Last week's big deal in enterprise software was Oracle's (NASDAQ:ORCL) hostile bid for Retek (NASDAQ:RETK). Yesterday, we saw another deal in the same sector: IBM's (NYSE:IBM) intended purchase of Ascential Software (NASDAQ:ASCL) for $1.1 billion.

Ascential Software develops data integration software. Here's how it works: Ascential takes data from many sources -- the Web, catalogs, storefronts, and so on -- and deposits the data in a single source. This makes it much easier for companies to analyze their operations, and it fits nicely with IBM's strategy of providing its customers with on-demand access to internal data. IBM and Ascential have partnered on various projects before, and they are already extensively integrated through IBM's WebSphere Information Integrator product line.

Data integration doesn't appear to be experiencing the same slowdown that hit enterprise software. IBM, for example, says its information integration unit generated "triple-digit growth in 2004." And IT-intelligence firm IDC projects that the worldwide data integration market will grow from $9.3 billion in 2003 to $13.6 billion in 2008.

Ascential posted revenues of $271.9 million in 2004 -- a 46% increase from 2003 -- and a net income of $15 million. The sales pipeline is healthy as well: Ascential added 79 customers in the fourth quarter, such as (NASDAQ:AMZN), Chevron Texaco (NYSE:CVX), and Nokia (NYSE:NOK).

History shows that IBM goes to market with commercial brands, such as DB2, WebSphere, Tivoli, and Lotus Notes. And data integration now looks as though it has gone from a pet project to a brand for IBM. With IBM's intended $1.1 billion investment, Ascential may just be that brand.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.