Why Consider Heterogeneous Information Integration

Why consider information integration?

The useful life of pre-relational mainframe database management system engines is coming to an end because of a diminishing application and skills base, and increasing costs.—Gartner Group

During the last 30 years, many companies have deployed mission critical applications running various aspects of their business on the legacy systems. Most of these environments have been built around a proprietary database management system running on the mainframe. According to Gartner Group, the installed base of mainframe, Sybase, and some open source databases has been shrinking. There is vendor sponsored market research that shows mainframe database management systems are growing, which, according to Gartner, is due primarily to increased prices from the vendors, currency conversions, and mainframe CPU replacements.

Over the last few years, many companies have been migrating mission critical applications off the mainframe onto open standard Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) such as Oracle for the following reasons:

Reducing skill base: Students and new entrants to the job market are being trained on RDBMS like Oracle and not on the legacy database management systems. Legacy personnel are retiring, and those that are not are moving into expensive consulting positions to arbitrage the demand.

Lack of flexibility to meet business requirements: The world of business is constantly changing and new business requirements like compliance and outsourcing require application changes. Changing the behavior, structure, access, interface or size of old databases is very hard and often not possible, limiting the ability of the IT department to meet the needs of the business. Most applications on the aging platforms are 10 to 30 years old and are long past their original usable lifetime.

Lack of Independent Software Vendor (ISV)applications: With most ISVs focusing on the larger market, it is very difficult to find applications, infrastructure, and tools for legacy platforms. This requires every application to be custom coded on the closed environment by scarce in-house experts or by expensive outside consultants.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): As the user base for proprietary systems decreases, hardware, spare parts, and vendor support costs have been increasing. Adding to this are the high costs of changing legacy applications, paid either as consulting fees for a replacement for diminishing numbers of mainframe trained experts or increased salaries for existing personnel. All leading to a very high TCO which doesn't even take into account the opportunity cost to the business of having inflexible systems.

Business challenges in data integration and migration

Once the decision has been taken to migrate away from a legacy environment, the primary business challenge is business continuity. Since many of these applications are mission critical, running various aspects of the business, the migration strategy has to ensure continuity to the new application—and in the event of failure, rollback to the mainframe application. This approach requires data in the existing application to be synchronized with data on the new application.

Making the challenge of data migration more complicated is the fact that legacy applications tend to be interdependent, but the need from a risk mitigation standpoint is to move applications one at a time. A follow-on challenge is prioritizing the order in which applications are to be moved off the mainframe, and ensuring that the order meets both the business needs and minimizes the risk in the migration process.

Once a specific application is being migrated, the next challenge is to decide which business processes will be migrated to the new application. Many companies have business processes that are present, because that's the way their systems work. When migrating an application off the mainframe, many business processes do not need to migrate. Even among the business processes that need to be migrated, some of these business processes will need to be moved as-is and some of them will have to be changed. Many companies utilize the opportunity afforded by a migration to redo the business processes they have had to live with for many years.

Data is the foundation of the modernization process. You can move the application, business logic, and work flow, but without a clean migration of the data the business requirements will not be met. A clean data migration involves:

  • Data that is organized in a usable format by all modern tools
  • Data that is optimized for an Oracle database
  • Data that is easy to maintain
  • Technical challenges of information integration

    The technical challenges with any information integration all stem from the fact that the application accesses heterogeneous data (VSAM, IMS, IDMS, ADABAS, DB2, MSSQL, and so on) that can even be in a non-relational hierarchical format. Some of the technical problems include:

    The flexible file definition feature used in COBOL applications in the existing system will have data files with multi-record formats and multi-record types in the same dataset—neither of which exist in RDBMS. Looping data structure and substructure or relative offset record organization such as a linked list, which are difficult to map into a relational table.

    Data and referential integrity is managed by the Oracle database engine. However, legacy applications already have this integrity built in. One question is whether to use Oracle to handle this integrity and remove the logic from the application.

    Finally, creating an Oracle schema to maximize performance, which includes mapping non-oracle keys to Oracle primary and secondary keys; especially when legacy data is organized in order of key value which can affect the performance on an Oracle RDBMS. There are also differences in how some engines process transactions, rollbacks, and record locking.

    General approaches to information integration and migration

    There are several technical approaches to consider when doing any kind of integration or migration activity. In this section, we will look at a methodology or approach for both data integration and data migration.

    Data integration Clearly, given this range of requirements, there are a variety of different integration strategies, including the following:

    Consolidated: A consolidated data integration solution moves all data into a single database and manages it in a central location. There are some considerations that need to be known regarding the differences between non- Oracle and Oracle mechanics. Transaction processing is an example. Some engines use implicit commits and some manage character sets differently than Oracle does, this has an impact on sort order.

    Federated: A federated data integration solution leaves data in the individual data source where it is normally maintained and updated, and simply consolidates it on the fly as needed. In this case, multiple data sources will appear to be integrated into a single virtual database, masking the number and different kinds of databases behind the consolidated view. These solutions can work bidirectionally.

    Shared: A shared data integration solution actually moves data and events from one or more source databases to a consolidated resource, or queue, created to serve one or more new applications. Data can be maintained and exchanged using technologies such as replication, message queuing, transportable table spaces, and FTP.

    So, we have talked about some of the factors and challenges for integration in a heterogeneous world. In the next post, we will look into ways of doing this using things like Oracle Golden Gate, and ODI as well as some migration techniques.

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