Many network providers ask, “should I use data virtualization” and the answer is a resounding “yes!” Why is that? There are significant benefits of data virtualization and methods like data federation.
These options are viable and cost-effective alternatives to networks that use data from a wide range of sources, many of which are outside of your physical infrastructure or firewalls. There are substantial benefits if you meet the adoption thresholds that exist.
Worldwide Supply wants to help you understand if these options are right for you and if your network will be stronger by adopting data virtualization. Plus, we want to clarify some confusion around those data federation versus data virtualization questions we often hear.
So, treat this as your guide to preparing for data virtualization.
Data Virtualization Explained
To understand the data federation vs. data virtualization debate, we first need to get some definitions out of the way. Let’s start with virtualization, which you might have heard of a concept — or pieces of it — referred to as information agility in the past.
Data virtualization is a data process that aims to create an integrated and simplified view of your business data in real time or as close to real time as possible. All your data is collected into one location and is available for your applications, analytics programs and the business users in your company or of your products.
At its core, data virtualization aims to connect all your data sources and present all your information under a single dashboard. The important part here is that it is not replicating or duplicating data. The new layer of info that you’re working with is entirely virtual so that it can be used simultaneously by multiple systems.
Cisco notes that adopting data virtualization can generate significantly faster analytics and business intelligence, while also saving your company as much as 75% compared to other data replication and consolidation efforts.
Data Federation Primer
As with virtualization answering, “if I should use data federation” first starts by understanding the concept.
Data federation is an innovative technology for data integration that works by applying architecture to improve the ability to query data and aggregate it from a wide range of sources, pulling it into a virtual database so that it can be used, in real time, by your apps, reporting tools, and analytical platforms.
Like with virtualization, this virtual database stores the data. Instead, the database in a data federation workflow contains metadata and other information about the actual data, including its location.
Some of the chief uses of data federation are to create data dashboards and facilitate a system in querying against many different data sources at the same time.
Understanding Data Federation vs. Data Virtualization
Now, here is the most important piece of a debate you probably saw when you Google on data federation vs. data virtualization: sometimes these two terms will be used synonymously, and that’s okay.
When it boils down to it, data virtualization is all about the interface that you use to create a single point of access to see all your data. Data federation is the process of performing data virtualization in a specific way that relies on a newly created virtual database.
So, data federation is merely one of the several types of data virtualization options you can use.
When you read an article that treats the two concepts as entirely separate, then that article is most likely using data virtualization to refer to other techniques that don’t enforce a particular model or require a specific database, which means all the applications using the data will do more heavy-lifting to process and understand that information.
In this piece, we’ll use the two mostly interchangeably but may make some specific call-outs for work or benefits of the database involved in data federation.
Benefits of Data Federation and Virtualization
So, why do businesses use data federation or virtualization techniques? What are their benefits and what are the benefits of using a virtual database? And, should I use data virtualization? We will cover all of these questions to provide you with more information on the subject.
First things first, one of our favorite benefits of data virtualization is that it puts all of your information in a single location, breaking down old silos and giving you greater access to the data. It helps you use and understand the information that you have regardless of source.
If you’re working with cloud platforms, locally hosted data, information on enterprise systems and big data processing applications, you can combine all of this information to use it how you want.
A unified view of data tends to deliver better business intelligence and more accurate information, allowing businesses to leverage data more successfully and gain proper insight faster. The real-time nature of this means you can track trends over the long haul or make immediate decisions as your business needs them.
Data federation techniques, such as data virtualization, yields a solution that is five to ten-times faster than traditional data than traditional data integration models. Part of that speed comes from no longer needing to copy data each time you use the data, plus you can run multiple analyses of the same data concurrently, improving operational efficiency.
Different virtualization techniques have different uses and benefits, but one particular benefit of data federation is that it tends to be affordable for mid-sized businesses as well as enterprises because it does not have the same infrastructure or staffing requirements.
Plus, a benefit of the virtual data center is that you don’t need to duplicate this data anywhere, so it can all stay exactly where it is. That means no data warehousing constraints and, in many cases, no installing new equipment just to store data.
Political Buy-In for Your Data
Depending on the sources of data that your business uses and how well different elements within your organization work together, you may see some benefit of data federation in the “political buy-in” from various parties.
Data federation techniques do not duplicate information, so you are merely accessing data, instead of trying to control it. Some partners or departments may want to hold onto their information and not have other independent datasets out there, or you may be accessing proprietary data. A federation model allows you to use this data still while your partner retains control.
The discussions with your partners about integrating data federation may go more smoothly if you show how your database is only querying theirs, instead of moving information over.
Think of it as if your business is reading a magazine in their virtual doctor’s office. You want to access the information in the magazine and maybe use it to generate a few thoughts or something to bring up over dinner, but the office doesn’t want you to take that magazine home.
And, if doctor’s office wants, they can take all the magazines out of the waiting area. Then you’re out of luck because having control over their data gives them the power to choose what happens to them.
Here Are the Benefits of Data Virtualization or Federation
The benefits of data federation and virtualization break down into a few key areas. Consider these when preparing for data virtualization:
- Cost reduction: We’ve already noted that Cisco says data virtualization technology can reduce your costs by 50% to 75% compared to traditional consolidation and replication approaches. The added cost benefit is that you can typically use and optimize existing infrastructure, so you have less of a necessary IT spend in your future. You’re also generally reducing data storage costs by minimizing storage equipment and creating less data — the new database is virtual — so your backup platforms don’t have to store as much information either.
