BEA takes a swing at unifying data

BEA Systems has joined the chorus of software vendors looking to make it easier for users to search the far corners of their corporate network for data.

The application server vendor on Tuesday confirmed its development of a technology that would allow users to search for files no matter what format they are saved in and no matter where they are stored in a network, according to BEA spokesman Patrick O'Rourke.

Code-named Liquid Data, it is the latest effort to be revealed by a major software vendor aimed at providing corporate users with better access to information tucked away in customer relationship management systems, e-mail databases and other computing systems.

A common problem yet to be fully addressed by software vendors is that users must often do multiple searches to retrieve various types of files such as e-mails, Excel spreadsheets and video files. This is the problem BEA hopes to solve with the technology it is developing, O'Rourke said.

Microsoft has announced its own plans to create a common way of searching for data stored in disparate parts of a network, based on technology to be included in a future version of its SQL Server database known as "Yukon." Microsoft calls the concept Unified Data, and the technology should allow a user to conduct a keyword search from a computer and have it return all relevant files regardless of their format and location, company executives have said. Oracle Corp. has long touted its Internet File System technology, which allows users to store both structured and unstructured data in a database and search that information relatively easily. IBM Corp., meanwhile, has also developed technology for its DB2 database software for unifying data retrieval, using what it calls a federated approach.

While aiming to solve a similar problem, BEA, in San Jose, California, is expected to tackle the problem in a different way. While its rivals' efforts take the database as their starting point, Liquid Data is expected to be a middleware technology that sits in front of databases and file systems making it possible for users to search for data in various locations, including databases from Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

"BEA is not in the database business so they will take a slightly different tack," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. who is familiar with BEA's plans.

BEA said it has yet to determine how it will position Liquid Data in its product line or when the technology will be released. It may be offered as part of an existing product or as a stand-alone offering, O'Rourke said.

"One of the ways in which this technology gets used pretty frequently is in building portals," Gilpin said, noting that BEA is one of the leading portal technology vendors. "One way they could do it would be to make it a feature of their portal."

In this scenario, the technology could allow a user to search for information about a customer or business partner, for example. In a call center, an employee could enter a customer's name into the search bar at a portal site and retrieve all of the relevant files and data available about that customer, Gilpin said.

"One desirable thing to do is to bring all that information together to create a single view of the customer," he said.

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