Sunday, 29 June 2008

A lingua franca for databases

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easy way to combine data from all the different databases and files that exist on a mainframe, as well as (I suppose) all the databases and file types that exist on mid-range platforms and PCs. The trouble is, if I want to combine data from an IMS database with, say, VSAM files, I need to convert either TO IMS, or TO VSAM. Then if I want to combine data from DB2 and IMS DB, I am faced with the same problem. I have to convert one of those two to the format of the other. And if I want to combine lots of data from lots of different data sources, I am doing lots of different conversions. It’s like at the United Nations. I would need an interpreter for French into German, and another for German into Italian, etc. What I need is a lingua franca – a common language for converting my data or translating UN delegate speeches.

Luckily, at the UN there is such a lingua franca. Rather than translating between each of the 192 members states’ languages, they translate into English and then from English to the final recipient’s language. OK, I know that there are six official languages used for intergovernmental meetings and documents (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) and that the Secretariat uses English and French, but you get the point.

So how could you possibly do the same thing on a mainframe? Well, in a way you can’t, but if you could get your data off the mainframe then you could. In fact it’s even simpler than that, you just need to get your meta data – the data about data – copied off the mainframe to a PC and your half-way to solving the problem.

Once you have your meta data, you are no longer tied to a particular data structure, such as Adabas or IMS DB or whatever. That means it could be massaged into a common format, no matter where it came from originally. This is the lingua franca bit. The secret is to convert it to relational data. So on your PC you effectively view tables and the actual data stays on the mainframe. Once you’ve got views on your data, you could combine views – effectively giving you a way to join together data from IMS DB, VSAM, DB2 (although that is a relational database already), Adabas, whatever you want.

Once the data is on a PC, it could be used in Excel to produce Pivot Tables, or whatever action you wanted to derive information from your combined data sources. It could be used with other applications, you could produce reports, you could do lots of useful work on it.

The other clever and useful thing you could do is like our UN translators. Having converted German to English (or IMS DB to relational data), you could translate it into Spanish (or relational data to Adabas). In other words, you could, almost painlessly, migrate your data from IMS DB to Adabas or any of the other data formats that are found on a mainframe.

So a lingua franca for mainframe data sources would allow users to combine and use data from a variety of data sources, and it would allow migration of data between different data sources.

Now provided it used industry-standard API such as ODBC and SQL, it should be able to scale well when you needed to. And that’s the direction corporations are moving in. No longer are they keeping their data to themselves, they are happy, assuming the all-important security measures are in place, to allow customers and business partners to access parts of their data store. At least one product can act as a lingua franca, and that’s the CONNX suite of products from CONNX Solutions Inc. Let me know of any others.

BTW this blog is a milestone for me, it’s my 100th blog.


1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

I don't wish to disturb you but I think that that communication should be between people, as well as computers.

A living language exists in terms of being a lingua franca.

I am not a fanatic in terms of using Esperanto, but I would suggest www://http.lernu.net