|Last updated: 29 January 2012
A quick introduction: What is Sybase ASE ?
If you're new at ASE, it may be useful to get some terminology straight and provide some basic background information. Below are a few topics that might be interesting. I've tried to be factual and not too biased ;-).
ASE vs. Sybase
ASE is short for "Adaptive Server Enterprise", the relational database management software manufactured and sold by Sybase, Inc. ASE is a versatile, enterprise-class RDBMS which is especially good at handling OLTP workloads. ASE is used intensively in the financial world (banks, stock exchanges, insurance companies), in E-commerce, as well as in virtually every other area.
The most recent ASE release is ASE version 15.7 (released September 2011); the previous release is version 15.5.
ASE 15.7 is also known as "the SAP release" since this is the ASE version that SAP is using to support the Business Suite ERP package on top of Sybase ASE.
ASE runs on the main flavours of Unix, on Linux, and on Windows. Go here to find out if ASE is certified on particular hardware or OS.
Sybase ASE is a proprietary, commercial software product. Yet, free versions of ASE are available as well -- more details are here.
For a somewhat more marketing-oriented overview of ASE, follow this link to the Sybase web site.
Sybase sells many other products, including two other databases (see here), but it is still best known for ASE. For this reason, you may hear people talking about "Sybase" when they're referring to ASE. This will usually be clear enough, but when someone asks you if you have worked with "Sybase databases" or with "Sybase Adaptive Server", it's worth checking whether they mean ASE, Sybase IQ (sometimes referred to with the old name of Adaptive Server IQ) or SQL Anywhere (formerly called Adaptive Server Anywhere).
ASE started its life in the mid-eighties as "Sybase SQL Server". For a number of years Microsoft was a Sybase distributor, reselling the Sybase product for OS/2 and (later) NT under the name "Microsoft SQL Server".
Around 1994, Microsoft basically bought a copy of the source code of Sybase SQL Server and then went its own way.
As competitors, Sybase and Microsoft have been developing their products independently ever since. Microsoft has mostly emphasised ease-of-use and "Window-ising" the product, while Sybase has focused on maximising performance and reliability, and catering to the high end of the OLTP market.
When releasing version 11.5 in 1997, Sybase renamed its product to "ASE" to better distinguish itself from "MS SQL Server". Because of the common background, there are still many similarities in today's versions of ASE and MS SQL Server: it is relatively simple to learn one if you already know the other (though some people prefer to say that MS SQL Server is an ASE rip-off). As an example, both ASE and MS SQL Server have an SQL implementation called "Transact-SQL", which are very similar (but not identical -- go here for more info on this topic).
In the early days, Sybase SQL Server was the first true client-server RDBMS which was also capable of handling real-world workloads. In contrast, other DBMSs have long been monolithic programs; for example, Oracle only "bolted on" client-server functionality in the mid-nineties. Also, Sybase SQL Server was the first commercially successful RDBMS supporting stored procedures and triggers, and a cost-based query optimizer.
The technical quality of ASE has always been, and still is, recognised throughout the IT industry (that is, not counting a temporary lapse of quality in the notorious version 10 around 1994). As a technology-driven company, Sybase has always been better at writing good software and building great products than at marketing those products; in my opinion, this is the main reason why today's market share of ASE is smaller than that of Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server.
Incidentally, the name 'Sybase' is said to have been derived from the words 'system' and 'database'.
(please note: the name 'Sypron' -as in www.sypron.nl- is unrelated to 'Sybase'; for the deeper meaning of 'Sypron', go here)
Competitors & market share
The main competitors of Sybase ASE are Microsoft SQL Server, IBM's DB2 and Oracle (Informix has been swallowed by IBM). Competition in the database market is fierce, with corresponding rhetoric: especially Oracle likes to picture Sybase as an almost-dead, irrelevant company, whose customers would do themselves a big favour if they'd switch to Oracle.
I think the real reason for those attacks is the fact that Sybase has a very profitable and loyal customer base (especially financials, but also government, telco, healthcare), which Oracle would love to snatch away. Apparently though, those customers have their reasons to stay with Sybase...
(while we're at it, go here for some puns on Oracle).
On a technical note, a major advantage of Sybase ASE over Oracle is its more efficient use of the underlying hardware: an Oracle server consists of a handful of OS processes, continuously competing for CPU. In contrast, ASE has only one OS process for doing the same work, thus strongly reducing overhead (for making backups, ASE uses a second OS process which uses little CPU and only when actually doing backups). THis is even more true with the new threaded kernel in ASE 15.7.
In addition, ASE's transaction logging mechanism is more efficient than Oracle's in terms of disk I/O usage. In other words, ASE gets significantly more end-user performance from the same hardware than Oracle would, due to a fundamentally different, and more efficient architecture.
It is a fact that the market share of ASE is smaller than that of the other three products mentioned above. People sometimes wonder if this means that ASE is no good -- doubts that will certainly be fueled by the competition. The plain fact that Wall Street (among others) runs for a large part on ASE and other Sybase products should be an indication of the quality and reliability of the Sybase products.
