Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WebFOCUS Metadata

A Google searcher from Bangalore came to my blog with the burning question, "Why doesn't WebFOCUS have centralized metadata?"

WebFOCUS stores its metadata layer on its Reporting Server, which can run on platforms such as Windows, Linux, zLinux, zOS, etc. But, BI is not limited to a single computer and database; it is more enterprise in nature.

A WebFOCUS Reporting Server can ask for data from other servers (typically called Remote Data Servers). This means that many WebFOCUS environments will have metadata residing on several different computers.

As an example, let's say that you have a WebFOCUS Reporting Server running on Windows. All of your web BI consumers land there first with their requests for reports, queries, analytics, and so forth. This Windows box might talk to standard database such as SQL Server, Essbase, and Oracle, so it has a metadata layer and adapters that can access those structures.

However, let's assume that your BI consumers also need data from Non-Stop SQL on a Tandem box and VSAM, Datacom, and Model 204 on the mainframe.

Those are not technologies that Windows would understand.

The solution is to run a WebFOCUS Remote Data Server on the Tandem box and another one on the mainframe. The Tandem server's metadata layer and adapter will understand Non-Stop SQL; the mainframe its files.

On the central Windows box, you will have what might seem like redundant metadata pointing to the Tandem and mainframe servers. In essence, the Windows technology does not know how to get the data, only who to ask for it.

You want Non-Stop SQL and VSAM and SQL Server in the same spreadsheet? No problem: "Hey, Tandem server, it's me Windows again! Pass back these columns from your tables. Use this selection rule, calculate this virtual column for me, and sort and sum it. As soon as I get the answer set from you, I will join it to the mainframe's VSAM file (let's see which of you guys is faster!)."

I admit, WebFOCUS metadata is a bit different from that of other BI products. For one thing, WebFOCUS keeps its metadata stored in flat files using comma-separated values (did you read that twice?). Yes, it's true but that implementation is also completely open and simple. It's fast. It's effective.

WebFOCUS has a variety of tools for generating and maintaining this metadata layer. You do not need to know anything about the underlying code.

If you want, however, you can dig into the nuts and bolts and even write your own metadata utilities. For example, I have created custom routines for generating WebFOCUS metadata from proprietary data dictionaries, COBOL copybooks, spreadsheets, and even from a digital version of a report where the client did not own the electronic metadata for a legacy packaged application. I have gone the other way as well, reading the WebFOCUS metadata as a source and automatically generating SQL load routines, web launch pages, and report logic.

So the answer to the person's question is, "WebFOCUS does have centralized metadata." If you have more questions, feel free to contact me.

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About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.