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Data virtualization software vs. data warehousing: Qualcomm makes the call

Data virtualization can be a highly effective alternative to data warehousing, according to the director of IT enterprise architecture at Qualcomm.

Data virtualization can be a nice alternative to extract, transform and load (ETL) processes and, in some cases,...

data warehousing, according to one IT professional.

Steven Polaski, the director of IT enterprise architecture for San Diego-based wireless technology giant Qualcomm Inc., has been involved in many successful and ongoing data integration and data warehousing initiatives. But a recent data virtualization software project at Qualcomm emphasized the point that -- sometimes -- data warehouses simply aren't necessary.

Moving information into a data warehouse via ETL is the right choice when business intelligence (BI) reporting and other applications require the information they depend on to live in a database, Polaski said.

But there are many times when all an organization needs is a quick, aggregated view of information housed in different systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and other back office applications. In those instances, Polaski explained, a combination of data virtualization and reporting dashboards can get the job done just fine.

"There are target scenarios and target use cases where [data virtualization software] is much more appropriate and much more cost effective than using some of the other tools like data warehousing technology or data integration technology," he said.

A data virtualization software evaluation

Qualcomm's IT team has done a large body of work around enterprise data integration. The company also runs several large data warehouses and uses ETL for bulk data movement. Beginning several years ago, however, the company began doing research into different ways to access and present information.

"We had been doing research on data access and data access services -- what's now called data virtualization," Polaski said. "We wanted to really build out the data virtualization and data access services layers in our architecture."

The company finally decided to purchase data virtualization software about two years ago, after realizing a need to aggregate on-premise information with content being hosted by CRM provider

Qualcomm took a close look at offerings from IBM-Cognos, Oracle Corp. and San Mateo, Calif.-based Composite Software during its quest for the right data virtualization software. The company first looked at ways to leverage Cognos' framework management offerings, Polaski said. It also looked at Oracle BI Server, technology Oracle acquired from Siebel that, among other things, allows users to connect to different data sources using different protocols.

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All of the tools provided similar data virtualization capabilities in that they all created a middleware, or semantic, layer that could pull information from different sources. But Qualcomm eventually chose the Composite Information Server. Polaski said the deciding factor was Composite's ability to work with a wider variety of systems than the other vendors.

"What Composite did was they [included] the ability for anybody to consume the information, rather than just a proprietary reporting tool," he said.

Composite's data virtualization software can access and present data from sources like ERP and CRM systems and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, to name a few.

"The normal approach would have been to extract all of that data and put it into a data warehouse and try to figure out the Excel spreadsheet in some other way and get that into the data warehouse," Polaski said. "With Composite, all of those sources plus the Excel spreadsheet are aggregated into a single view, and I can do that quickly and present the data to whoever wants to consume it."

Currently, Qualcomm is using Composite virtualization software in conjunction with reporting dashboards to access information and create several different kinds of reports for executives, department heads and other business professionals. Polaski says that the reports are usually short-lived, but if users create a valuable report with a longer lifespan, it can always be added to a data warehouse at a later date.

Enhancing Composite's data access capabilities

Qualcomm -- a member of Composite's customer advisory board -- is currently working with the data virtualization software vendor to improve some security aspects of the product in the area of access control. Polaski said the future enhancements will come in handy when, for example, two business units -- but not a third -- are allowed to see certain information.

"Rather than continually writing specialized views for particular consumers," he said, "… put the entitlement policies and access controls [directly] on the view that says: 'For this attribute, anybody who is in QTC and QIS can see it. People in QTL know they cannot see it.' It's for that level of control and access in the viewing of the data."

Polaski said that Qualcomm is also working with Composite to "make their Web services interface a little more robust."

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