|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.
Between 2005 and 2020, data volumes will grow by a factor of 300 – enough data to stack CDs from the earth to the moon 162 times. This has come to be known as the ‘big data’ phenomenon. Unfortunately, traditional approaches to handling, storing and analyzing data aren’t adequate at this scale: they’re too costly, slow and physically cumbersome to keep up. Fortunately, in response a new breed of technology has emerged that is cheaper, faster and more scalable. Yet, in meeting these new needs they...
Dec. 4, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 1,773
@DevOpsSummit taking place June 6-8, 2017 at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Dec. 3, 2016 09:30 PM EST Reads: 1,764
In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Claude Remillard, Principal Program Manager in Developer Division at Microsoft, contrasted how his team used config as code and immutable patterns for continuous delivery of microservices and apps to the cloud. He showed how the immutable patterns helps developers do away with most of the complexity of config as code-enabling scenarios such as rollback, zero downtime upgrades with far greater simplicity. He also demoed building immutable pipelines in the cloud ...
Dec. 3, 2016 08:00 PM EST Reads: 1,744
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Dec. 3, 2016 05:15 PM EST Reads: 2,138
In IT, we sometimes coin terms for things before we know exactly what they are and how they’ll be used. The resulting terms may capture a common set of aspirations and goals – as “cloud” did broadly for on-demand, self-service, and flexible computing. But such a term can also lump together diverse and even competing practices, technologies, and priorities to the point where important distinctions are glossed over and lost.
Dec. 3, 2016 04:30 PM EST Reads: 1,476
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
Dec. 3, 2016 03:15 PM EST Reads: 3,225
Monitoring of Docker environments is challenging. Why? Because each container typically runs a single process, has its own environment, utilizes virtual networks, or has various methods of managing storage. Traditional monitoring solutions take metrics from each server and applications they run. These servers and applications running on them are typically very static, with very long uptimes. Docker deployments are different: a set of containers may run many applications, all sharing the resource...
Dec. 3, 2016 02:15 PM EST Reads: 5,475
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
Dec. 3, 2016 02:00 PM EST Reads: 2,487
Without lifecycle traceability and visibility across the tool chain, stakeholders from Planning-to-Ops have limited insight and answers to who, what, when, why and how across the DevOps lifecycle. This impacts the ability to deliver high quality software at the needed velocity to drive positive business outcomes. In his session at @DevOpsSummit 19th Cloud Expo, Eric Robertson, General Manager at CollabNet, showed how customers are able to achieve a level of transparency that enables everyone fro...
Dec. 3, 2016 01:45 PM EST Reads: 1,840
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Dec. 3, 2016 01:00 PM EST Reads: 1,876
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Dec. 3, 2016 11:30 AM EST Reads: 2,099
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
Dec. 3, 2016 11:15 AM EST Reads: 1,645
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 3, 2016 09:30 AM EST Reads: 850
Application transformation and DevOps practices are two sides of the same coin. Enterprises that want to capture value faster, need to deliver value faster – time value of money principle. To do that enterprises need to build cloud-native apps as microservices by empowering teams to build, ship, and run in production. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Neil Gehani, senior product manager at HPE, discussed what every business should plan for how to structure their teams to delive...
Dec. 3, 2016 08:30 AM EST Reads: 1,372
Rapid innovation, changing business landscapes, and new IT demands force businesses to make changes quickly. In the eyes of many, containers are at the brink of becoming a pervasive technology in enterprise IT to accelerate application delivery. In this presentation, attendees learned about the: The transformation of IT to a DevOps, microservices, and container-based architecture What are containers and how DevOps practices can operate in a container-based environment A demonstration of how ...
Dec. 3, 2016 08:30 AM EST Reads: 786
As we enter the final week before the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in Santa Clara, CA, it's time for me to reflect on six big topics that will be important during the show. Hybrid Cloud This general-purpose term seems to provide a comfort zone for many enterprise IT managers. It sounds reassuring to be able to work with one of the major public-cloud providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure while still maintaining an on-site presence.
Dec. 3, 2016 04:00 AM EST Reads: 2,744
Without lifecycle traceability and visibility across the tool chain, stakeholders from Planning-to-Ops have limited insight and answers to who, what, when, why and how across the DevOps lifecycle. This impacts the ability to deliver high quality software at the needed velocity to drive positive business outcomes. In his general session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Phil Hombledal, Solution Architect at CollabNet, discussed how customers are able to achieve a level of transparency that e...
Dec. 3, 2016 02:15 AM EST Reads: 806
Much of the value of DevOps comes from a (renewed) focus on measurement, sharing, and continuous feedback loops. In increasingly complex DevOps workflows and environments, and especially in larger, regulated, or more crystallized organizations, these core concepts become even more critical. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 18th Cloud Expo, Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, showed how, by focusing on 'metrics that matter,' you can provide objective, transparent, and meaningful f...
Dec. 3, 2016 01:45 AM EST Reads: 4,549
Logs are continuous digital records of events generated by all components of your software stack – and they’re everywhere – your networks, servers, applications, containers and cloud infrastructure just to name a few. The data logs provide are like an X-ray for your IT infrastructure. Without logs, this lack of visibility creates operational challenges for managing modern applications that drive today’s digital businesses.
Dec. 2, 2016 08:00 PM EST Reads: 1,556
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor – all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
Dec. 2, 2016 01:30 PM EST Reads: 5,721