Sybase partners with IBM

Strange bedfellows

DVD it in many colours

Sybase has just announced a partnership with IBM to market the former's database on the latter's hardware. If that doesn't make you sit up and take notice then nothing will. Why would IBM, with more than enough databases of its own (at least seven) want to encourage Sybase, of all people?

Well, first we need a little clarity. The software in question is Sybase ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise) and the hardware is the IBM pSeries. It is the latter that is at the heart of the issue. This is hardware optimised for Linux that, in terms of both performance and price point, blows away the competition.

Okay, IBM wants to dominate the space for Linux-based processors - that is not unexpected. But why Sybase?

Actually, there are a bunch of reasons. First, Sybase ASE was the first mainstream database to be ported to the Linux platform (back in 1999), so it has more experience with running on that platform than anyone else. Second, while Sybase may have lost ground to its rivals in the general-purpose database market, it remains the database of choice in the financial services market and it is also a leading provider to government. IBM wants to leverage this positioning.

Third, Sybase started offering the ASE Express Edition as a free download a few months ago, for environments limited to 1 CPU, 5Gb disk and 2Gb memory. At the time I thought that this was a response to Computer Associates' taking Ingres into the open source space, but I now see that it was not, but was preparatory to this latest announcement.

So, what does Sybase expect to get out of this partnership with IBM? Clearly, it hopes to provide a compelling migration path for its existing customers that want to move to lower cost hardware. Secondly, it wants to encourage the developer community through its ASE Express Edition (for which, the company tells me, there have been 15,000 downloads to date); and thirdly, it wants to attack the Microsoft SQL Server market.

This last point is worth discussing in more detail. In particular, it makes an interesting contrast with CA and Ingres, which sees Oracle as its main target. However, from Sybase's perspective, Microsoft makes sense. Suppose that you are a SQL Server user and you want to move away from Windows (because it is too expensive), then Linux is the obvious choice.

You may think that you have no easy migration path to another database. Yes, you can use an ETL tool to move the data, but then there is the whole issue of re-training, new DBA requirements, and so on - is it really worth the cost? Well, remember that SQL Server was originally a joint development between Microsoft and Sybase and that both products have the same underlying architecture. The people costs involved in migrating from SQL Server to Sybase are likely to be much less than when moving to any other database. Then add the fact that Linux is open source and that the pSeries offers even more performance at lower cost and the migration equation starts to change its balance: it really may be worth moving from SQL Server and Windows to Sybase, Linux and IBM.

Copyright © 2004,

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