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Sybase Strives For Relevance

Latest release features self-management and performance improvements, but market share is declining
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 this 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 for Sybase's infrastructure platform group.

Sybase's Small SliceSybase has struggled in recent years to maintain visibility in the database market. In 2002, its share of the $13.0 billion-a-year relational-database market fell to a bit less than 4%, according to research firm IDC, continuing a long slide that began in the mid-1990s. Oracle and IBM held market shares of about 39% and 34%, respectively, and Microsoft had an 11% market share.

"It's another 'me-too' database," Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna says. "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."

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, database management director John Mount says. 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."

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, says information systems director Bob Einhorn.

But the vendor has its loyal customers. "There is only one database vendor when it comes to 24-by-7 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 hands down" competing database software in its ease of installation, management, and maintenance.

While Harrold 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's and 3% to 5% less than IBM's. Sybase says it has added about 600 new database customers to its installed base in the last year.

ASE 12.5.1, which starts at $1,495, 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.