While Oracle sits at the top of the database pack it can look down and watch its nearest rivals, Sybase and Oracle, fight to gain the number two slot in the market.
The Sybase International User Group opened two weeks ago with footage of the space shuttle launching into the Earth?s orbit. This was supposed to represent space travel ? Galaxy being the codename for Sybase?s flagship architecture. But the conference opened on the day that Columbia?s latest mission was aborted due to the failure of core technology. Unfortunately for Sybase, the symbolism remained appropriate.
Sybase came from the back of the pack to challenge Oracle with aggressive marketing and a reputation for technological innovation. But the bubble burst two years ago when its record growth figures collapsed as several of the company?s ambitious technology plans fell apart. Sybase fell from grace, leaving the number two slot open to Informix.
The past nine months have been a time of contemplation and restructuring for the company under the guidance of CEO Mitchell Kertzman, as a more focused Sybase set out to reclaim its former position with a different software architecture and a devotion to Java.
?Nine months ago it was viable to question our long-term survival,? admitted Kertzman. ?We dug ourselves into a hole and it?s difficult to pole-vault out of a hole sometimes. You need to fill in that hole first, which is what we?ve been doing. This is the start of Sybase?s rebirth.?
This hole centred on the fact that while it had positioned itself as a technology innovator in the database field, Sybase suddenly found that its next-generation development tools strategy could not work with the release of its database.
And the troubles didn?t stop there. The company had become arrogant and complacent ? it saw itself as the heir apparent to Oracle and focused too much of its attention on attacking the larger supplier. Kertzman has forced Sybase to re- think almost every aspect of its technology and strategy.
He insists that Sybase?s financial house is now in order, although with the company?s Q1 results due out next week, Kertzman was unable to offer any insight. ?I think by the end of this month, Sybase will be seen to be back as the number two database company,? he said.
On the subject of Sybase?s ability to deliver on its technology promises, Kertzman was considerably more forthcoming. He said the key to the architecture around which the en- tire Sybase product line will be enhanced or redeveloped, is based on the company?s devotion to Java. Sun CEO Scott McNealy was beamed in to the conference hall to provide a video testimonial to the strength of the relationship between the two companies, an appearance which was cited as supposed proof of the purity of Sybase?s implementation of the language in its products.
First out of the Java gates is jConnect for JDBD, which Sybase claimed was a 100 per cent Pure Java implementation, making it the first relational database supplier to provide native Java database connectivity. The Power Builder family of development tools will have a Java slant with availability in the second quarter of PowerJ, while the second half of the year will see Java Beans embedded in the company?s Adaptive Server database engine.
All the technology is fine, but how can customers trust Sybase to deliver when so many of its promised products have been aborted in recent years? And is there not a danger that the company may be too late to market with some of its extended relational software? Some of the first releases of Adaptive Server will not ship until the second half of next year, when rival products from Oracle and Informix will have had over a year in the market.
Previously Sybase prided itself on setting the technology agenda and being first to market, but now it believes that there is much to be said for slow and steady.
?We have been accused of being late with our new server strategy,? admitted Kertzman, ?but we have been able to take advantage of Java which our rivals have not. Being first in this kind of extended relational architecture is not going to be an advantage.?
So while Sybase gets its house in order, arch-rival Informix is having to take a long hard look at itself. The firm will announce a substantial Q1 loss, as it has spent all of its energies on Universal Server object relational products. Resellers have fallen foul of this oversight, as it emerged they had been left with unsold licences (PC Dealer, 16 April). The full extent of those losses will not be revealed until the end of this month, but in the interim, Informix? report with the US Securities & Exchange Commission makes interesting reading.
With the report making it clear that there is a backlog of unsold product in Informix? channel, it will be difficult to rely on resellers increasing sales. The firm has already indicated that it wants all its customers to migrate to the object relational platform and that it intends to stop selling the older products to encourage the move.The old products might still be sold through the channel, but the knowledge of the limited lifetime of the relational products will not encourage future sales.
So with Informix and Sybase facing the difficult task of getting customers and resellers on side as they attempt to turn around their financial situations, Oracle can have a field day and push its leadership even further.
Infrastructure provider says international sales now make up 51 per cent of its revenue
Suzanne Chappell of TMS plans sailing venture after selling Oxfordshire-based TMS to acquisitive Chess
Withdrawal of credit insurance by some providers a 'reflection' of current challenge facing IT sector, according to MD Steve Soper
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business