INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY GUIDE
New 64-bit processing spurs data-warehousing applications.
itter competition in the software market prompted a flurry of acquisitions over the last year. The biggest deal was IBM's purchase of Lotus for $3.5 billion, followed by Computer Associates' $1.8 billion offer for Legent. In addition, Informix bought Illustra Information Technologies, Symantec picked up Delrina and Corel is on the verge of obtaining Novell's beleaguered WordPerfect.
Market consolidation should bode well for federal buyers this year as companies unload feature-packed programs for bargain prices. As more data centers close as a result of a recent directive from the Office of Management and Budget, agencies will be reengineering their information systems and turning attention to client-server tools.
Integrated enterprise software will help agencies discard dozens of legacy hardware systems and migrate to single sets of programs capable of handling everything from finance and personnel applications to procurement and logistics. The advantage of this approach is that data is in the same format, regardless of where it resides.
Data Warehousing. The hottest software category is data warehousing, in which programs pull strategic information from disparate databases and place it into centralized repositories. Tools are becoming available to help agencies mine and manipulate data from repositories. These products range from simple data-access programs from companies such as Brio and Cognos to multidimensional systems from Oracle or SAS Institute that can handle complex queries.
Specialized tools recognize hidden patterns in databases and help link occurrences to specific events. They also can be used to estimate the future value of variables.
Data-mining products from companies such as Information Discovery and Cross Z International help extract data while Prism Solutions and Vality Technology offer tools for scrubbing data. Software AG's SourcePoint pulls data out of relational and mainframe databases and transfers it to warehouses.
Relational on-line analytical processing systems from companies such as Information Advantage, MicroStrategy and Prodea add lightning-fast decision support capabilities to relational databases. They eliminate the need for agencies to build separate data warehouses.
DBMS. New 64-bit data processing capabilities have spurred more data warehousing applications because computers now have more memory to store information contained in huge repositories. Makers of database management systems (DBMS) are eagerly embracing 64-bit technology for its ability to handle powerful applications.
Oracle, which recently bought data warehousing products from Information Resources, has become the first DBMS vendor to provide VLM (very large memory) technology for Unix-based 64-bit computer systems. VLM enables a larger portion of the database to reside in memory so that more users can access critical data faster, with less time spent moving data from disks.
Sybase is expected to introduce 64-bit DBMS applications later this year. Other companies, meanwhile, are focusing on support for Internet applications involving complex data such as hypertext markup language and three-dimensional graphics. Informix is in the process of integrating Illustra's object-oriented DBMS software with its own database management system to create Universal Server software that will handle multimedia, spatial data and other complex imagery.
As organizations migrate to client-server networks, an increasing number of companies are offering workgroup database management systems, which replicate work throughout enterprises. Workgroup products from Computer Associates, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sybase monitor systems and support servers.
Groupware. Makers of groupware-controller programs that integrate different types of software-will feel the heat this year from internal agency networks that use Internet technology to link workers and provide access to databases. These intranets, as they are known, enable many users to work on the same application at the same time. They are much less secure than groupware, but are significantly cheaper and easier to use.
Lotus Notes, the leader in groupware, is fighting back with a new version that features an improved user interface, better e-mail capabilities, enhanced Internet support and fresh application-development tools. Notes 4.0 can host 800 more users per server than the previous version and takes up less bandwidth per user. But it remains to be seen whether this bold introduction can stand up to the almighty Internet and its related technology.
Suites. Heavy discounting will continue in the software-suites sector as that market reaches the saturation point. But although prices are dropping, programs are becoming more sophisticated. Lotus is offering its NotesSuite package, which integrates with the company's groupware. And Novell's PerfectOffice Professional 3.0 for Windows integrates with the company's popular network operating system.
Several enhancements can be found on Microsoft's Office 95 and Office Professional 4.3 for Windows. As agencies upgrade their operating systems and migrate to enterprise infrastructures, more are expected to turn to the company's BackOffice-a suite of server applications for Windows NT that includes a database, messaging software, mainframe gateway and systems-management program.