The Up-and-Coming Integration Power-That-Be?

With solid data federation capabilities and new ETL features, Sybase’s evolving data integration stack could bear watching.

The database wars of the 1990s helped determine the lay of the enterprise RDBMS-scape, with IBM Corp. (which gobbled up the former Informix Corp.), Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp. all vying for the biggest chunk of the relational database market. To some extent, RDBMS wars also helped marginalize Sybase Inc., which once contended with IBM and Oracle for relational market share (and which sold Microsoft the database technology on which SQL Server is based).

But Sybase—which IDC has clinging to 3.5 percent of the worldwide RDBMS market, behind Microsoft (by a long shot) and just ahead of NCR Corp. subsidiary Teradata (with 2.9 percent)—has a successful, if not exactly well known, data warehousing practice. And Sybase isn’t resting on its laurels. The RDBMS stalwart has also cobbled together the makings of a compelling data integration platform, acquiring—last year, from the former Avaki Corp.—enterprise information integration (EII) technology and last week, from German integration specialist Solonde AG, ETL and additional EII technology assets. With solid data federation capabilities and new ETL features, Sybase’s evolving data integration stack could bear watching.

“Solonde enables Sybase to build upon a newly architected ETL platform,” said Sybase senior vice-president and general manager Raj Nathan, in a statement. “This acquisition complements our existing technology, expands our data integration portfolio and supports our Unwired Enterprise strategy.”

Solonde’s ETL technology complements its analytics server (Sybase IQ) and RDBMS (Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise, or ASE) assets, Sybase officials say. The company’s data integration stack provides replication, data federation and real-time data propagation capabilities, but Solonde fleshes it out with an all-important ETL component, too. Solonde’s is a grid-based ETL implementation that supports all major databases, flat files, XML, web services, and SAP R/3.

While the jury’s still out on whether the Solonde technology can or will help revive Sybase’s flagging RDBMS fortunes, analysts say the acquisition was a good move for the relational database stalwart. “Sybase has filled a significant gap—the lack of its own ETL tool portfolio—in an otherwise comprehensive portfolio of [data management] products,” writes James Kobielus, an analyst with consultancy Current Analysis.

The upshot, industry watchers say, is that Informatica Corp. and Sybase’s other ETL partners could find themselves frozen out of Sybase’s small but lucrative customer base. Informatica, in particular, has joint sales and marketing arrangements with the database stalwart. Sybase has also been an on-again, off-again partner with Ascential, notes Mike Schiff, a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies.

“At one time [Sybase was] very strong partners with Ascential, but that broke up when Ascential and Informix became one. Then they became friendly again when Informix was spun off,” Schiff says. In September of 2004, Sybase and Ascential once again cozied up to one another, this time by notching a worldwide reseller agreement. That accord was almost certainly jeopardized by IBM’s acquisition of Ascential in early 2005, Schiff notes: “The IBM deal [Big Blue’s purchase of Ascential] probably complicated things for them, but the relationship with Informatica is pretty straightforward—sort of like a the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thing.”

Sybase has been an RDBMS also-ran for so long that no one realistically expects the Solonde acquisition to help catapult it back into relevance.

This is in spite of the fact that Sybase has a compelling analytic solution (Sybase IQ) and a strong embedded story, too, by virtue of its Adaptive Server Anywhere (ASA) mobile stack. “Sybase IQ is definitely designed for queries, for business intelligence, for the analysis side of the house. There’s no question,” Schiff comments. “Unfortunately, while Sybase may be one of the leaders in the mobile or embedded technology segment, its market share in the overall RDBMS market … for all practical purposes places them in the ‘General’ category. Their market share is relatively insignificant compared to Microsoft, Oracle, or DB2.”

At the same time, Schiff allows, Sybase does have its niche—which (according to Sybase officials, anyway) includes more than 90 percent of Fortune 100 companies: “This should be good news for their [existing] customers, no question. And if Sybase can find a way to get developers interested in more than just their mobile [technology], in IQ or what they’re doing with data integration—kind of like they did with the old Watcom technology [the forerunner to Sybase ASA] in the 90’s—then maybe they could make a modest comeback.”

About the Author

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

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