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Elephants and ANTs: a corporate fable

July 30, 2010 in Adaptive Server Enterprise,Database,Sybase ASE | Comments (7)

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When IBM teamed up with perpetual startup, ANTs Software, to try and steal customers of our Adaptive Server Enterprise database, it reminded me of a popular children’s story. I know it’s a stretch; stay with me.
Based on an Aesop’s Fable, The Ant and the Elephant tells the story of an ant who gets stranded in the middle of a fast-flowing river and is saved by an elephant. After the elephant gets trapped in a ravine, the ant returns the favor.
There are some parallels between that story and IBM and ANTs. IBM had $104 billion in revenue last year. Lou Gerstner’s book about his tenure as CEO of IBM was titled Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Similarly, IBM has long been trapped in second place in the relational database market, with its DB2 long lagging Oracle.
Enter ANTs, which has been hawking its database technology under different guises for the past decade, losing $134 million in the process. Unabashed, ANTs just announced plans to sell up to 26.67 million new shares on the OTC Exchange where it is traded.
Clearly, ANTs sees IBM as its pachydermic savior. And IBM hopes its tiny partner will pay it back, too.
The parallels end there. ASE customers are the most happy and satisfied (92%, according to a recent survey) in the business. Some of our Wall Street users have been with us for more than two decades. They aren’t going to switch simply because of the Siren Song of Short-Term Savings.
Not that competitors haven’t tried. In fact, ANTs two years ago tried to spin itself as a Sybase-to-Oracle solution, a strategy ANTs’ CEO admitted was a failure.

The reason? No matter how great the migration tools are claimed to be, it still takes a huge amount of work and investment to recreate a well-running database on another platform. And you still end up with an additional layer of complexity where things can, and often, mysteriously, go wrong.

Smart IT managers recognize this. That’s why such ‘solutions’ “never seem to sell well, says analyst Curt Monash.

And why switch out ASE, when it is:

- Rock-solid – the Mumbai Stock Exchange processes 4 million trades per day while networked to 400 cities.
- High-performance. 4 million trades a day
- Secure. According to CERT, no vulnerabilities in ASE have been reported in the last 12 months.
- A “technical leader,” according to IDC. Recent features include shared-disk clustering and in-memory DB, with the option to connect to Sybase’s Complex Event Processing (CEP) engine.
No wonder more than 30,000 enterprises use Sybase’s data management solutions, including over 1,000 new customers added last year. And that most top customers have migrated to our latest ASE 15.

Granted, enterprise data centers are huge, with a complex mix of technologies that administrators are continually tweaking. But don’t mistake an experiment for a major production rollout.

A senior IT official from one of the big banks that was allegedly switching from Sybase to DB2 e-mailed me after the IBM/ANTs announcement in May. There was no migration activity at all, he said, adding that translators such as IBM/ANTs ‘Skin’ “usually cause more trouble than they are worth.”
As for uncertainty created by the pending SAP acquisition: there is none. Sybase will continue to operate as an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary, allowing, as SAP co-CEO Hagemann Snabe says, Sybase’s “brand to continue to flourish.”
Fables are great for teaching our children what is right and wrong. But rarely do they mirror real life. That’s the moral of this story. Oh yeah, and stealing is bad.

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Carl Kayser // Jul 31, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Whoa, Jeff. You forgot to include another ANTS project, namely, SQL Server to Sybase:!

    I’m not a great believer in this conversion stuff but, in these early days, it seems that this ASE to DB2 conversion might have some traction.

    There’s a little too much marketing/sales in this blog post.

  • 2 Warren Lucas // Jul 31, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Jeff, as the former (just retired in June) IBM Business Unit Exec for all Information Management Software sales for NY and NJ (and a former IBM regional tech specialist), the center of Sybase ASE installations worldwide, I can tell about 90% of the Sybase customer exec’s could not wait to get off of the Sybase ASE product. I’ll give you the stuff seems to run OK, but the savings in disk alone paid for the move and Sybase has done little over the years to improve performance or to excite their customer base. Many of the customers on Wall Street have DB2 licenses allowing for unlimited deployment. So the ROI is simple; Make the migration easy, ANTs makes it mindless; Save 60-70% of all disk usage DB2 does that no problem (In fact in a recent customer test we reduced disk by 81% – Tables, index and temp), improve performance and enhance virtualization and workload management and if you wish run HA using DB2 Purescale (Purescale is like Oracle RAC but better)but it’s not really like anything Sybase has.

    What is different about ANTs technology on DB2 is that IBM has spent the better part of 18 months integrating this into their DB2 technology so that rather than sitting on the outside of the engine this stuff is integrated into the engine. The reason is simple PERFORMANCE. Because of this IBM is reselling the software. It is an IBM product with IBM support.

