Purveyor of High-Quality Verbiage

Lisa Vaas is a journalist who analyzes technology and job-hunting strategies.

Archive for the ‘Databases’ Category

Sybase and the Case of the Disappearing Database

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Sybase, under the wing of new parent company SAP, is hell-bent on talking about unwiring the enterprise, and that’s exactly what it did at its co-located Boston/Frankfurt event last week, doing deep-dives into sessions on mobility, analytics and information management with a phalanx of Sybase and SAP leaders.

If you tuned in for a roadmap of what the newly merged companies plan to do with Sybase’s databases, however, pretty much the only thing you got to hear were crickets chirping. True, we did hear that SAP will port Sybase’s ASE database for SAP Business Suite ERP, but is that really “BIG!”—as Tweeted Boris Evelson, Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst? Or is it an inevitable no-brainer, as described by analyst Josh Greenbaum when I talked to him at the conclusion of the dog-and-pony show?

IDC Research VP and database guru Carl Olofson is the guy who follows the money trail on the RDBMS crowd. He’s the one who’s been keeping track of how much revenue Sybase brings in from ASE—it’s the company’s bread and butter—and his figures show RDBMS growth of 13.1% from 2006 until 2008. That’s second only to Microsoft’s growth spurt, at 15% over the same time.

So it’s no surprise that Olofson was the only analyst to try to nail SAP-Sybase on some specifics around what the plan is for ASE. Sybase Senior VP of Markets Solutions and Products Gary Kovacs had presented the crowd with a chart that had, as Olofson described, “lots and lots of words on it” to describe the technologies that will fit under the mobility/analytics/information management schema. One thing missing was details on the bottom layer, though, Olofson said: No details on the infrastrural layer where the enterprise data lives, the data underlying the applications, such as SAP’s, that manage it and make all the mobile applications above it come alive.

“The database on that layer is pretty important,” Olofson said. “I was looking for explicit reference to ASE and I didn’t see it.”

Kovacs and his colleagues, as they did throughout the event, shied away from naming database names in their quest for heterogeneity. “Data is part of the overall flow,” he responded, then described the back-and-forth the team went through with the engineers over whether or not to specify ASE in that rich data pool.

“On the chart, we had ASE in there first, even prior to being acquired, but still, ASE is just one part of the overall architecture,” which includes data flowing in from not only a wide range of databases but also from data sources, be they grids, fabrics, data stores, devices, Web-based applications, and so forth. If they specified ASE, he said, how would they capture all those other data sources without adding 60 more boxes to the already stuffed-to-the-gills slide? After all, in the name of being accurate, the engineering team would insist on including everything if they included ASE.

The question was, Kovacs said, “How to capture [ASE] without adding 60 more boxes? I took it and added it [under the general rubric ‛data store.’]”

OK, Olofson said, he could appreciate that. Still, he said, he thinks it’s useful to point out that the companies have technology that’s well-establshed in that space.

At that point, SAP Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka repeated the “one size doesn’t fit all” mantra that the companies had been on-message about all day. Between them, he noted, Sybase and SAP, have some considerable database clout, including MaxDB, ASE, Sybase IQ, and Sybase’s in-memory databases. But the companies “strongly believe in best of breed,” he said. “It’s not like one size fits all.” Mobile ASE, for example—that’s the database you want for a mobile device. And there’s “no one who can do that” like Sybase’s SQL Anywhere mobile solution suite.

“That’s a given for us,” Sikka said, noting that it’s being a given is the primary reason SAP-Sybase isn’t talking about it.

Still, Olofson said, there were plenty of references to IQ. But ASE is “the largest revenue generator for Sybase,” he said, and “It’s been growing pretty well lately.” Why scarcely a mention?

“Yes, we should showcase it more actively,” the executives said without much apparent enthusiasm.

As Olofson Tweeted immediately following the exchange, “In an attempt to make their positioning all-inclusive, #SAPSybase may have made their points so abstract as to be unhelpfully vague.”

Olofson is concerned about Sybase’s customers. He knows they need to be comforted by hearing the specifics on what SAP-Sybase plans for ASE innovation instead of just assuming they’re treating it “like a cash cow,” he told me after the event. It’s not like people casually throw up their hands and move their enterprise database to another vendor, of course, but when the odd project arises that merits a database reassessment, do you want your customers to feel uncertain about your innovation plans?

Olofson thought there was more to SAP-Sybase’s reticence than the wearing of the heterogeneity mantle, but he didn’t hazard a guess as to what it might be, alluding instead of there being “more under the covers here.”

