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Why Federal Government IT Leaders Like Data Virtualization

Better data integration is key to effective governance

With money tighter than ever, federal agencies are under increasing pressure to improve efficiency, share information more readily and execute on ever-expanding congressional mandates.

But this is far easier said than done in IT environments with government-sized volumes, decades of existing systems and myriad new requirements being layered on top.

Is there a better way to for federal government IT leaders to meet these challenges?

There is.  It is called data virtualization.

Step 1 - Align with Service-Oriented Architecture Mandates
Recognizing the need for high-level, cross-agency direction for addressing these challenges, the federal government wisely identified a number of top-down service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiatives including Netcentricity, Civilian Centered Services, e-Government and more.

These broad strategies address system integration, i.e., the leveraging and advancement of already running systems, in an intelligent, yet high-level way. They do not proscribe the detailed implementations however. So agencies have the freedom, or curse, to identify specific technological implementations and vendors.

Step 2 - Simplify the Problem to Accelerate the Solution
Most new development leverages existing transactional processing and information reporting systems. Each is very different by its nature. And so too are the tools, techniques, and most important staff who develop and support them.

Consider data integration. How many ways are there to integrate data?

  • Hand code direct, point-to-point integrations
  • FTP files from one system to another
  • Replicate data from one database to another
  • Consolidate data in a warehouse or mart using ETL
  • Query data on demand using data virtualization

Especially well suited for SOA style architectures, data virtualization is the newest approach, emerging from earlier technologies such as enterprise information integration (EII) or federated query.  And at this point, Gartner, Forrester, and TDWI all recommend that organization have all these options at their disposal; selecting one or more on an application-by-application basis.

Step 3 - Try Data Virtualization
Numerous government agencies, across civilian, defense and intelligence, are already using data virtualization today to provide the diverse, distributed information required in support of a range of mission-critical IT projects.

Data virtualization is often a critical success factor in a federal agency's ability to be agile and cost-effective when integrating the key information required to its customers - citizens, industry, and other agencies or departments. Significant benefits include:

  • Increased Responsiveness - Accelerate time-to-solution for new information requirements
  • Improved Productivity - Ensure civilian, military, and intelligence staff can access all the information they require
  • Reduced Costs - Avoid long data integration development cycles and excess data replication
  • Decreased Risk - Provide complete visibility across agencies
  • Better Compliance - Meet FEA and SOA information standards

Data Virtualization Supports SOA
New service-oriented approaches including XML structures, the XQuery language, SOAP, REST, JMS and more have greatly complicated data integration in the past five years. Gone are the days when the SQL language and relational structures alone could support nearly all an agencies' information reporting needs.

Simply wrapping existing data sources doesn't scale.  And applying ESB and other transaction-centric integration approaches is an awkward way to meet more complex data-centric services needs where data modeling and query optimization are critical capabilities.

Data virtualization platforms, such as the Composite Data Virtualization Platform, provide a complete set of development and runtime tools to build and deploy sharable data services that meet a variety of agency information needs.

Delivering data to consuming applications via SOAP, JMS and REST, data services can be applied to multiple projects, so government IT leaders can achieve their agility and reuse objectives. Data virtualization platforms even allow agencies to repurpose "non-SOA" code such as relational views into sharable data service in just a few clicks.

And because data virtualization platforms work in conjunction with other SOA tools such as Enterprise Services Buses (ESBs), Registries, and Application Servers, agencies can leverage existing technology investments, even those obtained for transactional integration focused applications.

Data Virtualization Supports the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) Model
According to the FEA Program Management Office, "Federated Data Management is an architecture for managing and accessing information data and metadata across physical boundaries, which may be system to system, department to department, or enterprise to enterprise boundaries."

Data services built and deployed using data virtualization are key enablers for the following FEA components:

  • Service Component Reference Model
  • Technical Reference Model
  • Data Reference Model

How Data Virtualization Enables Cross-agency Data Sharing
Data virtualization can help the government share data held in disparate IT systems and groups, presenting the information to multiple agency applications in a uniform fashion.  For example, government agencies can virtually gather and share data concerning the experimentation and distribution of hazardous substances from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Agriculture, federally funded university projects, and more.

How Data Virtualization Simplifies Website Development
To provide the website, government agencies and citizens require, data virtualization can simplify the process of turning disparate source data into easy-to-consume data for internal and external web portals. For example, a Department of the Interior agency can combine disparate systems to provide citizens with comprehensive view of park attendance, weather reports, upcoming park activities, and more.

How Data Virtualization Delivers a Single View of a "Person of Interest"
Today, several defense and intelligence agencies use data virtualization to gain real-time or near real-time access to data across multiple underlying systems. Rather than discuss specifics, consider how such a capability might allow the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pull seemingly innocuous information from multiple partners throughout the intelligence community, Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, to effectively profile persons of interest.

How Data Virtualization Improves Operations
By providing on-demand capture and analysis of operational data, data virtualization helps government agencies make better decisions and improve operations.  For example, agencies may be overpaying of disaster claims.  Data virtualization can simplify on-demand access and integration of claims and payment systems giving agencies greater visibility into fraudulent cases, while avoiding expired claims.

Step 4 - Get Started on the Data Virtualization Path
The heat is on. New data integration approaches are needed.  Now is the time for government IT leaders to consider data virtualization.

Fortunately the path to successful data virtualization adoption is well understood, with a number of proven tools readily available including:

More Stories By Robert Eve

Robert Eve is the EVP of Marketing at Composite Software, the data virtualization gold standard and co-author of Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility. Bob's experience includes executive level roles at leading enterprise software companies such as Mercury Interactive, PeopleSoft, and Oracle. Bob holds a Masters of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science from the University of California at Berkeley.

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