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Sybase Stays In The Game With New Database Upgrade

Vendor touts TCO, self-management features, and performance improvements, though declining support for the database by third-party vendors is taking its toll.
While the database market is widely seen as a three-way race among IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, Sybase Inc. will remind everyone that it's still a contender when it ships a new release of its flagship Adaptive Server Enterprise database software next week.

With ASE 12.5.1, Sybase is emphasizing the database's low total cost-of-ownership with new self-management features and performance improvements. Those attributes and a focus on industries such as financial services, health care, and telecommunications, which require high-volume transaction processing, will keep Sybase in the game, says Tom Traubitz, senior group product marketing manager in Sybase's infrastructure platform group.

Sybase has struggled in recent years to maintain visibility in the database arena. In 2002, the company's share of the $13.0 billion relational database market fell to 3.6%, according to International Data Corp., continuing a long slide that began in the mid-1990s. Oracle and IBM held market shares of 39.4% and 33.6%, respectively, and Microsoft had an 11.1% market share.

"It's another 'me-too' database," says Noel Yuhanna, a Forrester Research analyst. "We haven't seen a lot of innovation from Sybase in the last two or three years. Most companies are looking to the Big Three for their long-term database strategy."

Before this year, the College of Lake County, a community college in Grayslake, Ill., with 16,000 students, had run its PeopleSoft Inc. financial, human-resources, and student-administration applications on a Sybase database. But when the college upgraded to PeopleSoft 8 earlier this year, it migrated the applications to IBM's DB2 database, information systems director Bob Einhorn says.

Maritz Inc., which provides corporate and group travel services, completed a switch from Sybase to Microsoft's SQL Server in August for running its custom travel applications. Sybase "was becoming somewhat stagnant and falling behind" competing products in features and functionality, says database management director John Mount. There are fewer third-party management and development tools available for the Sybase database, he says. And Mount was surprised when a test project using SQL Server ran faster than the Sybase database. "That was what put us over the edge."

But Sybase has its loyal customers. "There is only one database vendor when it comes to 24-by-seven availability," says Mike Harrold, membership director of the International Sybase User Group. "Technically they are as good as anyone else." A database administrator himself, Harrold says Sybase "beats hand-down" competing database software in its ease of installation, management, and maintenance.

While he acknowledges that Sybase may not have the same bells and whistles as other products, that's a trade-off he's happy to make for a lower-cost product. "Cost is very important now," he says. He has a point: An ongoing study of 2,000 IT organizations by The Standish Group research firm finds that Sybase's total cost-of-ownership is about 15% less than Oracle and 3% to 5% less than IBM.

ASE 12.5.1 offers new self-management and automatic resource-management features to reduce operational costs. The software provides Web-services support and enhanced native XML document management. New optional database-administration tools include Job Scheduler, DBXray for monitoring database performance, and Database Expert for operational predictive analysis. Pricing starts at $1,495.