Are Sybase users feeling lonely?

Are your Sybase investments worth keeping?

There is a concern that, in the not too distant future, SAP ASE (née Sybase ASE) is going to be as dead as John Cleese’s Norwegian Blue.

Despite having a technically good product, marketing was never Sybase’s strongest suit. It was kind of inevitable that someone would buy them. And so, it could be argued, that the purchase by SAP was a good thing. But, has it improved Sybase’s profile in the marketplace or is the scene set to simply snuff it out, once and for all?

It is reasonable to feel uncertain because, to be fair, SAP hardly promotes the virtues of the Sybase products it now owns. Sybase, it seems, still suffers from the curse of poor marketing.

But, does all this mean Sybase users really need to start thinking about reviewing their Sybase investment and to start planning for a replacement? Maybe, then again maybe not.


The forgotten tribe

A lot of companies did choose ASE to underpin their commercial apps, apps they are still developing for their clients. Many financial organisations have ASE as an integral part of their in-house applications and would like to keep it that way.

All these people liked the Sybase products when Sybase was selling them but if you talk to these people today, you’ll quickly get a sense that they feel unloved, almost forgotten by the juggernaut that is SAP.


It could it be that SAP simply failed to understand the still vibrant Sybase ecosystem and has simply not done enough to dispel the misconception that Sybase products are not part of SAP’s roadmap. Then again, just how much of this feeling of commercial disconnect, may actually be down to how SAP’s own sales force operates or the inevitable confusion which arises from an internal clash of company cultures?

Let’s be honest, Sybase is now a small part of SAP and SAP is still very much an application vendor. Sure, SAP has aspirations to be the second largest database vendor by the end of 2015 but at its heart it sells business applications.

Conversely, the Sybase Tribe bought database products, not applications. They built their own applications and don’t really want SAP or anyone else’s applications. As with all software giants, people either like or loathe SAP, just like they do Marmite. Unfortunately, many of the Sybase Tribe seem to fall into the “we don’t like Marmite” camp.


It’s just evolution

Once, the name Sybase was synonymous with innovation. Sybase brought elegance to the relational database world. Sybase even spawned, albeit inadvertently, the success that is now Microsoft’s SQL Server and look how many people like that.

Sybase was built for networks and was, in its day, a point of inflection. Many embraced it, especially financial institutions. Wall Street is still a place where Sybase is very much at home.


Fast forward to today and we find a new point of inflection in database technology with Hasso Plattner’s take on In-Memory computing. Hasso’s vision of a simple, efficient data platform makes perfect sense in a world brimming with SaaS, mobile apps and the modern business’ impatience to get more for less and to have it all as close to yesterday, as their IT departments can manage.

HANA is just part of the commercial database’s evolution. That fact alone, was bound to raise questions as to what exactly SAP was going to do with the Sybase product set in the long term.


So what is it going to do? It’s a fair question.

Despite the lack of promotion of the former Sybase products by SAP, the current developments may well please supporters of Sybase technologies, even if those technologies will always be playing second, third and fourth fiddle to the HANA Data Platform.

ASE is still a damn fine database engine. Many feel it deserves a bigger role in the play that is SAP HANA or perhaps even become a star in a spin-off series of its own. And why not? It does what it says on the tin, it’s just no one is making enough of a fuss about it.

The days of billboards being driven around high-tech areas of California, espousing the virtues of Sybase Inc., are long gone. It’s a pity. Sybase needs someone to blow its trumpet and SAP seems to be using a piccolo.


Ultimately Sybase products will merge into the HANA Data Platform. Be under no illusion that they won’t. As the Borg of Star Trek fame would say, resistance is futile. However, let’s also be equally clear, SAP has invested in ASE, IQ and Replication Server.

The latest ASE incarnation includes improved In-Memory capability, it is designed for extreme transactional processing and it supports, to use another over hyped phrase, a variety of Big Data Use Cases. It also plays nice with others in the integration playground.


SAP has implemented over 6,000 installations of their application suite, using ASE as the database. Clearly former Sybase products are not pushing up daisies, just yet. Sybase lives, just with a different name and a new suit of clothes.


Where are all the Sybase skills going?

And what about Sybase skills? Are they in short supply? Well, go looking at the SAP training schedules and more often than not, you will find there is an outline of an ASE course but not a lot of courses actually running. Again, you’d be forgiven in thinking that SAP doesn’t care.

But look at this another way, eventually databases underpinning any application, will require very little maintenance. It makes sense that database technologies should become self-sustaining. The focus should be on business process improvement and integrating all those SaaS apps that forward thinking, IT-Lite, companies are purchasing. There will be less and less training in the dark arts of database administration. Again, isn’t that just evolution?

Currently, there is still a need for ASE, Replication Server and IQ administrators. That need is probably going to exist for the next ten years. Finding Sybase DBA services will be key to delivering breathing space for the natives of Sybase’s forgotten tribe, whilst they decide on how best to move forward or exploit the features SAP is pouring into Sybase products.

Potential skill shortages are being actively addressed by some of the smaller service providers, who grew up with Sybase and still see its undoubted potential, regardless of what clothes it wears. Some are actively seeking to develop administrators, not only with Sybase administration knowledge but with strong data architecture and integration skills that can be exploited in a SaaS laden world. After all, a good DBA is a good data architect.


Keep calm and carry on

SAP has invested in the Sybase products. To state otherwise is simply not accurate. Maybe that investment is simply to be a stepping stone to all things HANA but so what? HANA is SAP’s flagship technology.


IQ remains an excellent columnar database that will hold its own with any other data warehouse product. It took a Guinness World Record in 2013 and it is playing a key role in helping the HANA Data Platform achieve petabyte scalability.

ASE has always been better than people think. It is a very reliable RDBMS, I’d even go as far as to say rock solid. It can and does perform. And it still possess an elegant architecture that DBA’s of any faction can easily relate to.

So it maybe, because of their culture, that SAP doesn’t truly understand the Sybase Tribe.

There are, however, still some who do and actively promote and support the SAP (Sybase) products. Investments in Sybase are far from a bad idea and can still be a worthwhile with SAP offering some great deals that may well suit SME’s data management requirements to a tee.


To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Sybase’s demise are greatly exaggerated and that’s also true for Sybase DBAs. Keep calm, find a Sybase partner who is small enough to care, and by all means, carry on.