Accur8 Takes Aim at Data Virtualization Opportunity
October 21, 2015 Alex Woodie
After years of working for others inside and outside of the IBM i community, Glenn Marchesani is now branching off on his own. His new venture-debt funded startup, called Accur8 Software, is now selling a tool that, among other things, enables power users to quickly and easily build SQL-powered apps by providing a data virtualization layer atop existing systems and databases, including DB2 and IBM i.
Marchesani is only 44 years old, but he has more experience than developers who are much older. The son of DB2/400 subject matter expert Skip Marchesani, Glen grew up around the AS/400, attending computer conferences and hanging around with the likes of Larry Youngren, John Sears, Al Barsa, Jim Sloan, Jon Paris, and Susan Ganter. He was just 17 and barely out of high school when he got his first job coding an AS/400 medical billing app. He would go on to be the lead developer at Seagull Software (now owned by Rocket Software) before developing software at TAA Tools.
Eager to set out on his own, Marchesani eventually started working as a consultant, which allowed him to work on many different projects and solve a range of problems. Proficient in multiple languages, he held onto much of the code he developed, with the idea that the whole might eventually be greater than the sum of the parts.
“I’m pretty good at that, taking A plus B plus C plus D and putting them together and making it cohesive,” Marchesani tells IT Jungle in a recent interview. “I started to piece together a bunch of projects and had developed the intellectual property that’s in the Acurate8 product. It was grown from project to project, rather than built from scratch.”
Data Models and Virtualization
Accur8 Software is just over a year old, but it already has a handful of customers using the flagship software, which the company internally calls “Cubes,” but which is marketed externally as Integr8 and Gener8.
As Marchesani explains, Cubes is a bit of a Swiss Army knife that addresses several areas of concern for developers. It can be used to develop new applications or modernize existing apps. It’s been used as a security analysis tool for IBM i security logs, a multi-database query tool, a platform for Internet of Things (IoT), or a dashboard for DevOps.
But stripped down to basic essentials, Cubes delivers two main functions: Data virtualization and application generation. (A third product listed on the company’s website, called Orchestr8, provides a Web services layer for apps developed with Cubes, but it’s separate from Cubes.)
“The data virtualization layer, at its core, is really a query transformation tool,” Marchesani says. The software essentially models existing data sources (DB2 for i, SQL Server, MySQL, and PostgreSQL) and creates a new layer that virtualizes access to multiple back-end data sources, while maintaining security controls.
Meanwhile, the application generator, Gener8, is a Web-based tool that lets power users quickly create pages and views of the data that can be served up to customers, partners, or employees as needed. It’s like a DB2 power tool, but made for the 21st century.
“At the end of the day, you’re building up a data model with the data virtualization layer as the developer . . . and you basically hand it off to the user and they can add fields to forms and data views, so they literally can self-serve to get what they need,” Marchesani says. “It gives the developer a lot of flexibility from the browser to get the data and do some rich stuff that traditionally you’re going to have to touch many layers, and you’re doing it all form one layer, so you’re really productive.”
In a way, it’s a new twist on composite applications, in that users can take advantage of the data they have already collected and organized in DB2 (and other relational databases), but without any of the old DDS green-screen connections or heavyweight middleware or ETL. The Accur8 data model keeps the relationships between the various databases straight, allowing users to skim above the surface, dipping into the various databases as they need, while enforcing exactly what users have access to see or update.
“We sit on top of data,” he says. “Any data out there we can sit on top of. In the iSeries market, most likely the customer already has a bunch of data and we’re going to provide ways to get that data into user’s hands that’s cheaper, more cost-effective, and more agile.
Many to One
The data virtualization layer in the Cubes tool provides capabilities commonly found in NoSQL databases, such as the capability to keep data organized even if it sits across many distributed nodes, commonly called sharding.
“A customer table can be spread out against 20 MySQL databases, but our tooling would make that look like a single customer table,” Marchesani says. “The front-end may be requesting the data, but the front-end doesn’t care where it sits.”
This capability to automatically distribute queries, and aggregate the results, across multiple systems comes as a bit of a bonus to the Accur8 customer, who would otherwise invest in heavy ETL or other middleware to move data. “If you’re doing that with iSeries, you’re going to have to build a lot of plumbing to push all that data,” Marchesani says.
One of Accur8’s early adopters is a software as a service (SaaS) company that stores each of its customers’ data in a separate database instance. It can run a single query and get data back from each of those databases, aggregated and ready for consumption by downstream tools, Marchesani says. “That’s very powerful because instead of having to write middleware that’s complex and fragile, we just take care of that very elegantly,” he says.
Keeping It Light
While the Accur8 software can replace heavyweight tooling, it can do so without bogging down the developer, or giving him a lot of extraneous options. That’s something that RPG developers coding on the IBM i, System i, iSeries, and AS/400 platforms should be familiar with, Marchesani says.
“I’ve done everything, including Java and C++, but from my experience as an RPG developer on iSeries, it’s actually one of the most productive platforms I’ve ever been on,” he says. “Giving lots of options isn’t a way to be productive. The iSeries with the tooling–you can actually build a really robust application and have a really productive team.”
The fastest way to productivity, as Marchesani sees it, is to strip away the unnecessary complexity that is inherent in big integrated development environments (IDEs) of the day, while delivering a few powerful time-savers, such as the Integr8 data virtualization layer, which eliminates the need to move data through ETL or other methods.
“I used to be a geek and I would have my PC set up with Eclipse and all the plugins I wanted, and literally if lost that PC or bought another, it would take me days to get the system back up and running,” Marchesani says. “Now that I own my own company, I realize that’s money. I’m asking myself, how do I make the tooling ubiquitous and easy to access? So everything is in a browser. Nobody needs to install anything. You have a URL, you log into the system, and everything is there.”
Marchesani co-founded Accur8 Software in March 2014 with his partner, Ron Patterson, who has a background in venture capital. Eventually, Marchesani and Patterson got funding for the company through a venture debt, which is basically a loan given in exchange for a small piece of the company (around 1 percent).
Accur8 is cash-flow positive at this point, Marchesani says, which gives the company the freedom to work on the deals it wants to. At this point, those typically involve service-heavy arrangements with customers who are willing to have Accur8 hold their hands through the data modeling and app-building process, while giving them access to the tooling at the end of the engagement.
The software still has some polishing required (there are certain best methods that Marchesani is exploring), and it’s about 18 months away from being ready to market as a shrink-wrapped product. But with the help of IBM i veteran marketer Rich Ollari and a dozen or so other full-time staffers, Accur8 is ramping up now in hopes of riding the existing tide of application modernization, and getting ready for the next one: data virtualization.