Composite Software's Composite Information Service with Composite Application Views

Composite's software lets both business users and developers access rational data hidden in application databases such as those from SAP or Salesforce.com. You can even join data from different systems

May 31, 2006

6 Min Read
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Enterprises need to access their data, wherever it's stored. But that's not always so easy. Take a SAP database: There are approximately 30,000 tables in a typical one. Direct access to these tables is restricted both by the vendor's licensing agreements and the use of German acronyms to name columns, making it necessary for integrators and report writers to use SAP-provided APIs to access data.

No small chore, considering there are thousands of functions in the business (BAPI) and developer-oriented (RFC) APIs--both of which require code and an understanding of how to connect and use the system.Or consider Salesforce.com, which allows access to your data but only through Web services APIs. This poses two problems: generalized reporting and querying over SQL is impossible, and the inclusion of data in a simple Excel spreadsheet is unlikely for line-of-business managers without the aid of developers.

Enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors such as Fiorano, Iona and TIBCO offer adapters to allow access to enterprise application data from PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel applications. Yet EAI products bring with them their own pain--they don't always support third-party reporting systems and are rarely capable of readily joining data from two or more systems. That's where EII (enterprise information integration) systems provide value.

One View

EII vendor Composite Software offers products that can join data from multiple systems and present it for access by both business users and developers. Composite's sweet spot is the midmarket--businesses that rarely have the resources to support a project designed to integrate data from these systems. But it is also seeing interest from large enterprises that need easier access to data across multiple systems, something that's increasingly expensive and time-consuming to achieve using programmatic models.

Its Composite Application Views, add-ons to its Composite Information Service, offer prebuilt views providing relational access to the data hidden in the proprietary databases of enterprise applications. CAVs are available at a list price of $35,000 per CPU for SAP, $25,000 per CPU for Siebel, and $15,000 per CPU for Salesforce.com. That's on top of the $50,000 per CPU list price for CIS if you don't yet own it.

No other EII vendor offers this level of access to Salesforce.com, though Iona offers Web services integration with Salesforce.com in the form of preconfigured orchestrations that ease integration with the on-demand offering.

Composite's CAVs can query the vast amounts of data stored within Salesforce.com, SAP and Siebel systems using standardized SQL queries, even though the underlying communication mechanism is through APIs. This capability obviates learning complex APIs and requires only that you determine the appropriate tables to access. CAVs for PeopleSoft and JD Edwards are forthcoming.

Using CAVs, we perused SAP's 30,000 tables, easily joining customer data from a SAP system with order data from our NWC Inc. lab's Oracle 9i database and exposing both as a single data source via ODBC and Web Services. NWC Inc.'s Lab joined data from Salesforce.com and SAP, exposing the combined data as a new virtual table for use in generating reports within Excel and Crystal Reports. Enterprises attempting to integrate disparate CRM or ERP systems will be pleased by how easy this is accomplished--we were displaying reports in Excel generated from the newly created data sources within 10 minutes of installing the software.

Integrators can further optimize the performance of CAV integrations through CIS' query-optimization techniques. Because CAV accesses SAP and Salesforce.com through APIs, CIS must fetch the data from each system involved in the integration before it performs the join. This makes it difficult to limit the data being retrieved from each system and requires some tuning of the query plan to ensure only the data required is retrieved. We reduced a query returning more than 500,000 rows from NWC Inc.'s Oracle database to just more than 300 using CIS' query optimization options.Programmatically attempting to join the two systems using their respective APIs would have required multiple iterations and calls out to the database, a time-consuming, resource-intensive task that doesn't consider the security and compliance demands to access the systems.

Keep It Secure

CIS' underlying security implementation is strong, and CAVs rely on its mechanisms to provide fine-grained, row-level data access. The latest release of CIS can pass through credentials, which brings the software up to speed with the ability of IBM's DB2II to map credentials. Composite's support for audit trails is difficult to configure, but the company says it plans to fix that.

Building on the underlying capabilities of CIS, CAVs can be exposed as Web services in relatively short order. CIS and competitors MetaMatrix and IBM have offered this capability for years, but CIS' support has improved. We had no problems accessing CIS' Web services using a variety of clients, including SOA Software's Service Manager.

CIS has not improved its Web services security support substantially; it still does not support WS-Security and only uses HTTP Basic-Auth to secure its services. The credentials passed over HTTP Basic-Auth to a data source exposed as a Web service are used by the system to determine access rights to the underlying data, but it's an awkward mechanism for securing Web services, and it doesn't provide for last-mile security of data being retrieved. WS-Security supports features such as the encryption of sensitive data that simply cannot be addressed by HTTP Basic-Auth.Given the performance improvements achieved from caching and enterprise requirements for high availability for critical data, we aren't displeased by the decision to focus on these features despite the lack of support for WS-Security, but Composite will need to improve its Web services security. Caching support is a huge plus for CIS.

Queries returning large volumes of data from Salesforce.com were a bit slow because access was both remote and via Web services, but the use of CIS' caching facilities improved performance considerably.

Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing senior technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. Write to her at [email protected].

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