- Deployment speeds: In a broad sense, data federation will be faster than creating a new, traditional enterprise data center or data warehouse. Creating a new EDW can take between one and two years, though estimates vary by industry and size. If you need your data sooner and want to make decisions faster, data virtualization tools can build your new interface in a matter of months or even weeks.
- Easing deployment and usage: A traditional EDW uses a considerable number of resources during deployment and general usage. You need infrastructure to store data, manage your network traffic, administer the data and keep all of this equipment in nominal operational condition. Virtualization does away with much of that infrastructure, so you’re cutting costs and have a simpler time expanding data usage. You also have less governance work to deal with because you have stored the data in fewer locations; making security easier and typically more efficient.
- Always work with accurate data: Virtualization is built solely with the most recent data you have, and most deployments are updated as soon as the information in the original dataset is updated. Instant access to enterprise data allows your organization to make the best decisions based on the most relevant and reliable information. If you’re working with outdated information, you risk making the wrong decision and costing your company.
- Better for consumers and customers: Virtualization and data federation make it easier for your partners, staff and clients to use the data coursing through your business. They don’t need complex applications or an in-depth understanding of complex data structures and formats — which your various sources will use — to be able to see, understand and manipulate your data. You’re kicking complexity to the curb thanks to the dashboard, without having to change existing sources themselves.
Every aspect of data virtualization is about introducing agility into your network and business. The speed is the main benefit of data virtualization, though it has many aspects. Systems will respond more quickly to your requests, and people will be able to understand the data more quickly, supporting faster business decisions.
The counterbalance to that is some federated systems struggle to respond to incorrect or unanticipated queries. Robust testing can often ferret these out, but even today most systems will experience a hang-up or two when the data virtualization middleware or one of your sources doesn’t quite understand what’s needed to be gathered.
You now know what’s possible with these two types of data techniques. So let’s see what is likely for your network and data.
Answering “Are We Ready for Data Virtualization or Federation?”
Data virtualization tools and integration capabilities you use right now could be holding you back. If they are, you are best positioned to start looking at enterprise data virtualization and federation options.
Knowing if you’re ready starts with looking at your datasets. If they are all useful, but they’re siloed, and you must manually or slowly integrate them, you could benefit from data federation. You’re ready for data federation if the company databases are accessed through automated means and if there is no gatekeeper preventing you from continual access — which yields real-time data.
You’re also ready if you can integrate all those databases but money, scope creep and infrastructure keep preventing you from actually integrating. Data virtualization reduces requirements and costs for that integration. You know what you need and data virtualization can help you achieve it. All you need is the budget, which is thankfully going to be smaller than your past plans for integrating.
A few other things you can ask yourself to determine “are we ready for data virtualization or data federation” are:
- Can you improve operations by having more or faster access to the most relevant business data?
- Does your data change rapidly enough that your traditional data warehousing can’t keep up and ensure you get the most up-to-date data?
- Do your typical queries have a shallow, broad reach that does not have a heavy load on sources and data sets?
- Does the information you use commonly live outside of your firewall, preventing you from a physical integration?
- Are your business intelligence capabilities struggling to deliver viable, useful analytics that creates a positive influence on your business?
Saying yes to these point to your business being ready to benefit from these data efforts.
Here’s one important thing for you to think about: how slow are your systems? In a federated model, you’re only as fast as the slowest source for each federate query. Linking into an outdated platform that is slow to respond will bog down the entire process.
It is up to you to decide if your business can run at the speed of the system you want to integrate. Hesitation about speed and other concerns may mean your company is not quite ready yet. Here are a few more things to consider about if you’ll be able to achieve the benefits of data virtualization.
Here’s Who Doesn’t Find Benefits of Virtual Datacenter Work
The one significant category of companies who may not benefit from a virtual data center or data federation is those who need to keep historical snapshots and those who require a very specific, complex governance of their information.
We’re not saying that the architecture prevents you from detailed governance or snapshots, just that costs tend to scale in these cases and it can quickly become prohibitive. Keep your budget in mind when it comes to virtualization and shared services, or you may have a system that ends up costing you more.
For businesses in these cases, you may want to consider a combination of physical and virtual data centers and infrastructure, pairing a traditional EDW with virtual models to access various sources and maintain compliance with different security needs.
Other businesses that need to evaluate their specific needs are those with significantly older systems or who rely on partners with outdated databases. The reason these companies may want to shelve the virtualization work, for now, is that it will not address the underlying factors that make using this data slowly, and it can slow down the rest of your data work because it reduces the overall speed of each query.
Get Started with What You Need
Worldwide Supply focuses on helping your business be efficient. Data federation techniques can save you big time. They reduce the infrastructure you need to manage your data, so you’re freeing up spend for other areas. The smarter your network, the more cost-effective it is to expand it. It’s all about growth.
Worldwide Supply has the equipment and tools you need to grow your network. We want to give you the information and resources you need to take your business to the next level.
When you need to know a little more or when you’re ready to boost your business results, contact Worldwide Supply, we’re here to help.