It's another fact that Oracle is bigger than Sybase, but that's hardly an argument against Sybase. After all, the size of a company is not necessarily an indication of the quality or reliability of its products: if that were true, the world wouldn't be complaining about Microsoft so much.
Keep in mind that market share isn't everything: there aren't that many Ferraris driving around the city, either.
Lastly, with SAP having acquired Sybase, and SAP's stated goal of becoming the #2 database vendor by 2015, we can expect a strong push for the various database products by SAP/Sybase.
Open-source products like MySQL and PostGreSQL cannot really be compared with ASE, as they're aimed at an entirely different class of applications. Typically these are used in environments with not many concurrent users, no high availability/recoverability requirements, not-so-large database sizes, or with a predominantly read-only workload. In other words, these products are not suited for the enterprise-level computing requirements addressed by ASE. (BTW, note that -contrary to popular belief- MySQL is not free for commercial production use whereby you'll need some support)
If anything, such database products are probably more in the area of SQL Anywhere (a.k.a. ASA), another very successful Sybase database product aimed at smaller installations.
Recently, Sybase has been emphasizing lower TCO, improved availability, MS-SQL compatibility, highly improved XML functionality and (of course) Linux (obviously, the classic strengths of reliability and performance are still being improved as well).
As for TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), it is widely believed by DBAs with both Sybase and Oracle experience that a Sybase ASE environment is significantly cheaper to operate and maintain than a comparable Oracle environment. Some DBAs claim that, in their experience, you need about five times more DBAs for Oracle than for Sybase ASE. That number may be on the upper end of the scale, but it seems safe to say that you need only half the DBAs for Sybase than you do for Oracle.
Sybase's emphasis on Linux only underlines this point: the regular cost of an Oracle license for a Linux box is astronomically high in comparison to the cost of the hardware, and much more expensive than a comparable Sybase license.
This was illustrated by a DBA I met during Techwave 2003, whose American company used to be an Oracle-only shop. Pressured by the economy, they re-did the numbers and found that moving to Sybase ASE was worthwhile. As the DBA told me, "we didn't buy Oracle support for one year; we bought all Sybase licenses we needed instead, and we had money left"; he was now busy migrating their applications to ASE.
In 2008, ASE Cluster Edition reached the market. This is the latest flavour of ASE, designed to run on clustered hardware for delivering superior high-availability and advanced workload management. In concept, ASE Cluster Edition (CE) is quite similar to Oracle RAC, although some of the differences mentioned elsewhere on this page apply even stronger here: Oracle RAC is known to be a pretty complex beast just by itself, requiring special training for even experienced Oracle (non-RAC) DBAs. In contrast, ASE CE is nearly identical to ASE-as-we've-always-known it: the additional learning curve is minimal, thus underlining the lower TCO for ASE vs. Oracle.
Since ASE 12.5, Sybase has made significant improvements to reduce the need for ASE restarts. Previously, many configuration changes required a restart to make the change effective, but most of these have become dynamic in 12.5. In addition, most configuration actions related to data caches are completely dynamic as of ASE 12.5.1.
As a result, there is much less need to restart an ASE server, which translates directly into better availability.
Sybase has had XML/XQL functionality in its database since 12.5 (released in 2001), based on the Java-inside-ASE feature. While this offered some interesting functionality that other vendors did not have at that time, this implementation also left some things to be desired.
With the ongoing developments in XML, Sybase has now implemented XML natively inside the database server (i.e. not based on Java anymore) in ASE 12.5.1. In my opinion, this is a big improvement; it allows you to use ASE as an XML database, with full support for SQLX and XPATH/XQUERY. For more information about XML in ASE, go here. In ASE 15, the XML functionality has been vastly improved and expanded.
Sybase has put a lot of effort into ASE-on-Linux. Apart from free versions of ASE-on-Linux, Linux is now a premier platform for the latest ASE releases. From my own experience, I can only say that it is a rock-solid combination indeed...
Other Sybase products
Apart from ASE, Sybase also sells other database products, the most important ones being called Sybase IQ and SQL Anywhere:
Apart from the database software mentioned above, Sybase sells many other software products. Apart from ASE, my favorite product is Sybase Replication Server (software for data replication). There's some info about Replication Server on my web site as well (here and here).
SQL Anywhere (also referred to as ASA after its old name 'Adaptive Server Anywhere') is a fully functional RDBMS, but typically used in smaller systems (as opposed to the large-scale ASE installations). ASA was originally known as Watcom SQL, which was acquired by Sybase in the 90's. This was renamed to SQL Anywhere; it's often referred to just as "Anywhere".
ASA runs on just about any piece of computing hardware including DOS, PalmOS, Windows and Unix. A light-weight variety is used in equipment such as mobile phones; Sybase claims to be market leader in this mobile market segment.
Go here for more information about SQL Anywhere at www.sybase.com.
Obviously, the Sybase web site has a complete list of all products..
Other topics for new ASE users
Here's some further information to get you started with ASE: