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SAP Expands List Of Oracle Database Alternatives

Sybase ASE joins IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server on the certified database list, but the ringer in this crowd is Hana.
Low Key on ASE

At first it was surprising to me that SAP executives didn't spend much, if any time talking about the company's certification of Sybase ASE to run its apps. After all, ASE is a long-time rival of Oracle database that could easily replace that product in application deployments -- if not for the "we run Oracle database" thinking and training investments of those customers.

Sybase CEO John Chen slipped in a few words at Sapphire about a claimed 19% price-for-performance advantage for ASE over Oracle database. But you didn't hear SAP's co-CEO Bill McDermott or Jim Hagemann Snabe promoting the product.

Hagemann Snabe told me, in a one-on-one interview with InformationWeek, that SAP would not push ASE hard, but that it expects to get a lot of pull from customers because "many feel they're under a lot of price pressure when it comes to databases, so they're looking for alternatives."

Noting SAP's partnerships with IBM and Microsoft, which offer DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server, respectively, Snabe added, "we don't want to create a situation where there's only one database. We truly want choice."

That sounds good and I'm sure it's genuine, to a point. But if you think about SAP's ambitions for Hana and in-memory technology, it doesn't make sense for SAP to actively promote any conventional database. Hana and future versions thereof are the way forward as far as SAP is concerned.

Summing Up Choices

It may be years before more conservative customers are willing to give Hana a try. After all, it's a choice that will take some IT departments out of their comfort zone. There are Oracle shops out there that have staffs with years of experience in tweaking and tuning Oracle database for maximum performance. They might find it hard enough to switch to a different conventional database, let alone to an in-memory, column-store database.

But times are changing, says Gartner analyst and database guru Don Feinberg. A wave of automated management and tuning mechanisms built into the latest databases has greatly reduced the amount of manual tuning required, he says. For example, he says one version of IBM DB2 has a built-in "configure for SAP" button -- no muss, no fuss for database administrators.

How hard would it be for a customer to switch from Oracle to ASE? "For a DBA to learn a new database is not a major deal," Feinberg says, noting that vendors such as Quest and BMC offer agnostic management tools that run across every major database.

Between licensing-cost complaints and the recent Itanium flap -- Oracle's decision to end development on an Intel chip used by HP and quite a few Oracle customers running HP Superdome servers -- Feinberg notes that Gartner now gets plenty of queries about moving off of Oracle database. "Before the Itanium move, we had maybe five phone calls in two years about IBM DB2 for SAP; now we average three to five calls per week."

I wouldn't expect to see any rapid shift in the numbers of SAP customers using Oracle database. But between the innovation available through Hana and the growing list of more conventional alternatives, I only expect Oracle's share of SAP-customer database expenditures to decline.

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