IBM's IICE heats up content federation
WebSphere Information Integrator package puts content search, data management into one UI
IICE does not display search data until all searches are complete, which unfortunately puts performance at the mercy of the slowest back-end system. You may remove a given system from a search, but there is no option for displaying partial search results in the name of speed. In a simple demo across four back-end systems, we waited several minutes for a search to complete, because one repository was hosted on a severely underpowered platform.
Contributing to this slowness is the fact that IICE does not maintain an index of items found on the back ends, nor does it cache searches or results. IBM attributes this design to IICE’s focus on completeness of search results, rather than speed. If fast searches are important, IBM recommends its OmniFind edition, but I don’t buy this either/or paradigm. Users would be well served by options that allows them to tune activities between performance and completeness.
After the results have been displayed on the console, users can modify the data. For example, highlighting an item in IICE can be saved to the CMS via IICE. The product also exposes administrative options to these repositories — most data manipulation capabilities that the system provides are passed through to the user in an integrated UI.
The underlying technology that makes this all possible is a Java package IBM obtained in its 2004 acquisition of Venetica. The software can run on its embedded J2EE server or on an existing IBM WebSphere or BEA WebLogic server. It integrates with the various repositories via connectors or Web services. Developers can write applications that interact with these connectors and even write new connectors for unsupported systems — an SDK is supplied for this purpose.
I was disappointed that IICE does not support CRM, despite specific claims that it does so. Rather, IICE can be said to complement a CRM application by federating access to all the documents, records, and images that might form part of a customer’s relationship — but this benefit exists only if a bridge is first written between the CRM software and IICE. And you have to write this bridge yourself — astonishingly, IBM provides no off-the-shelf bridges for the three or four extant CRM packages.
IICE’s primary benefit is providing a federated means to search, retrieve, manage, and administer data items in repositories and ECMs. It does this well and uses an easy-to-understand interface, so users will become productive quickly. For enterprises with heterogeneous ECMs, IICE is an attractive solution.
That said, there’s no doubt that IICE is heavily enterprise-oriented. It accesses only large ECM systems; smaller repositories that an SMB might use are pointedly not supported. The product is priced on a per-CPU and per-connector basis, with prices starting at a $75,000 for one CPU and a single connector. Because it makes no sense to buy IICE unless you need two or more connectors, expect to spend more for even a minimal system. At these price levels, IICE’s enterprise ambitions are obvious.
All in all, I was impressed with how well IICE’s federation works and its good bidirectional support for content modifications and data management. This last aspect is especially intuitive, as is the passel of administrative features. However, more options for controlling performance, integration with more packages, and less aggressive pricing would make this product far more attractive.