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Sybase's billion dollar baby

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In the late 1990’s Sybase, like Informix, seemed to be on its way out. While other failing database companies (such as Informix) ended up being acquired, Sybase kept control of its own destiny. This meant overhauling its product portfolio, decoupling its mobile database (SQL Anywhere) and going on the acquisition trail.

The result of this is a bank balance of over $1bn and probably the best year in Sybase’s history. This is not the end of the road and Sybase is still moving forward with its product repositioning and its targeting of new areas.

At its recent Techwave conference in Las Vegas, Sybase CEO and President John Chen told delegates they were now in a position to deliver on the “unwired enterprise”. What that means to Sybase, is the ability to connect users with the information they need on “any device, any location, always available”.

This strategy is built partly on its own software and partly on software that it has acquired over the last few years. The three big product announcements were Sybase IQ 12.7, the Sybase Data Integration Suite and SQL Anywhere 10. What was missing, were new versions of its acquired Extended Systems products. According to Chris Kleisath, iAnywhere Director of Technology, Sybase, this acquisition came too late for inclusion in current products.

Sybase IQ is the company’s high end business intelligence engine. The main focus of this release has been speed, security and encryption; and an attempt to ensure that it can provide solid support for Sarbanes-Oxley [whatever that means in practice; "SOX compliance" is often a bit of a marketroid's dream based on director-level FUD - fear, uncertainty, doubt - and needs process as much as technology – Ed].

Data Integration Suite is a new release bringing together some of the new acquisitions with existing products. This is where the Extended Systems product line will appear in due course. Sybase sees itself as being the glue used to bind disparate structured and unstructured data sources together. Data Integration Suite is scheduled to ship at the end of November 2006. Alongside Data Integration Suite is the Information Anywhere Suite which is focussed on managing mobile devices and data access.

SQL Anywhere 10 is one of the biggest releases in that product's history. Sybase has always positioned it as an embedded database and has been quite successful in getting developers to ship it as the database component of other software suites. Sybase is now determined to move SQL Anywhere further up the food chain and into a market it really hasn’t been active in for over a decade – the SME server market.

This will bring Sybase back into a major war with Microsoft. While IBM and Oracle also have products for all levels of database need, neither is ubiquitous in mobile device nor in desktop markets. Microsoft has always been the dominant player here, although this has been more by default (on the desktop, with Access), than through any of its numerous attempts to position SQL Server explicitly in this space...

Sybase believes that it can take a significant share of the market for low end database servers without having the same footprint and resource requirements issues as Microsoft. By growing SQL Anywhere into this space, it hopes to attract a lot of developers who want a small, fast, efficient embedded database. The question is, can it really meet those requirements. It already has a number of key ISVs and Kleisath points to Intuit using SQL Anywhere as its datastore, as a perfect example of Sybases's ability to survive here.

The one area where Sybase hasn’t made any acquisition yet has been its developer tools. So far it has relied on internal development; and particularly on having support for both desktop and mobile development. Will this be enough? Only time will tell. ®

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