Sybase is no longer the database vendor that we all tend to think of it as, writes Phil Howard of Bloor Research.
Sybase still develops and markets a variety of database products. It even has a market leading product in its mobile database, SQL Anywhere. But it would be a mistake to think of Sybase as a database company any more.
Of course, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft are not merely database vendors either and I do not mean this in the same way as I would if I made a comparable statement about these suppliers. The big difference is that Sybase no longer necessarily expects users of its other products to implement those in conjunction with its main database (Adaptive Server Enterprise) or, indeed, its Application Server product.
It has taken the pragmatic decision that while it would like its customers to use these products, it will also support competitive database and application server products, if that's what clients prefer.
In practice, Sybase categorises its products into nine categories (some of which overlap. These are Databases, Data Warehousing, Resilience (particularly Replication Server), Performance and Tuning, Application Development (including Enterprise Application Server and PowerBuilder), Mobile solutions (including SQL Anywhere and the recently acquired Avantgo), Integration, Straight Through Processing (STP) and Presentation.
What Sybase is now focused on is what it calls "Information Liquidity" by which it means "the ability to transform data into economic value", which it presents via what it calls its Business Dashboard. This may not be crystal clear but Sybase essentially markets a variety of technologies that, taken together, provide the infrastructure to support business intelligence, corporate governance (Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel II and so on), performance management and so forth.
The key enabling technologies for this infrastructure are the products that Sybase acquired when it bought New Era of Networks a couple of years ago. This company, you may recall, was intimately involved in the development of complementary facilities for MQSeries and WebSphere.
There are two major products developed from the NEON (not to be confused with Neon Systems) technology: Integration Orchestrator and BizTracker. The former is, in essence, process-oriented middleware, while the latter is a Business Activity Monitoring tool.
At the front-end is presentation which, in Sybase's terms, consists of both portal and dashboard products. In fact this part of the suite is interesting. When Sybase originally released its portal product a few years ago it wasn't much to write home about. However, it bought OnePage last year, and incorporated that company's technology into its products.
What OnePage brought to the party was that it could identify, extract and retrieve user-specific information from browser-accessible sources. The combination of OpenPage together with Sybase's own technology meant that the company had both an easy and comprehensive way to develop portlets. This has culminated today, in a portal product that is dynamic, interactive and supports real-time data views.
Sybase has been re-positioning itself as an infrastructure supplier for some years but I, at least, have always tended to think of that as infrastructure with a database bias. That is no longer true: the company has moved up the infrastructure stack and its focus is now above the level of the database or application server.