    And just so the rest of the purists know. DB2 for over a year has supported OCI and PL/SQL, the Oracle primitives natively in DB2. In June my team ran a warehouse benchmark changing all the customer SQL to native DB2 syntax to get good performance. After that we ran it against DB2 with all the original Oracle syntax (PLSQL etc, and it ran exactly the same speed. Of course we did run far faster than the Exadata box with less than half of the Intel processors. My point in mentioning the DB2 Oracle compatability on this Sybase blog is thatas you start seeing the numbers coming out on the ANTs integrated DB2 SKIN software don’t be surprised if they blow you away. And then of course there are some new things in the wings.

  • 3 Sr. ASE DBA // Aug 2, 2010 at 5:18 am

    One thing I’ve found is that some customers will not tell vendors what their plans are. I know DBAs friends who have moved from ASE to SQL Server and basically stopped paying their support costs to Sybase. This is a silent-conversion and the only people who notice are the field sales reps that stop going to the customers after the contracts are cancelled. I’ve also heard from DBAs at larger sites who hear about their management who have set-up Sybase removal committees. Of course, they’re not telling Sybase yet until they can plan properly. A good management team always has multiple options at their disposal. Some existing Sybase customers have development standards that say “no new development on Sybase” – still large Sybase customers but systems are twilighting.

    Sybase ASE has been my primary “lifeblood” over the last 17 years and lately I have been somewhat dismayed by the # of Sybase customers who are actually planning to move off of it. Their primary reason are the predatory pricing practices that Sybase sales are using to grow revenue in lieu of losing existing support contracts. This started back in the early ’00s with the “true-up” programs and continues today for customers needing support for 12.5 which has been end of lifed. Not supporting 12.5 customers who couldn’t upgrade and then giving them a huge support bill is kicking them when they’re down. Customers don’t like that one bit and react accordingly.

    Sybase ASE is very good, but so are the competitors.

  • 4 Jeff Pryslak, Senior Manager // Aug 2, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Actually Warren, you forgot to mention that you are currently on ANTs Technical Board, which is a half truth as well, isnt it? I am glad you posted, there is some good info in there, but the majority of what you are saying is not bounded by anything real. eg. What do you mean by performance? Are you able to beat a Sybase app on Sybase ASE for PERFORMANCE? I do not know that answer, which is why I am asking. How do you make that claim? If there is not an independent test, then stop using your half truths please, it is getting old. Or do I need to pull out the ‘Cry Wolf’ fable and align it to your concept of ROI?

  • 5 Eric Pang // Aug 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Some basic technical reminder on migration & performance to a respected ex-IBM sales exec/tech specialist and current ANTS Technical Board member :

    (1) From ANTS/IBM official documentation : “IBM DB2 SQL Skin for applications compatiblewith Sybase ASE: Product Overview” :-

    ANTs’ Sybase ASE dataype support :
    char(n) : Error if n > 254
    varchar(n) : Error if n > 32672
    identity columns : Numeric column, with a trigger and a sequence tablename_SEQ. [ "PEFORMANCE" ? ]
    user defined data types : Does not support user defined types

    Transaction Isolation :
    READ UNCOMMITTED request would be upgraded to the READ COMITTED [ "PEFORMANCE" ? ]

    (2) From ANTS/IBM official documentation : “IBM DB2 SQL Skin for applications compatiblewith Sybase ASE: Migration Guide” :-

    “Sybase Triggers cannot execute in the IBM DB2 SQL Skin for
    applications compatible with Sybase ASE ™ (IBM DB2 SSacSA) without unacceptable reductions in performance.”

    “IBM Migration Toolkit may successfully migrate some simple triggers, but more complex ones will require MANUAL translation into SQL PL.”

    Listed also in Appendix A are pages of easier-said-then-done stuffs-to-watchout when coding your manual translation …

    “Sybase ASE is very good” – no surprise
    “So are the competitors” – no comment
    “Easy/Mindless migration” of Sybase ASE apps to DB2 + performance – definitely marketing

    BTW, it is definitely irrelevant marketing talking about Exadata’s notorious use of Intel chips.

    Personally, I believe it’s not just meaningless but also disgraceful to start a marketing fight on a competitor’s website.

  • 6 David Smith // Aug 3, 2010 at 7:22 am

    I see IBM is up to its old tricks. First they charge you for this so-called “SQL Skin” and then, since as Mr. Lucas says it is “integrated into the engine”, they get to charge you more license $$$ for DB2 for the additional processing power required by the SQL Skin.

    And they have the nerve to criticize Sybase’s license fees…

    What I really don’t understand in any of this though is why ANTs is so set on hitting on Sybase databases. You’d have thought that a company trying to grow would go after the databases with larger market share (e.g., Oracle) and highest license costs (e.g., Oracle) in order to have a product that is useful to more potential customers…

  • 7 Sr. ASE DBA // Aug 4, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I should have said that moving ASE to SQL Server is easy and beneficial but ANTs also wants to build a SQL Server to DB2 version and that’s pretty much a waste of time. There isn’t much of a market for that. The market for ASE to something is pretty strong right now so that’s the sweet spot that I think ANTs is after. Get them before MS gets them.