|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.
In a crowded world of popular computer languages, platforms and ecosystems, Node.js is one of the hottest. According to w3techs.com, Node.js usage has gone up 241 percent in the last year alone. Retailers have taken notice and are implementing it on many levels. I am going to share the basics of Node.js, and discuss why retailers are using it to reduce page load times and improve server efficiency. I’ll talk about similar developments such as Docker and microservices, and look at several compani...
May. 3, 2016 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 405
The goal of any tech business worth its salt is to provide the best product or service to its clients in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. This is just as true in the development of software products as it is in other product design services. Microservices, an app architecture style that leans mostly on independent, self-contained programs, are quickly becoming the new norm, so to speak. With this change comes a declining reliance on older SOAs like COBRA, a push toward more s...
May. 3, 2016 05:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,570
From the conception of Docker containers to the unfolding microservices revolution we see today, here is a brief history of what I like to call 'containerology'. In 2013, we were solidly in the monolithic application era. I had noticed that a growing amount of effort was going into deploying and configuring applications. As applications had grown in complexity and interdependency over the years, the effort to install and configure them was becoming significant. But the road did not end with a ...
May. 3, 2016 05:15 PM EDT Reads: 428
Many private cloud projects were built to deliver self-service access to development and test resources. While those clouds delivered faster access to resources, they lacked visibility, control and security needed for production deployments. In their session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steve Anderson, Product Manager at BMC Software, and Rick Lefort, Principal Technical Marketing Consultant at BMC Software, will discuss how a cloud designed for production operations not only helps accelerate developer...
May. 3, 2016 05:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,205
I have an article in the recently released “DZone Guide to Building and Deploying Applications on the Cloud” entitled “Fullstack Engineering in the Age of Hybrid Cloud”. In this article I discuss the need and skills of a Fullstack Engineer with relation to troubleshooting and repairing complex, distributed hybrid cloud applications. My recent experiences with troubleshooting issues with my Docker WordPress container only reinforce the details I wrote about in this piece. Without my comprehensive...
May. 3, 2016 04:45 PM EDT Reads: 866
Digital means customer preferences and behavior are driving enterprise technology decisions to be sure, but let’s not forget our employees. After all, when we say customer, we mean customer writ large, including partners, supply chain participants, and yes, those salaried denizens whose daily labor forms the cornerstone of the enterprise. While your customers bask in the warm rays of your digital efforts, are your employees toiling away in the dark recesses of your enterprise, pecking data into...
May. 3, 2016 04:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,120
Admittedly, two years ago I was a bulk contributor to the DevOps noise with conversations rooted in the movement around culture, principles, and goals. And while all of these elements of DevOps environments are important, I’ve found that the biggest challenge now is a lack of understanding as to why DevOps is beneficial. It’s getting the wheels going, or just taking the next step. The best way to start on the road to change is to take a look at the companies that have already made great headway ...
May. 3, 2016 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 308
In the world of DevOps there are ‘known good practices’ – aka ‘patterns’ – and ‘known bad practices’ – aka ‘anti-patterns.' Many of these patterns and anti-patterns have been developed from real world experience, especially by the early adopters of DevOps theory; but many are more feasible in theory than in practice, especially for more recent entrants to the DevOps scene. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit at 18th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Chair Andi Mann, panelists will dis...
May. 3, 2016 04:15 PM EDT Reads: 824
Small teams are more effective. The general agreement is that anything from 5 to 12 is the 'right' small. But of course small teams will also have 'small' throughput - relatively speaking. So if your demand is X and the throughput of a small team is X/10, you probably need 10 teams to meet that demand. But more teams also mean more effort to coordinate and align their efforts in the same direction. So, the challenge is how to harness the power of small teams and yet orchestrate multiples of them...
May. 3, 2016 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 261
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, will show how, by focusing on 'metrics that matter,' you can provide objective, transparent, and meaningfu...
May. 3, 2016 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 922
You deployed your app with the Bluemix PaaS and it's gaining some serious traction, so it's time to make some tweaks. Did you design your application in a way that it can scale in the cloud? Were you even thinking about the cloud when you built the app? If not, chances are your app is going to break. Check out this webcast to learn various techniques for designing applications that will scale successfully in Bluemix, for the confidence you need to take your apps to the next level and beyond.
May. 3, 2016 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,583
SYS-CON Events announced today that Peak 10, Inc., a national IT infrastructure and cloud services provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Peak 10 provides reliable, tailored data center and network services, cloud and managed services. Its solutions are designed to scale and adapt to customers’ changing business needs, enabling them to lower costs, improve performance and focus inter...
May. 3, 2016 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,352
With DevOps becoming more well-known and established practice in nearly every industry that delivers software, it is important to continually reassess its efficacy. This week’s top 10 includes a discussion on how the quick uptake of DevOps adoption in the enterprise has posed some serious challenges. Additionally, organizations who have taken the DevOps plunge must find ways to find, hire and keep their DevOps talent in order to keep the machine running smoothly.
May. 3, 2016 06:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,483
Wow, if you ever wanted to learn about Rugged DevOps (some call it DevSecOps), sit down for a spell with Shannon Lietz, Ian Allison and Scott Kennedy from Intuit. We discussed a number of important topics including internal war games, culture hacking, gamification of Rugged DevOps and starting as a small team. There are 100 gold nuggets in this conversation for novices and experts alike.
May. 3, 2016 06:15 AM EDT Reads: 894
The notion of customer journeys, of course, are central to the digital marketer’s playbook. Clearly, enterprises should focus their digital efforts on such journeys, as they represent customer interactions over time. But making customer journeys the centerpiece of the enterprise architecture, however, leaves more questions than answers. The challenge arises when EAs consider the context of the customer journey in the overall architecture as well as the architectural elements that make up each...
May. 3, 2016 03:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,011
Much of the discussion around cloud DevOps focuses on the speed with which companies need to get new code into production. This focus is important – because in an increasingly digital marketplace, new code enables new value propositions. New code is also often essential for maintaining competitive parity with market innovators. But new code doesn’t just have to deliver the functionality the business requires. It also has to behave well because the behavior of code in the cloud affects performan...
May. 3, 2016 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,446
In 2006, Martin Fowler posted his now famous essay on Continuous Integration. Looking back, what seemed revolutionary, radical or just plain crazy is now common, pedestrian and "just what you do." I love it. Back then, building and releasing software was a real pain. Integration was something you did at the end, after code complete, and we didn't know how long it would take. Some people may recall how we, as an industry, spent a massive amount of time integrating code from one team with another...
May. 3, 2016 12:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,054
As the software delivery industry continues to evolve and mature, the challenge of managing the growing list of the tools and processes becomes more daunting every day. Today, Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) platforms are proving most valuable by providing the governance, management and coordination for every stage of development, deployment and release. Recently, I spoke with Madison Moore at SD Times about the changing market and where ALM is headed.
May. 2, 2016 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,556
Struggling to keep up with increasing application demand? Learn how Platform as a Service (PaaS) can streamline application development processes and make resource management easy.
May. 2, 2016 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,183
If there is anything we have learned by now, is that every business paves their own unique path for releasing software- every pipeline, implementation and practices are a bit different, and DevOps comes in all shapes and sizes. Software delivery practices are often comprised of set of several complementing (or even competing) methodologies – such as leveraging Agile, DevOps and even a mix of ITIL, to create the combination that’s most suitable for your organization and that maximize your busines...
May. 2, 2016 07:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,903