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Sybase rises against rival databases from Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM

By Jacqueline Emigh, Betanews

On news of its best financial quarter in company history, Sybase celebrated this week by officially rolling out a new edition of its enterprise database.

The new Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 15.5, which shipped in December 2009, is the first product from Sybase to be shipped with an in-memory database (IMDB), an emerging alternative to disk-based databases which has already been adopted by competitors Oracle and IBM.

Sybase is touting IMDB as dramatically raising performance speeds by circumventing the input/output bottleneck that slows down traditional disk-based databases.

IBM already offers IMDB through its solidDB product, and Oracle through its Oracle Times Ten In-Memory Database.

But IBM and Oracle both obtained their IMDBs via acquisition, noted Raj Rathee, Sybase’s product manager for ASE, speaking to reporters and database administrators at the company’s ASE 15.5 launch event this week in New York City.

Consequently, Sybase’s new IMDB is the first in the industry to be “fully integrated,” supplying the same look-and-feel, administration, and monitoring as the company’s disk-based enterprise DB. Sybase’s IMDB also uses the same T-SQL language, and supports the same APIs as the disk-based option, according to Rathee.

Acknowledging there are trade-offs involved, Rathee admitted that IMDBs can pose compromises to data “durability,” or recoverability. Database administrators, though, can preserve data in the IMDB by performing “data dumps” prior to system shutdown and boot-up, he said.

Also, beyond the “fully in-memory database,” which carries zero disk imprint, Sybase has introduced a relaxed durability option.

“You can think of relaxed durability database (RDDB) as somewhere in-between an IMDB and disk-based database,” said Peter Thawley, a Sybase senior director and architect, in a meeting with Betanews at the event. RDDB is created and managed similarly to an IMDB, except that unlike an IMDB, it is also allocated disk storage.

During the third quarter of 2010, Sybase plans to release a replication tool for copying data between the IMDB and disk-based database, Rathee said.

Sybase is targeting the IMDB option mainly at applications in financial services, e-commerce, and government.

A Wall Street trading firm, for example, would need to maintain information about federal government regulations on disk for regulatory compliance purposes, as well as solutions derived from fast-paced algorithmic trading, Rathee illustrated. On the other hand, traders might not have any real reason to retain the huge volumes of raw numbers generated by computers in reaching these solutions.

Also in 15.5, Sybase is offering the ability to integrate ASE Server Back-Up Server with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM).

ASE 15.5, however, is only as “point release,” as opposed to a full upgrade to ASE, Rathee told Betanews. Sybase hasn’t made any changes to underlying database structures, meaning that organizations can make a “smooth migration” from earlier editions of ASE, according to the product manager.

For future editions of ASE, Sybase is eyeing capabilities such as high linear scalability for the IMDB and support for solid state disks (SSDs) and multicore, hyperthreaded systems, said Brian Vink, Sybase’s VP of data management products.

Reaction from some analysts is highly enthusiastic. “Frankly, I think Sybase is being a little modest in calling this a point release. We are on the cusp of something very exciting,” said Merv Adrian, principal analyst at IT Market Strategy, during a presentation at the event.

“An IMDB is typically as much as ten times faster than a disk-based database, according to the workload,” estimated Carl W. Olofson, an IDC analyst, in a recent report. “In order to ensure maximum compatibility between the IMDB and disk-based deployments of ASE, Sybase has implemented IMDB functionality by storage of data on a memory-based virtual disk volume. Internal optimizations enable the DBMS core to manage the relationship between buffers and the virtual volume in a clean and simple way.”

While enterprise licenses sold by Oracle, IBM, and other rivals either slipped or showed only single-digit growth, Sybase demonstrated a 31% revenue improvement from Q4 2008 through Q3 2009, Sybase executives reported this week. IBM’s enterprise database license revenues increased by 2% and Microsoft’s by 4%, whereas Oracle’s fell by 8% and Teredata’s by 7%, according to Sybase’s internal calculations.

In spite of the lingering deep recession, Sybase this week reported total revenues of 1.7 million — across all of its databases, messaging, and services — for the fourth quarter ending in December of 2009, a 9 percent rise over the same time frame the year before.

Yet still, the impact of ASE 15.5 won’t even be felt at Sybase’s bottom line — or by most customers — until later this year, suggested Sybase CEO John Chen, in a conference call with analysts. “In Q4, we released our ASE 15.5 ahead of schedule, which should result in meaningful revenue contribution in 2010,” the CEO predicted.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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