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When Levolor, a maker of window coverings, was looking for a better way to manage floods of data more quickly and efficiently, it ended up swapping its homegrown application for an open source tool.
John Shafer, e-business application developer for Levolor, says that his company -- a division of Rubbermaid based in Atlanta -- needed to replace its in-house solution with something that would allow Levolor to better integrate incoming consumer orders with outgoing shipment status reports. It decided to go with a scalable, open source data integration suite from Talend.
"That homegrown application -- we were just outgrowing it," Shafer says. "It was very difficult to support and we were just outgrowing it in terms of bringing on new tasks and things of that nature.... One of the great things about [developing a solution in-house] is you can build it to pretty much do anything you want. There really aren't any limitations if you're coding it from scratch. We were being careful when we were choosing a [replacement] tool to make sure that we could support all the things we were having to have happen, because the product that we're transmitting information on is fairly complicated and fairly configured. We offer a lot of configured products, so there's a lot of variations."
Shafer says Levolor did not have to sacrifice any functionality when it left its homegrown tool for Talend. In fact, he says that the move was more of a gain compared to what his company was using previously, particularly when Talend's dashboarding and data monitoring capabilities are factored into the equation.
To try Talend before actually taking the plunge, Levolor first used Talend Open Studio, which can be downloaded online at no cost, to work on a small project. When the company was satisfied with what it was seeing, it upgraded to Talend Integration Suite, a subscription-based service with technical support that extends the functionality of Talend Open Studio for collaboration and development in large enterprise settings. Talend Integration Suite consolidates all project information and enterprise metadata in a centralized repository that is shared by all stakeholders in the integration processes. The shared repository facilitates collaboration between team members by allowing them to store and share their business models, integration jobs, and metadata.
Before deciding to implement Talend more than six months ago, Levolor eyed a number of other alternatives, such as Business Objects' Data Integrator, and it also took a look Jitterbit and Pentaho. While Shafer acknowledges that Levolor was not originally interested in an open source application, he says that flexibility, time constraints, and cost issues tipped the scale in the favor of Talend.
"The main factor [for choosing Talend] was how the application is presented in terms of installation and various modules," he says. "We're using the Talend Integration Suite, which has a job server repository manager, so essentially -- as we're editing jobs and changing jobs -- we have revision control on those and they're stored on a central server.... We deal with XML, we deal with flat files, we deal with different databases, so we need a variety in terms of connectivity and [we need] the ability to map the data flows. The connectors allow you to do that -- to process and orchestrate data moving from one system to the next. Another fundamental reason was that, if we need to, we could code something in Java and directly derive it through Talend."
Shafer says any issues it has had with the new software usually involve Levolor's wanting to know how to conduct a specific task in accordance with the application's parameters. He says Talend has been responsive to its queries in such situations, and says other Talend users have provided useful tips on how they are approaching similar tasks.
"Everything is going very well," he says. "We right now have moved all but one of our non-critical jobs over into Talend.... We're moving forward as quickly as we can but carefully at the same time. Essentially we started with some smaller jobs on Talend's job server to make sure we understood the migration path and anything that we would run into.... We've gotten to the point that we feel comfortable, everything's progressing forward. We feel comfortable with that."
In addition to the customary cost savings realized by choosing open source over proprietary, Levolor will also save on the payroll front. Shafer says that the Talend application will ensure that he -- a senior-level developer -- will as of about March 2009 be freed up from some of the job duties that currently tie up a lot of his work day. Another benefit he mentions involves the time it takes to get projects done. By using Talend, the company has reduced the amount of time needed to complete projects to days from months.
Shafer has some recommendations for others who might be considering going a similar route. "I would say ... look at the open source option. Look at the Talend option and download the tool. It's freely available on the Internet." Those who download the tool can then use it on small tasks to determine whether they want to take the leap and start using the tool on a wider scale, he says.
Ian Palmer is a freelance writer based near Toronto, Canada, who focuses on technology and business issues.