Welcome!

Virtualization Authors: Roger Strukhoff, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Victoria Livschitz, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Virtualization, SOA & WOA

Virtualization: Case Study

Data Virtualization at Pfizer: A Case Study

New integration infrastructure built for business agility

Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility is the first book published on the topic of data virtualization. Along with an overview of data virtualization and its advantages, it presents ten case studies of organizations that have adopted data virtualization to significantly improve business decision making, decrease time-to-solution and reduce costs. This article describes data virtualization adoption at one of the enterprises profiled, Pfizer Inc.

Organization Background
Pfizer Inc. is a biopharmaceutical company that develops, manufactures and markets medicines for both humans and animals. As the world's largest drug manufacturer, Pfizer operates globally with 111,500 employees and a presence in over 100 countries.

Worldwide Pharmaceutical Sciences (PharmSci) is a group of scientists responsible for enabling what drugs Pfizer will bring to market. This group designs, synthesizes and manufactures all drugs that are part of clinical trials and toxicology testing within Pfizer.

For this case study, we interviewed Dr. Michael C. Linhares, Ph.D and Research Fellow. Linhares heads up the Business Information Systems (BIS) team within PharmSci.

BIS is responsible for portfolio and resource management across all of PharmSci's projects. This involves designing, building and supporting systems that deliver data to executive teams and staff to help them make decisions regarding how to allocate available resources - both people and dollars - across the overall portfolio of over 100 projects annually.

The Business Problem
A major challenge for PharmSci is the fact that it has a complex portfolio of projects that is constantly changing.

According to Linhares, "Every week, something new comes up and we need to ensure that the right information is communicated to the right people. The people making decisions about resource allocation need easy and simple methods for obtaining that information. One aspect of this is that some people learn the information first and they need to communicate it to others who are responsible for making decisions based on the information. This creates an information-sharing challenge."

Linhares estimates that there are 80 to 100 information producers within PharmSci and over 1,000 information consumers, including the executives who seek a full picture of the project portfolio - financial data, project data, people data and data about the pharmaceutical compounds themselves.

The Technical Problem
The data required is created in and managed by different applications, each developed by a different team, stored in multiple sources managed by different technologies, and the applications don't talk to each other.

This makes it very difficult to access summary information across all projects. Examples would be identifying how much money is being spent on all projects in the project management system, what the next milestones are and when each will be met, and who is working on each project. "We needed a solution that would allow us to pull all this information together in an agile way."

When Linhares joined PharmSci, there was very little in the way of effective information integration. Most integration was done manually by exporting data from various systems into Excel spreadsheets and then either combining spreadsheets or taking the spreadsheet data and moving it into Access or SQL Server databases. With no real security controls, this approach also lacked scalability and opportunities for reuse, generated multiple copies of the spreadsheets (with various changes), and it often took weeks to build a spreadsheet with only a 50% chance that it would include all of the data required.

Solution Requirements
To be successful, the solution to these data integration and reporting problems had to provide the following:

  • A single, integrated view of all data sources with a common set of naming conventions
  • A flexible middle layer that would be independent of both the data sources on the back end and the reporting tools on the front end to facilitate easy change management
  • Shared metadata and business rule functionality so there would be a single point for managing and monitoring the solution
  • A development platform that supported fast, iterative development and, therefore, continuous process improvement

Three Options Considered
BIS considered three solution architectures to meet their business and technical challenges.

  1. Traditional Information Factory: The first option was a traditional approach of an integrated, scalable information factory. Pfizer had already implemented information factories in the division using a combination of Informatica ETL tools, Oracle databases and custom-built reporting applications. However, according to Linhares, an information factory "seemed like overkill. We didn't have high volumes of data, nor did we need the inherent complexity of using ETL tools to transform and move data while making sure we included all the detailed data we might possibly ever need over time." Furthermore, because of the way the information factories were managed within Pfizer, change management entailed significant overhead. However, the architectural concepts of an information factory were not going to be ignored in the final solution.
  2. Single Vendor Stack: A second possible approach was to implement the solution in a single integrated technology (SQL Server with integration services). Major disadvantages were the lack of access to multiple data source types, the need to move data multiple times and the lack of an integrated metadata repository for understanding and organizing the data model.
  3. Data Virtualization: The third option was to create a federated data virtualization layer that integrated and accessed the underlying data sources through virtual views of the data. By leaving the source data in place, this approach would eliminate the issues inherent in copying and moving all the data (which Linhares described as unnecessary, "non-value added" activities). With the right technology and mix of products, data virtualization would enable PharmSci to migrate from inefficient, off-line spreadmarts to online access to integrated information that could be rapidly tailored and reused to dramatically increase its value to the organization.

The Data Virtualization Solution - Architecture
Pfizer's solution is the PharmSci Portfolio Database (PSPD), a federated data delivery framework implemented with the Composite Data Virtualization Platform.

