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Sybase execs talk ASE 15, respond to open source competition

Sybase honchos discuss the new release of Adaptive Server Enterprise -- the first DBMS to be ported to Linux back in 1998 -- and talk about how they're dealing with increased competition from open source alternatives like MySQL.

Sybase Inc.'s new Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 15 hit the market last week and company executives say its focus is on lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) through enhanced self-management functionality and increasing security with new patent-pending encryption capabilities. ASE 15 also features a new query processing engine and expanded Extensible Markup Language (XML)-related capabilities.

The Dublin, Calif.-based Sybase, the first company to port its database management system (DBMS) to Linux back in 1998, has struggled in recent years due to increased competition from the likes of IBM, Oracle Corp. and now open source alternatives like MySQL. Despite those struggles, Sybase still has a strong foothold in the financial services and banking industries. recently talked with Sybase's Kathleen Schaub, vice president of marketing, and Naveen Puttagunta, senior product manager, to find out more about the technical features ASE 15 and to ask about their overall strategy in face of that increased open source competition. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. 

How are you guys responding to increased competition from open source DBMS vendors like MySQL?

We see that the people cost -- the cost of managing, running and maintaining the database -- is really more than 80% of the total cost of the system.
Naveen Puttaguntasenior product manager, Sybase

Kathleen Schaub: We definitely see that open source is getting some play in some of the experimental places in the departments and in some of the server rooms and things like that. But where Sybase tends to be really good is in what I call the "business of the business" and being able to run trading, for example, on Wall Street, running customer operations in telecom or running the ticketing industry for the railroad in China.

Open source is not penetrating those kinds of applications yet. I think it's quite a few years away and unclear that the raising of the bar [is there] -- for example, like the encryption technology and other stuff that we're adding--.

Are you saying that open source systems like MySQL aren't ready for large enterprises?

Schaub: Well, I don't know that it's a large or a small company. I think the distinction is 'What's the application?' This gets more into the business model issue. When you start talking about working with enterprises and working with them on a large scale, then you run into support issues and those kinds of things are not completely worked out. They are much more worked out for Linux than they are for some of the other open source areas. It's not a simple question to answer.

Sybase talks about having a low TCO across its product line. Open source companies like MySQL also claim low TCO. Is your TCO lower than the open source alternatives?

Naveen Puttagunta: Price of the product is just a very tiny, minor component of the overall TCO. If you look at the cost of ownership over a three-year period, the cost of the hardware, the cost of the day-to-day administration, you know the people cost is really where the cost is coming from, because hardware is getting cheaper and the software costs are so minor compared to the overall cost. We see that the people cost -- the cost of managing, running and maintaining the database -- is really more than 80% -- of the overall total cost of the system. In looking at it from that angle, you know it's that cost that is predominantly high. And then you look at reliability costs. If you have an outage for two hours in [the area of] the core mission critical capability, you've lost millions of dollars. These are the costs that we really want to focus on. Open source is free to acquire the license, but then there are costs after that.

Schaub: One thing that we offer, and this is something that everyone in the market does, are site licenses so that you can distribute the cost much more cost effectively across the enterprise. Then we have something that is called the ASE Express Edition, which is a free edition that we offer customers to be able to use in their smaller applications and their trial applications. This is available on Linux, and we're really very, very bullish on Linux and are definitely promoting it in that environment.

How would you characterize the overall theme of the ASE 15 release?

Schaub: What we're announcing is a substantial evolution in our flagship database, which is Adaptive Server Enterprise, or ASE, and the new release number is 15. And if I could kind of characterize the theme of the release, it's that ASE has been re-architected for very, very large data environments. When I say re-architected, actually it's a very smooth transition because it's going to be completely backward compatible with our other versions.

What are the major enhancements found in ASE 15?

Schaub: There are four things that are in this release that we believe are really interesting to customers: The first one is a patent pending encryption technology to increase the security for data at rest. This particular way of doing encryption requires no application changes whatsoever.

The second thing is something that we call Smart Transaction [which] allows customers to bring much greater intelligence to the transaction process.

The third thing is open messaging [which is] the ability to connect up the database with the other systems within the enterprise and to do that without any custom development. This is important obviously because integration is a big thorn in the side of every IT group, and this allows the customer to get much higher levels of integration again without any custom development.

The fourth thing is -- Sybase has actually been known for many years for having the lowest cost of ownership. Our products in general are really low overhead compared to the competition. For ASE, that is due to an architecture that we've had for some time called Virtual Server Architecture. But it's very much of a distinction for us and we've put a lot of new self-management features into the product so that we can not only maintain that lead, but also increase it.

Could you elaborate on Smart Transaction? What is it and what does it do?

Puttagunta: What we've done with ASE 15 is completely revamped that infrastructure with a new query processing engine to be able to address a very high volume of analytical capabilities within a transactional environment. It's not that this is good for a standalone data warehousing. This is more targeted at environments where you have high levels of transactions, but at the same time data managers want to run some analytics.

I understand that you've enhanced the system's XML-related capabilities. From a technical standpoint, what have you done in that area?

Puttagunta: We have capability to store, parse, index and query XML documents natively within the database. We also have capabilities to break down the XML and store it in the relational format because for many people still today -- if you look at legacy applications -- data is still in a very structured relational format. While they see XML coming in, because it needs to work with applications, they want to be able to break it down and store it in a relational format. For integration purposes, the biggest requirement that we're seeing is people want to generate XML context from these legacy applications and publish them outside to other applications. That is where we've also focused, so that you're able to generate XML data off of regular relational SQL data so you can publish XML documents using the messaging capabilities that we mentioned earlier or to a Web service or to a regular plain old client-server architecture.

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