Distinctive Sybase Offerings Face an Uncertain Future

Thanks to SAP's acquisition of Sybase, the last of the best-of-breed data replication tools -- Sybase Replication Server -- faces an uncertain future.

Data replication probably won't ever be very alluring. By the same token, it'll probably always be essential.

With SAP AG's multi-billion-dollar acquisition of Sybase Inc. earlier this month, the last of the best-of-breed data replication solutions -- the granddaddy of them all, Sybase Replication Server -- faces an uncertain future.

SAP co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe say they're primarily interested in Sybase's iAnywhere mobile computing portfolio. From their (shared) perspective, the company's substantial data management (DM) and data integration (DI) assets are just icing on the cake.

To put it another way, they're non-essential. That has some industry veterans fretting about what's in store for Replication Server and other distinctive Sybase offerings.

"I'll stick my neck out and express my hopes that Sybase Replication Server will enter [SAP's Enterprise Information Management] fold, since it's a quality product and SAP's EIM stable currently lacks its advanced replication and synchronization capabilities," says Philip Russom, senior manager with TDWI Research, a part of The Data Warehousing Institute.

Russom stresses, however, that "anything we say now is pure speculation, since I'm sure that … [SAP is] nowhere near making such decisions. "

In Praise of Data Replication

Not everyone thinks of an automated data replication tool as "essential," of course. Scripting, for example, is still widely used as an alternative to replication.

For the most part, it gets the job done: using a combination or sequence of scripts, one or more databases, some programmatic SQL, and -- of course -- a transport mechanism (such as FTP), scripting can accomplish most of what replication tools such as GoldenGate or Sybase claim to do.

All the same, proponents of replication technology like to cite the benefits: superior scalability, centralized manageability, better resilience or flexibility (thanks to support for bulk loading, non-blocking commits, or SQL statement replication, among other features), support for real-time replication or synchronization, improved performance, and built-in auditing. Such benefits can't easily be approximated (much less matched) by means of scripting alone. In the increasingly virtualized, highly service-enabled, and extensively networked enterprises of today, advocates argue, ease-of-use has become both a mantra and a rallying cry.

"Easy-to-use becomes very key for … customers who take on [i.e., adopt] Sybase Replication [Server] technology," confirmed Bill Zhang, product manager for Sybase Replication Server, in an interview conducted last summer.

Enterprises have far too much on their plates as it is, Zhang continued.

"We're seeing that data volumes have increased dramatically compared to 18 years ago," he said. "Because [companies are] serving worldwide clients, their operating windows [for replication] are shrinking. They have more data to deal with and less time to deal with any operation."

Factor in canned support for Replication Server in Sybase's popular PowerDesigner modeling tool, as well as its PowerBuilder RAD environment, Zhang argued, and you have a way to synchronize data across your enterprise from a single console. What's more, using PowerDesigner and PowerBuilder, you can also expose replication streams to in-house or third-party applications.

"A lot of the packaged applications today do open up their database structure and then a lot of the homegrown applications are also based on open standards. [Sybase] Replication can easily [interface] with those packaged applications or those homegrown applications," he concluded.

An Endangered Species

With the acquisitions of DataMirror Corp. (by IBM Corp.), GoldenGate Software Inc. (by Oracle Corp.), and now Sybase (by SAP), the market for independent, best-of-breed data replication tools has all but ceased to exist.

Both DataMirror and GoldenGate are still extant, in one form or another. IBM, for example, dropped the DataMirror name altogether; Oracle prefixed its own brand to that of the former GoldenGate.

To be sure, both IBM and Oracle say they're committed to supporting platforms other than their own single-stack environments. At the same time, both companies likewise position their data replication offerings as optimized pieces of their respective middleware or application strategies.

The upshot, then, is that neither IBM's nor Oracle's rebranded data replication offerings can credibly claim autonomy or neutrality. Will the same thing happen to Sybase Replication Server? No one knows for sure; much will depend on whether SAP keeps its word. SAP officials, for the record, insist that Sybase will be managed as a separate division.

If SAP hews to this plan, products such as Replication Server, PowerDesigner, IQ (Sybase's long-lived -- and newly popular -- analytic database), and, of course, Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) could all survive.

To the extent that SAP conceives of some Sybase offerings -- e.g., Replication Server, PowerDesigner, or IQ -- as potentially important to its application integration or data management strategies, these products could conceivably be better off (in terms of funding, resources, and prioritization) than they were within Sybase. (The reverse concerns products such as Sybase ETL and Sybase Data Federation, which overlap with -- and in the case of Sybase ETL, are for the most part inferior to -- SAP's own BusinessObjects DI offerings.)

Industry watchers aren't, however, convinced that SAP can or will keep its word.

"I'm not so certain that we can take SAP representatives at their word … when they say that Sybase will operate as an autonomous business," suggests TDWI's Russom, who notes that SAP "made similar promises upon acquiring Business Objects [in late 2007], yet reneged within a year."

Russom clearly believes Replication Server can be an asset to SAP.

"I've long held that Sybase Replication Server is a gem that tarnished due to limited resources and promotion within Sybase," he maintains. "It was one of the first products -- along with DataMirror, now owned by IBM -- to take replication technology to a whole new advanced level where replication is heterogeneous, bidirectional, and transformational," he explains.

He says Replication Server inaugurated a new genre. "Without Replication Server, we probably wouldn't have had that other bright gem, GoldenGate, now owned by Oracle," Russom concludes. "Before these advanced products, replication applications were limited to the backwater of database high availability, not the broad range of data synchronization applications we see today."