Optim’s structured ILM and EDM blend makes a unique market niche

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Nowadays IT applications run enterprises, almost
invariably using data of the structured variety held within databases and flat
files. Structured data is much easier to manipulate than unstructured in terms
of corporate governance, security, SLAs and compliance policies—since a fixed
format means the location of specific information in each record can be known.

The same factors mean information could, in
theory, be properly classified according to content. This leaves the way open to
better decisions about placement of data within the tiered storage pool, archival
and eventual destruction. In other words the full information life cycle (ILM)
is covered.

That’s the good news. But few
enterprise-level data management products focus on managing ‘only’ the
structured data-pool, let alone doing this in concert with their applications;
yet this makes sense. Storage management vendors commonly focus unselectively
on storing, backup, retrieval and archiving all
data—both structured and unstructured. Systems management solutions likewise
are all-encompassing and, of course, unstructured data needs handling.

However, one company, Princeton Softech, has
made a virtue out of focusing primarily on enterprise applications and their
structured data. Yet if Princeton Softech and its Optim software (now wholly
owned by IBM) only concentrated on storage and archival of structured data
storage it would probably have little appeal; it is the application aspect that
changes the enterprise data management (EDM) game.

Enterprise infrastructures struggle to meet service level agreement (SLA) criteria, especially for high performance real-time
applications. Performance degradation comes from ever-increasing demand, data
typically doubling each year and, in an increasingly virtualised environment, greater
difficulty pinpointing unexpected faults. Application-focused infrastructure
management is gaining credibility, but it needs to be agile to quickly respond
to or even predict status or performance changes.

Princeton’s Optim wraps up a single software solution to manage enterprise
applications and (hence) the structured information they access throughout their
lifecycles—true ILM. This means assessing and classifying the information from
the outset (although not yet to the finest degree of granularity as standard).
From this, business and corporate governance rules can be applied to the stored
information to automate the process. This includes applying decisions for storing,
retrieving and archiving of data, for ‘subsetting’ of specific database rows
and columns, for security protecting the individual data items by applying
privacy rules, and finally (when applicable) for destroying the information
with proof that this happened.

The software’s ability to ‘see’ the stored
application data also means, for instance, that a rule covering information
identified as purely ‘referential’ (not to be updated) can say that if it is
not accessed for 90 days, for instance, it can be moved to lower-cost storage.
This reduces power consumption and typically frees up 60–70% of the tier one
total storage pool, according to Paul Winn, Princeton Softech’s CEO, who added,
“This capability results in huge corporate savings alongside performance
improvements”. It is not hard to see why.

Absolutely crucial to its viability as a
labour-saving management tool is Optim’s relational engine; this self-discovers
and configures the databases and applications across the enterprise. Optim is
also truly heterogeneous, supporting all
the major databases plus operating systems which include Windows, Linux and
UNIX flavours as well as IBM zSeries mainframes (of especial interest to IBM
and its mainframe users); custom applications are also supported.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) plus historical
application purchase decisions mean that most enterprises use a mix of
databases and operating systems. So Optim’s heterogeneity to (usually) cover
the lot with a single solution is an attractive proposition, setting it apart
from key competitors. Winn sees this gap widening in 2008; this is because Princeton is busy adding more advanced support for some
widely-used enterprise applications such as SAP and PeopleSoft. This will also
help counter an argument that the individual database vendors are always the
best ones to deal with management related to their own databases.

Yet without rich functionality and other features
Optim might still not have had market pull. One valuable feature is its ability
to merge disparate databases, for
instance a DB2 database merged with an Oracle one into Oracle format. Reducing the
variety and number of databases can be a huge deal, as it simplifies management
and maintenance, improves overall performance and reduces licensing costs. Optim’s
knowledge of what applications and databases are where, and how each will be
affected by any changes, also facilitates streamlining database upgrades as
well as reducing the risk of faults when changes occur; most system faults
result directly or indirectly from infrastructure changes.

I would concur with Winn when he says the
software’s core capabilities potentially offer an enterprise huge savings, sufficient
for the software to perhaps pay for itself within six months. There is also more
to come in 2008 such as enhanced content classification with greater

For now Princeton
is being allowed to operate separately from the rest of IBM, which is important
to many of its clients who use other infrastructure management software from
IBM’s major competitors. On the other hand IBM sees Optim as strategic going
forward; it is retaining and already using the brand name. So 2008 enhancements
include extra IBM-oriented facilities, including increased integration with
IBM’s Tivoli
infrastructure management and an Optim wrapper for IBM’s Data Studio due for
beta shortly; Winn says this common touch user interface “will be very
strategic”. (Meanwhile, IBM has separate software to offer to cover
unstructured information management).

Optim currently holds a unique position in
its EDM market niche—with the capability to make ILM a reality for structured
data. Princeton Softech, even before being bought by IBM, was extremely
profitable. The IBM factor now gives it extra clout at enterprise board level.

The danger is that, longer term, IBM
swallows up Optim into a larger portfolio where it loses focus and momentum—and favour with current users who have competitive infrastructure management
software. IBM recognises this. It has actually made the Princeton facility a
separate IBM development centre and supports Princeton’s rapid expansion plans that
include 70% more staff this year. 2008 looks to be a big year for Optim.