandably so: a lot can go wrong when you allow valuable information to live outside the firewall. Recent revelations about government snooping, along...
Jun. 29, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,122
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not ...
Jun. 29, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,099
DevOps tends to focus on the relationship between Dev and Ops, putting an emphasis on the ops and application infrastructure. But that’s changing with microservices architectures. In her session at DevOps Summit, Lori MacVittie, Evangelist for F5 Networks, will focus on how microservices are changing the underlying architectures needed to scale, secure and deliver applications based on highly distributed (micro) services and why that means an expansion into “the network” for DevOps.
Jun. 29, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,259
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
Jun. 29, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,869
"We got started as search consultants. On the services side of the business we have help organizations save time and save money when they hit issues that everyone more or less hits when their data grows," noted Otis Gospodnetić, Founder of Sematext, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jun. 29, 2015 10:46 AM EDT Reads: 554
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world...
Jun. 29, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,019
One of the hottest areas in cloud right now is DRaaS and related offerings. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Dale Levesque, Disaster Recovery Product Manager with Windstream's Cloud and Data Center Marketing team, will discuss the benefits of the cloud model, which far outweigh the traditional approach, and how enterprises need to ensure that their needs are properly being met.
Jun. 29, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,899
Containers have changed the mind of IT in DevOps. They enable developers to work with dev, test, stage and production environments identically. Containers provide the right abstraction for microservices and many cloud platforms have integrated them into deployment pipelines. DevOps and Containers together help companies to achieve their business goals faster and more effectively. In his session at DevOps Summit, Ruslan Synytsky, CEO and Co-founder of Jelastic, reviewed the current landscape of...
Jun. 29, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,974
Malicious agents are moving faster than the speed of business. Even more worrisome, most companies are relying on legacy approaches to security that are no longer capable of meeting current threats. In the modern cloud, threat diversity is rapidly expanding, necessitating more sophisticated security protocols than those used in the past or in desktop environments. Yet companies are falling for cloud security myths that were truths at one time but have evolved out of existence.
Jun. 29, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,945
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue o...
Jun. 29, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,413
SYS-CON Events announced today that JFrog, maker of Artifactory, the popular Binary Repository Manager, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit Silicon Valley, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Based in California, Israel and France, founded by longtime field-experts, JFrog, creator of Artifactory and Bintray, has provided the market with the first Binary Repository solution and a software distribution social platform.
Jun. 29, 2015 09:20 AM EDT Reads: 622
In the midst of the widespread popularity and adoption of cloud computing, it seems like everything is being offered “as a Service” these days: Infrastructure? Check. Platform? You bet. Software? Absolutely. Toaster? It’s only a matter of time. With service providers positioning vastly differing offerings under a generic “cloud” umbrella, it’s all too easy to get confused about what’s actually being offered. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Kevin Hazard, Director of Digital Content for SoftL...
Jun. 29, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,937