To steal a line from Forrest Gump.. you never know what you’re going to get….

Ok, maybe it’s not a box of chocolates, but its certainly full of surprises in terms of the things you randomly bump into as you are wandering around the Internet looking for some thing else. Such was the case a few days ago when I was looking for tools to help write some XML transformations I was working on. While browsing some Google results a curious name popped out: Jitterbit. I decided to follow the link and discovered an interesting system for all kinds of data transformations.

JitterBit, which is hosted at SourceForge and is a “dual-license” project (Open Source Code, but commercial support is available), and is what what most enterprise architect types would call an “ETL” tool. It’s a system that allows you to transform, integrate and migrate data between a large variety of systems. This may elicit a yawn from most people, but if you’ve ever tried to actually get one system to talk to another, you’ll know it’s no walk in the park… even for the smallest system (using Excel as your database engine doesn’t count).

Let’s say, for example, in addition to your day job, you also had a side-business selling use CDs, videos and books on Amazon and you had a sizable inventory of stuff you were going to sell. How would you manage all of the data input, user tracking, sales tracking and so on?
You could “roll your own” mini CRM (customer relationship management) system, but unless programming is your bag, it’s probably easier to drop $50/month on a subscription to to handle the CRM part… of course that does leave the small issue of getting all your data from your inventory tracking which is inside SalesForce over to Amazon and then the sales data back again. Fortunately, Amazon was thoughtful enough to publish a very extensive API that includes everything you’d need to program a bi-directional flow of data to get your inventory up so you can sell you wares on Amazon Marketplace, and get data back so you know who’s bought what, what to charge them and where to ship it to. But, now you’re back in the same bot.. unless you write an interface between the two, you’re kind of stuck, and buying one won’t help unless you’re just starting out because most of the pre-fab systems you could buy are tailored to very specific CRM systems and all your fields must match those in the package you’re going to buy (oy! What a pain!).

This is the problem that Jitterbit aims to solve. Being a data format bridge Jitterbit provides a set of tools for creating transformation packages: it can speak pretty much to every data transport method in common use including SOAP (“Web Services”), HTTP, ODBC, FTP/SFTP and even SAMB. In terms of data formats, it can use XML (through and XSD data/type description), Web Services through WSDL, it can support SQL databases, and flat files (as long as there is a schema to tell it what fields are what). It also has an auto-discovery system for looking at a data source (say, your CRM system) and a target system (say, your Amazon Marketplace account) and will help your set up the rules that map two systems together so that you can exchange data. Once set up these data format translations can be saved into packages that can be reused, made available to others through the usually Open Source channels, or even sold.

These transformation packages are called “JitterPaks,” and the JitterBit developers have made available JitterPaks for Amazon, Salesforce, and several other CRM systems. An API is included with the system so anyone can create JitterPaks and users are encouraged both to share them and sell them to help increase the utility of the system.

Jitterbit currently run on Windows and Linux systems; it’s not clear if the developer plan on making a Mac OS X version. From the notes in their blog, they seem to be working extending the systems reach to be able to interface with more kind of enterprise grade systems from EJBs in the Java world, to .NET.

This is a very professionally done bit of work, and it looks like they have hit on a good formula with the Open + Commercial model much in the way JBoss and other high-end utility platforms have done. This looks like a company to keep an eye on.