SAS 9, Free Sybase Database Highlight Growth of Linux-based BI

SAS announces 64-bit Linux support; Sybase offers free Linux-ready version of its database

By all appearances, 2004 is shaping up to be the year of BI-on-Linux. Although most BI vendors stress that volume demand isn’t quite there yet, an increasing number have delivered—or have announced plans to deliver—Linux-ready versions of their flagship products (see

That trend continued apace last week, when both SAS Institute Inc. and Sybase Inc. strengthened their commitments to Linux.

SAS announced a partnership with Intel Corp. to port its SAS 9 BI suite to Linux running on top of Intel’s 64-bit Itanium 2 microprocessors. Sybase, for its part, announced the availability of a free version of its Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) Express Edition for Linux.

This summer, Cognos, Actuate, Siebel, and Information Builders all made major Linux-related announcements. Siebel, for example, reversed course and disclosed plans to port its CRM 7.7 to Linux, while Actuate announced the availability of its Actuate 8 reporting suite for Linux. Cognos and Information Builders announced ports of their own products, ReportNet and WebFOCUS respectively, to Linux running on IBM’s Power microprocessors. What’s more, at LinuxWorld last month, Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) effectively open-sourced its venerable Ingres database.

At the same time, these vendors have made it quite clear that demand for Linux-based BI solutions hasn’t yet taken off. “We have had customers inquire about our Linux plans, and for some time have indicated that Cognos would evaluate and would be bringing a Linux solution to market at some point, but until we made this announcement, we had not put a stake in the ground,” said Rupert Bonham Carter, director of global strategic alliances with Cognos.

Rob Stephens, director of technology strategy with SAS, agrees with these and other assessments—more or less. “I think that’s true. If you laid all of the opportunities on the table, is Linux a huge share of that? No, but we are seeing an increase … of specific requests in some sectors, enough so that it made it a beneficial choice to try to pursue this,” he comments.

Stephens says most interest in Linux-based BI solutions is coming from customers in the financial services industry.

“We have some customers there that are pursuing a sort of overall enterprise BI type of deployment, and … that really does touch more than just query and reporting, but also processing of ETL run streams, getting it to the data mart, … or stepping in and leveraging predictive analytics,” he explains. Stephens argues that the 64-bit address space, large cache, and high performance of Intel’s Itanium 2 processors are well suited for such applications.

SAS supported 32-bit distributions of Linux running on Intel as of SAS 9, which it delivered earlier this year. When Intel and SAS deliver the 64-bit version of SAS 9 for Linux in November, Stephens indicates, the complete SAS stack will be available on the open-source operating system. Over time, he notes, it’s a question not of if but when demand for Linux-based BI solutions will finally ramp up.

“There seems to be an increasing recognition of Linux as more of a viable operating platform for a number of applications. And because people are looking for how to get the best performance at the best price, where people are finding that is a good combination between a commodity-type approach with an Intel server and Linux.”

Sybase’s Linux Give-away

Sybase first ported ASE to Linux in 1999. Sybase is touting its ASE Express Edition as “the first free deployment version of an enterprise-class Linux database.” This, of course, ignores the open source MySQL database, as well as other open source data stores—such as CA’s Ingres—says Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc.

What’s more, Schiff says, Sybase’s ASE Express Edition give-away isn’t without its caveats: The offering is limited to configurations of a single CPU, with no more than two gigabytes of memory and five gigabytes of storage. “The five gigabyte storage constraint, in particular, will serve to limit the applicability of the product,” Schiff notes. Even though ASE Express Edition for Linux is available free of charge, support isn’t: Sybase charges a minimum fee of $2,200 per year.

Nevertheless, Schiff says, Sybase’s ASE Express Edition offer is probably a sound move—especially in view of the overall dominance of IBM and (especially) Oracle in the Linux database market: In 2003, for example, research firm Gartner Inc. found that Oracle grew its revenue in the Linux RDBMS market by over 360 percent, snaring 69.1 percent of the overall market. IBM, for its part, lost share in 2003, plunging from 58.6 percent of the market in 2002 to 28.5 percent in 2003. That leaves just 2.4 percent of wiggle-room for MySQL, CA, Sybase, and other vendors.

At the same time, however, there appears to be plenty of headroom in Linux RDBMS futures: Gartner found that new RDBMS license revenue for Linux totaled $299.3 million in 2003—a jump of 158 percent from 2002.

“By giving away a no-cost Express version of Adaptive Server Enterprise, … Sybase may be able to attract the attention of the Linux developer community in the hopes of remaining a player on the Linux battlefield,” Schiff writes, adding that “if the ASE Express Edition for Linux succeeds, … Sybase can in the future up-sell users to non-free versions of ASE for Linux which include Sybase ASE Enterprise Edition and Sybase ASE Small Business Edition.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.