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1200 Attendees from 42 Countries Flock to Sybase TechWave 2008

Chairman & CEO John S. Chen took the stage to detail his ‘unwired enterprise’ strategy

Even the most sceptical observer would be hard pressed to argue that Sybase isn’t making some smart - or at least pretty interesting - moves right now. Bringing in the Sybase 365 division to position the company as the ‘database company with the unique focus on mobile communications’ sets it apart from the crowd. Sybase's 10th annual TechWave user training and solutions conference has this year been staged at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas from the August 4-8. Adrian Bridgwater attended to gauge the state of the technology barometer and get a sense for the strength of the company's ‘waves' big or small.

Although Sybase is well recognized as a successful database company, it is arguably less ‘celebrated' than the likes of Oracle, IBM or even Microsoft for its brand and industry reach. Within the industry, pundits are fond of sniping at the company with comments like, "whatever happened to Sybase?" So why did 1200 attendees from 42 countries flock to the event this year in the first place?

What I have learnt about Sybase over the years is that it takes a lot of flak for being less of a headline maker than its rivals by dint of the fact that many of its deals are in Defense and Corporate Finance. So while the company's corporate PR function itches to tell the world about these successes, it has to remain largely silent. Because of this, a good proportion of the industry remains blissfully unaware of the fact that Sybase as a company passed the US$1bn dollar mark not so long ago and continues to do so year-on-year.

Keynote kick off

As has been his preferred theme now for more than the last half decade, Chairman and CEO John Chen (pictured) took the stage to detail his ‘unwired enterprise' strategy. What this may lack in originality is perhaps more than compensated for by that fact that the company is making more and more money every year. Chen pointed to "record results" - so perhaps he's adopting the ‘if it ain't broke don't fix it' model?

"With enterprise customers and employees demanding real-time, free-formed access to information, the vision of the unwired enterprise is continuing to become a reality. Sybase is positioned to provide the infrastructure and access through our analytics, mobility software and network hubs. Things are changing - data volume growth of around 60% per year is now driving column-oriented database architectures," said Chen.

Sybase's focus on mobile is driven by figures (delivered by Chen) that say there is a 14% overall global growth in mobile devices and a 40% increase in smartphones. The new mantra is: "The message is the mobile application platform." If this sounds like marketing-speak and makes you sceptical in any way, the 35% worldwide growth in worldwide broadband adoption may validate some of that idea.

View SYS-CON.TV Exclusive:
Sybase Chairman John S. Chen Live on SYS-CON.TV

Time for some informed conjecture

As is the way with their by now quite polished double act, Chen was followed by Dr Raj Nathan, Sybase's chief marketing officer. Nathan is at his best when postulating and pontificating around the future for devices and the way that they will interact with the corporate data centre. "In our lifetime, I really believe that we will see the death of the credit card as the mobile device becomes our secure payment medium of choice," he said.

Standard forms-based interfaces will need to be replaced for many applications in the future according to Nathan and the focus of effort now must be on enabling message-based applications. Sybase says that for this shift to a new set of architectural paradigms to happen effectively, support for several types of applications must exist including transactional, mobile, analytical and Web 2.0 apps.

Nathan's take on the way businesses will evolve to utilize empowered unwired workers is based upon the precept that managers need information to make decisions. The more information and the less 'instinct' that managers have to use to make decisions - the more profitable and productive their management will be. Or so the argument goes.

Inside the enterprise this information accessibility is more predictable. PCs can be physically updated and upgraded, servers can be accessed and information manageability is at a maximum. As Nathan puts it, "It's easier to get all the children to the dinner table when they still live at home." But in the unwired enterprise this accessibility breaks down.

Inside the tornado

As part of the Day One keynote treats Sybase brought out celebrated technology guru and author of ‘Inside the Tornado' and ‘Crossing the Chasm' Geoffrey Moore.

"What has become clear to us in the West is that the winds of technological change are not blowing towards us any more, they are blowing away from us - and by that I mean the economies of the Far East. We have to become RADICALLY more productive if we are going to be able to compete with these economies that are staffed with people who are willing to work for a lot less than we are," said Moore.

Moore spoke volubly on the subject of so-called productivity applications and the place these will find in the world order for computing as he envisions it.

His three cornerstones for the new paradigms we will work within are as follows:

We need to witness a movement from a compute-centric paradigm to a communication-centric paradigm so that the communications session becomes the centre of the application.

Moore said that our concern now should not be to focus on transactional processing capabilities now as we turn our attention instead to ‘interaction' as the key factor instead. According to Moore, we're no longer worried about OLTP benchmarks, because now, reporting and search come to the fore in terms of importance.