Data virtualization enables the integration of all PharmSci data sources into a single reporting schema of information that can be accessed by all front-end tools and users. The solution architecture includes the following components:

Trusted Data Sources: There are many sources of data for PSPD; they are geographically dispersed, store data in a variety of formats across a multivendor, heterogeneous data environment. Here are some examples:

  • Enterprise Project Management (EPM) is a SQL Server database of WRD's drug portfolio project plans. It includes detailed project schedules and milestones.
  • The Global Information Factory (GIF) is an Oracle-based data warehouse of monthly finance data.
  • OneSource, a database of corporate-level drug portfolio information is itself a unified set of Composite views across several different sources built by another group within Pfizer.
  • Flat files are provided by the Finance Department on actual resource use.
  • SharePoint lists are small SharePoint databases accessed using a web service.
  • There are other data sources as well, including custom-built systems. As Linhares pointed out, "It doesn't matter what data sources we have. With a virtual approach, we are not limited by the types of data we need to access."

Data Virtualization Layer: The Composite Data Virtualization Platform forms the data virtualization layer that enables the solution to be independent of the data sources and front-end tools. It provides abstracted access to all of the data sources and delivers the data through virtual views. These views effectively present the PharmSci Portfolio Database as subject-specific data marts. The Composite metadata repository manages data lineage and business rules.

Consuming Applications: The flexibility of the platform is demonstrated by the varied reporting applications that use the information in PSPD. Examples include:

  • SAP Business Objects for ad hoc queries, standard reports and dashboards.
  • TIBCO Spotfire for analytics and access to data through standard presentation reports.
  • Web services for parameterized queries.
  • Data services to provide data for downstream applications.
  • QuickViews (web pages built using DevExpress, a .NET toolkit) for access to live data.

SharePoint Portal: Branded as "InfoSource," this team collaboration web portal is the front-end interface that provides integrated access to PSPD data for all PharmSci customers through the consuming applications described above.

The Data Virtualization Solution - Best Practices
Linhares and team applied a number of data virtualization best practices when implementing the architecture described above.

Two Layers of Abstraction: Linhares stressed the importance of building two clear levels of abstraction into the data virtualization architecture. The first level abstracts Sources (the information abstraction layer), the second consumers (the reporting abstraction layer).

"We built a representation of the data in Composite. If a source is ever changed by the owner, which often happens, we can update the representation in the information abstraction layer quickly. This allows control of all downstream data in one location."

The second level of abstraction is the one between the reporting schema and the front-end reporting tools. A consolidated and integrated set of information is exposed as a single schema. This allows BIS to be system agnostic and support the use of whatever tool is best for the customer. All of the reporting tools use the same reporting abstraction layer; they always get the same answer to the same question because there is only a single source of data.

Consolidated Business Rules: Another key piece of the solution is the ability to include the business rules about how PharmSci manages its data within these abstraction layers. The business rules are embedded in the view definitions and are applied consistently at the same point.

Rapid Application Development Process: Prior to data virtualization, data integration was the slowest step for BIS in fulfilling a customer request for information. Now it's typically the fastest. "For example, a request that came in Friday morning and was completed by that afternoon. The customer's response was an amazed, ‘What do you mean you already have it done?'"

BIS uses a simple development process. The first step is what Linhares calls "triage" - looking at what the customer wants, estimating how long it will take and communicating that to the customer.

BIS does not spend a lot of time documenting the requirements of the solution. Instead, the group first creates a prototype on paper in the form of a simple data flow, then creates the necessary virtual views, gives the customer web access to the views and asks: "Is this what you wanted?"

The customer can then play with the result and respond with any changes or additions needed. BIS arrives at the final solution working with the customer in an iterative process.

Summary of Benefits
Linhares described several major benefits of the data virtualization solution.

The ability to provide integrated data in context: Data virtualization has enabled BIS to replace isolated silos of data with a data delivery platform that integrates different types and sources of data into a comprehensive package of value-added information. Instead of only the team leader and a core group of eight to ten people knowing about a project, the entire organization has access to relevant project information.

The independence of the data virtualization layer: "This is one of the huge benefits of data virtualization. It allows me to manage and monitor everything in one place and it makes change management easy for BIS and transparent to users."

Fast, iterative development environment: The data delivery infrastructure already exists in the data virtualization layer (defined data sources, standard naming conventions, access methods, etc.) so when a request for information comes in, BIS can quickly put it together for the customer.

Elimination of manual effort throughout PharmSci: According to Linhares, people initially resisted going away from their spreadsheets. But once there was a single source for the data and it was all available through InfoSource, there was a dramatic reduction in the need to have meetings to reconcile spreadsheet data among teams.

•   •   •

Editor's Note: Robert Eve is the co-author, along with Judith R. Davis, of Data Virtualization: Going Beyond Traditional Data Integration to Achieve Business Agility, the first book published on the topic of data virtualization. The complete Pfizer case study, along with nine others enterprise are available in the book.

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.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.