The Sybase Enterprise

Despite stormy conditions, Sybase feels it has the right strategy -- from laptop to enterprise -- for any shop’s specialized requirements.

Though Sybase Inc. is one of the "big five" database companies, executives are quick to point out that it is "more than just a database company." In fact, Sybase is positioning itself as the leading vendor of open and distributed databases, middleware, and tools -- each component of which can integrate with any platform, any operating system, and any application.

This task is not as easy as it sounds, however. In fact, Sybase has had some stormy times in recent months -- the most notable being its first-quarter 1995 revenue shortfall (stock plunged more than 16 points). The company also has been fighting accusations of "me-too" product announcements against its main competitor Oracle Corp., as well as integration issues that are the result of recent acquisitions.

Still, Sybase is the sixth largest software company worldwide, and its 1995 revenue was $957 million. Sybase officials feel that they've put together a product and technology strategy that will carry the company into the next century. It's stated mission is simple: "To simplify and integrate the distributed enterprise, and help customers successfully respond to rapid business change." In this article I take a look at Sybase's existing product infrastructure and future strategies, and focus on its ability not only to offer plug-and-play components, but whether Sybase offers an integrated solution for the entire enterprise.



When Sybase was founded in 1984, the dramatic increase in the use of local area networks (LANs) was enabling a new way of computing -- client/server. Sybase recognized this shift, and in 1987 released its SQL Server RDBMS to accommodate this new paradigm. As client/server and the industry have evolved, new -- and separate -- computing models have emerged, including OLTP/mixed workload environments (environments in which OLTP and decision-support functions are performed against the same database), data warehouse and decision-support environments, and mass deployment (mobile) environments. Each of these categories has specific, very focused business requirements. For example, today's OLTP and mixed workload environments must reduce the cost of operations and integrate diverse departments. Data warehouse and decision-support systems (DSSs) let users leverage their data assets, monitor business trends, and design new products and services based on their analyses. Mobile users demand information anywhere at anytime.

Database, middleware, and tools crosscut each of the OLTP, data warehouse, and mass deployment categories. Databases manage data and transactions, middleware transforms and moves data across heterogeneous environments, and tools aid rapid application development. This is the basis of Sybase's product strategy: to provide databases, middleware, and tools for OLTP, data warehouse, and mass deployment environments. Sybase's "three-by-three product matrix" is shown in Figure 1. Underneath the matrix lies the electronic commerce (or, in Sybase's terms, the electronic marketplace) segment.

In the three-by-three matrix, every product is designed to interoperate through the same API, thereby providing scalability from the smallest to the largest environment in a single architecture. Theoretically, each component is also designed to plug into existing computing architectures, but Sybase has been criticized in the past for integration problems. Company officials insist that the new breed of Sybase products is now fully scalable and interoperable. Let's look now at the tools in each of the matrix boxes, as well as some of the peripheral products on which Sybase is working.


Sybase System 11

According to Sybase's Daniel Lahl, group director, enterprise marketing, Sybase is not buying into the "universal database" concept now being pushed by Informix and Oracle. Instead, he insists that a maturing market needs different types of databases for different requirements. Therefore, Sybase has segmented and optimized its System 11 products for these different needs.

Sybase System 11 consists of four main database engines: Sybase SQL Server, Sybase IQ (formerly IQ Accelerator), Sybase MPP (formerly Navigation Server), and Sybase SQL Anywhere (formerly Watcom SQL). All of these products are available on some platforms.

Sybase SQL Server 11 is the latest release of Sybase's flagship database server. In addition to being fully ISO 9000-compliant, it features a Logical Memory Manager that provides named caches to reserve space for different types of objects, variable block sizes and buffer algorithms for faster I/O, a cache-sensitive optimizer to automate the best search and replace strategy, and a cache analysis tool. The Logical Memory Manager is specifically designed for mixed workload environments -- you never have to swap out the OLTP application when you perform a table scan, and different I/O "chunks" are specialized for OLTP and DSS.

SQL Server 11 also provides dynamic load balancing via a symmetric networking and parallel lock manager, as well as accelerated data access via data partitions and in-place updates. Efficient logging is provided via multiple log caches and expanded group commits. (For a soup-to-nuts discussion of System 11, see the interview with Sybase's vice president of Product Development, Dennis McEvoy, DBMS, October 1995, page 38.)

Included with System 11 is Backup Server, which is a separate server that performs automated backup (at up to 60GB per hour) while your users are still online. Audit Server, which is marketed to government organizations, provides B2-level security and password auditing. B1-level security will come later this year with Secure Server. This product will provide authentication services and systems management functions.

Several options are available now for System 11 systems management. SQL Manager is included with System 11, or, for real-time monitoring, users can purchase SQL Monitor for SQL Server 11.

Data warehousing can be divided into two main operating approaches: a centralized data store or a data mart. For the centralized data store approach, which implies preplanned queries and detail reports against very large databases, Sybase provides SQL Server 11 with the Sybase MPP option. Sybase MPP is a subset of SQL Server optimized for massively parallel processing (MPP) environments that utilize a shared-nothing architecture. According to Joshua Bersin, group director for data warehouse solutions, Sybase MPP provides linear scalability to 128 processors. Plus, the 11.0 code line will be integrated into Sybase MPP later this year to provide cursor support and large block I/O. It is now on most of the major platforms, including IBM's SP2.

The data mart approach implies that users will be performing exploratory analysis against lower-cost, departmental servers. For this approach, Sybase provides SQL Server 11 with the Sybase IQ option. Sybase IQ implements the Bit-Wise indexing technology that Sybase acquired from Expressway Technologies in October 1994. The Bit-Wise technology is based on the use of bitmaps to enable all data and data types (including binary large objects, or BLOBs) to be represented as bits within indexes. Column-wise processing is then applied to only the required bits in a specific query. Response time is further shortened by patent-pending algorithms for optimized storage, compression, and access of aggregates and range queries. According to the Sybase product engineers, the typical IQ compression can reduce the size of traditional DSS databases by 75 percent.

However, Sybase officials are quick to point out that Sybase IQ is not an indexing product; rather it is a database that is optimized for data storage and ad hoc queries. It is ideal for data warehousing environments because it runs on standard commercial hardware (including Hewlett-Packard, Sun, and Digital), and it uses less disk space.

Sybase IQ also supports opportunistic parallelism. When loading a database, the product distributes the workload across all CPUs. The product can load up to 4GB an hour. In production environments, Sybase IQ can assign certain tasks, such as sorts and joins, to separate threads, as well as optimize the blocking and caching mechanism for faster response.

The mass deployment marketplace encompasses mobile, desktop, and PC-LAN environments. These environments must remain compatible with corporate data, be easy to install, use, and maintain, and be low-cost with a small footprint. For these computing environments, Sybase provides Sybase SQL Anywhere. According to Lahl, the newest version of SQL Anywhere, version 5.0, provides 95 percent compatibility with Sybase Transact-SQL, as well as enhanced interoperability via Sybase's client/server APIs (which makes it interoperable with SQL Server -- the lack of this interoperability often led to criticism of Sybase in the past). SQL Anywhere also provides replication to and from corporate databases, as well as to and from mobile databases via SQL Remote, Sybase's new connectivity software. The SQL Central GUI administration tool provides real-time database monitoring of SQL Anywhere databases.


Enterprise Connect

The Enterprise Connect family of middleware products enables Sybase users to exchange information from platform to platform, database to database, and application to application. All of the Sybase products in this family are built on the Sybase OpenClient/OpenServer architecture. On the OLTP side, Sybase offers Replication Server for heterogeneous replication (a non-Sybase data source can serve as a publisher of replication data, not just a subscriber), and DB Gateways and Open Server for access to various data sources.

In the data warehouse space, OmniConnect was merged with the Micro Decisionware Inc. code base; a toolkit is provided to enable companies to build their own interfaces to other databases and data sources, including mainframe data. In addition, Sybase has relicensed the InfoPump technology from Trinzic (now owned by Platinum Technology). InfoPump is used for batch-type data movement among platforms (and into a data warehouse).

In the mass deployment category, last year Sybase began shipping its Enterprise Messaging Server, which provides asynchronous messaging among laptop and wireless devices. The company is integrating this technology into SQL Remote, which provides replication among mobile platforms. SQL Remote runs on all Microsoft platforms, as well as Macintosh, Novell, and OS/2.

Sybase is also working on an object middleware strategy -- similar to Oracle's much ballyhooed Sedona project -- called ObjectConnect. This product family is middleware that connects object-oriented applications to corporate databases. It's especially useful for OLE, C++, and distributed PowerBuilder programmers who want to store objects persistently over a network. On the client side, ObjectConnect supports C++, PowerBuilder, and Visual Basic clients (through OLE). On the back end, it supports Sybase, Oracle, and Informix. In effect, the ObjectConnect layer sits between the OO clients and the corporate databases, and provides an OO view -- making data in a database look like a C++ class or an OLE Automation Server. For three-tier computing, any object will be able to invoke methods on any local or remote application server.

The ObjectConnect subsystem will be composed of programmable object interfaces, an Interface Repository that contains the object interface models, and an Implementation Repository that stores physical mapping information and interfaces to methods. Methods provide the implementation for most of the subsystem's functionality, including data source mapping, building and managing the Interface Repository, object dispatching, and generating code for C++ language bindings.

ObjectConnect for C++, which should be available by press time, consists of the following three components:

Object Builder: a GUI toolset that automatically generates C++ classes with database access (this is where a user defines his/her object model)