As Moore sees it, we've moving from the wired desktop to the unwired device. But IT can no longer dictate the type of device to be used any more. The problem is that this is not the way we have been building our architectures, so we need to consider another layer of abstraction.

As part of this week's event, Sybase's iAnywhere division announced a new initiative called SQL Anywhere to try and bring to market a combined data management system and powerful synchronisation solution for the web developer community. In addition to a number of web development features found in SQL Anywhere Version 11, the company has also unveiled a new Web Edition that allows developers free SQL Anywhere Server database deployment.

"SQL Anywhere's reputation as a high performance, self-managing database requiring minimal IT support has established it as the embedded database of choice for thousands of ISV partner applications worldwide," said Brian Vink, vice president of product marketing for Sybase. "By minimising the barriers to deployment, we believe that zero-administration databases and data synchronisation will play a critical role in evolving enterprise applications towards web 2.0 models and Rich Internet Application (RIA) architectures."

Speaking to Vink in a breakout session I was able to get into a little extra depth on this subject. This issue at hand, according to Vink, is that RIAs are all too often very consumer focused. So if they are to find greater deployment within the enterprise they need to become more data-driven. Sybase says it has the tools to make this happen and the new technologies announced this week will simplify coding in this space (in fact for web designers - they need not even see the code itself) and so greater enterprise level adoption may result if the company's vision for this zone come to fruition.

Product proliferation

Sybase this year seems to have saved up as many product announcements as possible for its TechWave event. Distilling the reams of marketing collateral down to a few less adjective-enriched notes, among the main news this week was the following:

  • The Sybase Unwired Platform - This is an architecture for mobilizing enterprise applications on a single mobile platform that addresses the multi-channel access gateway (MAG) requirements of enterprises that needs to target a range of mobile device types.
  • Information Anywhere Afaria 6.0 - The latest version of Afaria, a core component of the Sybase Information Anywhere Suite, will include a new relay server architecture that works across multiple Information Anywhere Suite components to offer secure communications for data synchronization and mobile device management functions.
  • PowerBuilder 11.5 for .NET - The newest version of PowerBuilder, Sybase's 4GL rapid application development (RAD) tool, continues the company's efforts to try and simplify complex data access, manipulation and presentation through its patented DataWindow technology, especially for developers looking to deploy PowerBuilder applications to the .NET framework.

    Key enhancements include a more visually appealing DataWindow; timely PowerBuilder updates corresponding with releases of Microsoft technologies for .NET; flexible RMDBMS and application server support; flexible deployment options and simplified security.
  • Sybase Analytic Appliance - Rounding out the product news (and no, we haven't included the less interesting benchmark flag-waving announcements) is the Sybase Analytic Appliance. This product is designed to try and provide customers with an appliance that provides ‘extreme analytics' to alleviate overburdened data warehouses, data marts and reporting systems.

The sun sets on Sybase...

So as the sun sets over Nevada's Mojave desert, the Las Vegas strip and Sybase's 2008 TechWave event - has Sybase made progress to elevate itself from the "whatever happened to Sybase" stigma that it is striving forcibly to shift?

With so many of its technologies existing at an essentially embedded level, it may never be the case that we regard the company with the same degree of technology muscle and reach as we do say IBM or Oracle. Although Sybase's senior management insist that they are typically competing alongside those bigger players by the customers who do buy into its technology.

According to Gartner, "...by 2010, 50% of enterprises will have migrated away from tactical mobile application silos (supporting a single application) to strategic platforms capable of supporting multiple applications, managing devices and securing data and transport."

Sybase insists that it is seeing customer and partner demand for a tightly integrated platform that provides tangible enterprise value by mobilizing business processes and applications - this is its ‘unwired enterprise' vision. If you want the central corporate message in a mouthful, "Sybase wants to unleash the power of information anywhere, at anytime, from the data centre right to the mobile edge including employees and end customers."

John Chen repeatedly voices a ‘bet on us now and you might just find that we really can pull this technology proposition off' - kind of message. Whatever the future for the company, Chen's reputation as a corporate turnaround specialist and (to a degree) a technology visionary means that he is still a compelling and interesting entity.

Indeed, bringing in the Sybase 365 division to position the company as the ‘database company with the unique focus on mobile communications' does, again to a degree, set it apart from the crowd. Perhaps industry perception won't change quite as fast as Chen would like, but even the most sceptical observer would be hard pressed to argue that Sybase isn't making some smart - or at least pretty interesting - moves right now.


More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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