The Data Day, A few days: September 26-October 2, 2015

Strata+Hadoop World special

And that’s the data day, today.

Why SAP should march in the direction of ANTs

SAP faces a number of challenges to make the most of its proposed $5.8bn acquisition of Sybase, not the least of which being that the company’s core enterprise applications do not currently run on Sybase’s database software.

As we suggested last week that should be pretty easy to fix technically, but even if SAP gets its applications, BI software and data warehousing products up and running on Sybase ASE and IQ in short-order, it still faces a challenge to persuade the estimated two-third of SAP users that run on an Oracle database to deploy Sybase for new workloads, let alone migrate existing deployments.

Even if SAP were to bundle ASE and IQ at highly competitive rates (which we expect it to do) it will have a hard time convincing die-hard Oracle users to give up on their investments in Oracle database administration skills and tools. As Hasso Plattner noted yesterday, “they do not want to risk what they already have.”

Hasso was talking about the migration from disk-based to in-memory databases, and that is clearly SAP’s long-term goal, but even if we “assume for a minute that it really works” as Hasso advised, they is going to be a long-term period where SAP’s customers are going to remain on disk-based databases, and SAP is going to need to move at least some of those to Sybase to prove the wisdom of the acquisition.

A solution may have appeared today from an unlikely source, with IBM’s release of DB2 SQL Skin for Sybase ASE, a new feature for its DB2 database product that provides compatibility with applications developed for Sybase’s Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) database. Most Sybase applications should be able to run on DB2 unchanged, according to the companies, while users are also able to retain their Sybase database tools, as well as their administration skills.

That may not sound like particularly good news for SAP or Sybase, but the underlying technology could be an answer to its problems. DB2 SQL Skin for Sybase ASE was developed with ANTs Software and is based on its ANTs Compatibility Server (ACS).

ACS is not specific to DB2. It is designed to is designed to support the API language of an application written for one database and translate to the language of the new database – and ANTs maintains that re-purposing the technology to support other databases is a matter of metadata changes. In fact the first version of ACS, released in 2008, targeted migration from Sybase to Oracle databases.

Sybase should be pretty familiar with ANTs. In 2008 it licensed components of the company’s ANTs Data Server (ADS) real-time database product (now FourJ’s Genero db), while also entering into a partnership agreement to create a version of ACS that would enable migrations from Microsoft’s SQL Server to Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise and Sybase IQ (451 Group coverage).

That agreement was put on hold when ANTs’ IBM opportunity arose, and while ANTs is likely to have its hands full dealing with IBM migration projects, we would not be surprised to see Sybase reviving its interest in a version that targets Oracle.

It might not reduce the time it takes to port SAP to Sybase – it would take time to create a version of ACS for Oracle-Sybase migrations (DB2 SQL Skin for Sybase was in development and testing for most of 2009) – but it would potentially enable SAP to deploy Sybase databases for new workloads without asking its users to retool and re-train.

SAP-Sybase: the database rationale

The 451 Group has published its take on the proposed acquisition of Sybase by SAP. The full report provides details on the deal, valuation and timing, as well as assessing the rationale and competitive impact in three core areas: data management, mobility, and applications.

As a taster, here’s an excerpt from our view of the deal from a database perspective:

The acquisition of Sybase significantly expands SAP’s interests in database technology, and the improved ability of the vendor to provide customers with an alternative to rival Oracle’s database products is, alongside mobile computing, a significant driver for the deal. Oracle and SAP have long been rivals in the enterprise application space, but Oracle’s dominance in the database market has enabled it to wield significant influence over SAP accounts. For instance, Oracle claims to be the most popular database for deploying SAP, and that two-thirds of all SAP customers run on Oracle Database. Buying a database platform of its own will enable SAP to break any perceived dependence on its rival, although this is very much a long-term play: Sybase’s database business is tiny compared to Oracle, which reported revenue from new licenses for database and middleware products of $1.2bn in the third quarter alone.

The long-term acquisition focus is on the potential for in-memory database technology, which has been a pet project for SAP cofounder and supervisory board chairman Hasso Plattner for some time. As the performance of systems hardware has improved, it is now possible to run more enterprise workloads in memory, rather than on disk. By using in-memory database technology, SAP is aiming to improve the performance of its transactional applications and BI software while also hoping to leapfrog rival Oracle, which has its disk-based database installed base to protect. Sybase also has a disk-based database installed base, but has been actively exploring in-memory database technology, and SAP can arguably afford to be much more aggressive about a long-term in-memory vision since its reliance on that installed base is much less than Sybase’s or Oracle’s.

SAP has already delivered columnar in-memory database technology to market via its Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA) hardware-based acceleration engine and the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer data-exploration tool. Sybase has also delivered in-memory database technology for its transactional ASE database with the release of version 15.5 earlier this year. By acquiring Sybase, SAP has effectively delivered on Plattner’s vision of in-memory databases for both analytical and transaction processing, albeit with two different products. At this stage, it appears that SAP’s in-memory functionality will quickly be applied to the IQ analytic database while ASE will retain its own in-memory database features. Over time, expect R&D to focus on delivering column-based in-memory database technology for both operational and analytic workloads.

In addition, SAP touted the applicability of its in-memory database technology to Sybase’s complex-event-processing (CEP) technology and Risk Analytics Platform (RAP). Sybase was already planning to replicate the success of RAP in other verticals following its acquisition of CEP vendor Aleri in February, and we would expect SAP to accelerate that.

Meanwhile, SAP intends to continue to support databases from other vendors. In the short term, this will be a necessity since SAP’s application software does not currently run on Sybase’s databases. Technically, this should be easy to overcome, although clearly it will take time, and we would expect SAP to encourage its application and BI customers to move to Sybase ASE and IQ for new deployments in the long term. One of the first SAP products we would expect to see ported to Sybase IQ is the NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) model-driven data-warehouse environment. SAP’s own MaxDB is currently the default database for BW, although it enables deployment to Oracle, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, MaxDB, Teradata and Hewlett-Packard’s Neoview. Expect IQ to be added to that list sooner rather than later, and to potentially replace MaxDB as the default database.

I have some views on how SAP could accelerate the migration of its technology and users to Sybase’s databases but – for reasons that will become apparent – they will have to wait until next week.