Josh Greenbaum was more blunt: They’re not talking about ASE, beyond mentioning that it will be ported to SAP Business Suite ERP (which, again, he called a no-brainer), because “they’ve basically lost the race.” They’re not even fourth anymore—that honor has gone to Teradata. SAP-Sybase is simply not going to go to battle to get anybody off Oracle or DB2, Greenbaum said.

What about licensing? As various Tweeters pointed out, it makes no sense now, given that customers currently have to buy both SAP and Sybase licenses. “That HAS to be rationalized,” noted Dennis Howlett. Greenbaum had no thoughts on what SAP-Sybase’s plans might be but did note that yes, it does have to be rationalized, no, they’re not talking about it—hell, they’re not touching it.

Just to backtrack a little, to recapture the essence of the “one size doesn’t fit all” heterogeneity mantra SAP-Sybase is putting out,, let’s recap what Sikka had to say to an earlier question about the differing contributions of Sybase’s two in-memory databases.

“With databases, one size doesn’t fit all,” he told a questioner. “We’ve been building an in-memory database platform. We believe it’s a win-win. It’s an awesome columnar database” that will make IQ a stellar data warehousing option, he said.

But SAP-Sybase is a company, “not a religion,” he said. “We have a number of implementations of in-memory. As long as it’s transparent to our customers, we’ll have the best features in high-performance technologies. We focus on how you generate more business. That’s all we care about.”

As Sybase CEO and President John Chen noted, which technology customers use is use-specific, with the companies’ plan being to “insulate the customer from” the onus of that choice.

Sikka also noted that SAP-Sybase is building complete support for ASE across the board for existing SAP products.

Finally, I got a chance to have a one-on-one with Brian Vink, Sybase VP of Database Product Management & Marketing, to ask him what the plans are around ASE. Here’s what he had to say.

Vaas: I agreed with Carl that it’s surprising how little SAP-Sybase is talking about ASE. Could you share with me some more thoughts on what the plans are, how you plan to keep it competitive and what the thoughts are around increasing market share?
Vink: I mentioned that we’re the fastest growing of the top five database vendors of last year. Carl can attest to that. This particular event was, frankly, about how we’re bringing our portfolio together. We try not to get too much into the product names. One thing we wanted to do here was make sure people understand the portfolio approach and recognize we’re open. Especially when talking about the SAP portfolio, and about ASE.

Vaas: Well, let’s talk about certification. ASE is not yet certified to run with SAP applications. What’s the timetable for that?
Vink: It will be next year. Then there will be such a thing as mobilizing SAP systems on ASE.
So SAP has two categories: there’s SAP Business Suite, its traditional suite, but there’s also Business Objects, their BI tool sets. That does support ASE today. One intiative is to mobilize the BO tools as well. Those are two ways, between SAP, ASE and the mobile technologiess, to mobilize [ASE].
We have a lot of customers expressing interest in that. [One example being Indian Railways],

Vaas: What are your plans for compatibility with third-party databases?
Vink: If you look at it from the ASE perspective, we talked about information management, like replication. A better way to describe it is data movement. You need to take data from a number of different data sources and move it to different data sources. One thing we’ve done well at Sybase is come up with leading replication technology. We bring that to the ASE environment,
If you look at our replication server, it supports Oracle, DB2, and Microsoft. If you look at extending it to a mobile suite, it supports all those different databases as well.
But there are a number of data stores out there. Some have different interfaces: OLPC, etc. If you look at it in terms of enterprise information, what we do, the replication server, the way it’s architected, we’ll provide support [for the major databases], but for less common applications, we provide an SDK. If you want to provide this data source, one with which we’re not familiar, we’ll give you the tools so you can replicate to … Oracle or whatever. We don’t build them all ourselves. We don’t know what all information is out there. But we’ll give them the tools to do it themselves.

Vaas: What about innovations? What are the plans?
Vink: We’re on a roll with ASE. We just came out with 15.5., our in-memory version. We’ve got a 97% satisfaction rate among our top customers as of last year. Not only are we growing market share, we’re coming up with new innovations.

Vaas: What about ensuring you maintain your installed base?
Vink: I don’t know how often you see people look up and snap their fingers and say “I’ll switch enterprise databases.” What you do find is, they’ll say, “I’m creating a new module, a new version of this or that.”
Many customers have multiple ASE [instances] in the same company. It’s rare you’ll see one customer standardize on one database. They typically have three or four. I don’t know that I’d say I’m looking to see people snap their fingers to switch from one to another. But we want to make sure there’s another option. And that it has strong enough value that when they’re loking at their next decision point, we’re one of those options. And the leading option.


Written by Lisa Vaas

August 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm