Customers Win in Database Vendors Race to Linux

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-12-01

Customers Win in Database Vendors Race to Linux

Two splashy Linux announcements coming from major database vendors underscore the fact that Linux is profoundly shaking up the database market.

First, Oracle on Tuesday announced that its latest database, as well as a slew of its other technologies, is now available on Novells latest enterprise Linux operating system, SLES (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server) 9.

For its part, Sybase announced on the same day that its putting its ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise) RDBMS on IBMs Linux-specific eServer OpenPower-based systems.

The spin on the Sybase announcement was that the IBM partnership was a) a last, desperate attempt for Sybase to stage a comeback against database competitors, and b) that its an arrow from IBM aimed squarely at Suns heart.

Sybases market share has been pretty miniscule of late, so its easy to see where the first spin comes from. Jim Johnson, president of The Standish Group, pointed out that Sybase, which has a very long-standing relationship with Sun as a hardware vendor, has been struggling to gain the attention of IBM and HP. A few years ago, the company announced availability on Apple systems, as well.

As far as these hardware overtures go, though, the IBM/Linux fit is a good one and might be just the ticket to get Sybase the market share it needs. As it is, Sybase has a good presence in Unix databases. Making the jump to Linux is a logical step, Forrester Researchs Noel Yuhanna tells me, and one in which Sybase can leverage its considerable roster of customers in the financial, retail and insurance sectors.

As it is, the Sybase announcement was planned to take place in front of an audience of 700 customers at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday evening. Thats the largest event in Sybases history, according to David Jacobson, senior director of product marketing for Sybases data management and tools product lines, and it underscores the fact that Sybase is willing to swap its considerable clout in financial services for IBMs similar clout in Linux.

All this emphasis on Linux has one objective: to rule Microsoft out of the picture. Now, we need to remember that Microsofts SQL Server database sprang from Sybase database technology, Johnson said. Microsoft OEMed Sybases product, putting it on Windows, as a precursor to what eventually became SQL Server.

SQL Server users are currently locked out of Linux, obviously. What Sybase offers is a chance for them to move to a database that may be somewhat compatible with SQL Server—i.e., ASE—and yet runs on Linux.

"Linux is growing," Johnson said. "Its eating into Microsofts base. As well as the Unix base. So this is a very good opportunity for Sybase to get back" some of the market Microsoft has gobbled up, he said.

Next Page: IBMs hot little chip.

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Its a smart move also thanks to IBMs hot little Power5 chip, which is coming in priced lower than comparable Intel chips. Charlie Garry, with Meta Group, thinks its weird that we havent heard much about the OpenPower servers, given how impressive the chips are. "Its interesting, because the Power5 chip is a pretty hot chip," he told me. "Theyre pricing them comparable to or lower than Intels pricing Xeon-based servers. Im surprised we havent heard more about it." The likely cause for the silence could be a lack of ISV support for the platform, Garry suggests.

Meanwhile, the spin about IBM digging at Sun through its long-term partner Sybase seems to be right-on. Gary Schneider, director of Linux and DB2 information management, was practically cackling over it. "It seems that Sybase has decided to ride a different [hardware] horse into the future," he told me. "Probably not a bad decision."

Meanwhile, IBM is, of course, a competitor to Sybase in the database wars. Schneider is looking forward to some lively database battles in the course of the partnership and is hoping that, just as some are questioning their choice of strategic hardware vendor, customers will soon question their choice of a database software vendor as well.

"If you question the viability of Sun as a hardware platform, I suspect some will question the choice of Sybase as a long-term choice, as well," he said.

Ouch. I hope Sybase knows what its getting into, when it and its precious financial services customers are getting into IBM servers.

But what choice does it have? RDBMS vendors are tripping over themselves to get their databases to you on Linux, for good cause. According to Forrester, the Linux database software market is on track to hit $400 million this year, $500 million next year and $1 billion by 2007. Customers who are spending that kind of money may be looking to shave costs out of their IT budgets by hacking away at proprietary operating systems, but theyre certainly not willing to do anything risky vis-à-vis long-haired hippy type open-source people, which is where proven vendors come in.

The new offerings are all in line with the kind of philosophy that gave us the Oracle-Red Hat-Dell combination, in that enterprises are looking for known vendors wholl run databases on Linux. Sybase is stepping up to the plate, Oracle is all over the plate, IBM owns the plate.

Microsoft? It wishes everybody would go on a diet.

Write to me at Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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