IDG: What is driving database vendors to shift toward providing e-business platforms?
Chen: I think it's simple. In the past the accumulating of data was important. Now, the business technology and sophistication have gotten to the point where the movement of the data is more important. The data itself is still important - we do have to have a repository. It's like a reservoir of water: the water itself is important, but the pipe that moves the water efficiently and gets to the end user quickly anywhere, any place that you should turn on the tap is as important as the decision point of what database to use. So the repository is important, it's growing, but the pipe to get to the data is extremely important. And now we have different environments, the Old Economy, the New Economy, the legacy environment, a number of different environments. Add to that the growing number of different devices and the whole telecommunications collision with the IT world, and the fact that you have to be able to deliver the data, not only accumulate and store the data. So two major markets have been created because of all these [reasons]. One is around the movement of the data. The other is the entire area of creating intelligence, or getting intelligence out of the data, which is the business intelligence world. And so we're trying to grab or filter out the intelligence from the data. Now the database is still the core. I cannot imagine 10 years from today saying, "Let's just throw away the database because who cares, data just comes naturally and virtually." I don't think that's ever going to happen - at least not in my lifetime. People now make decisions on how the database works in a whole infrastructure of connecting all the pieces together. And that's why you are seeing the e-business infrastructure movement by a companies such as ourselves, Oracle and IBM.
How do you plan to grow market share while competing with IBM and Oracle?
Two ways. One is to focus on our core strengths, which have two components. The first is the mobile business. The other is the financial verticals and, in some cases, telecommunications verticals. The other area is to create new environments that nobody is in at this point, where there is no clear winner, such as the enterprise portal. There isn't any clear winner in the enterprise portal, and it's a hard area to get into. Although a lot of companies will claim they are a portal company, they are a partial portal company. They don't have the replication server technology; they don't have the tools environment to create objects, whether it's Java or otherwise or XML-based, onto the application server. Therefore, we can compete in those areas where there is no clear winner.
So are you moving away from direct competition with IBM and Oracle?
In some cases. In the financial and telecommunications space we aren't really moving away because we are the ones to beat. Especially in the financial space, they will try to compete with us. We're not consciously moving away - we're going after the [mobile]-commerce market, we're going after the Internet banking solutions market and they are going after different markets. We still run into each other on bids, but not in the sense that we're head-on competing all the time.
What is the next step in the evolution of your products?
We'll be focusing on XML and we just released the XML database. So we'll get more and more portal personalisation features into the database. The other direction is that databases have gotten to the point where they require less and less maintenance or administration. Eventually, you'll see from all of us in the industry that we'll start making zero-maintenance databases or zero-administration databases. The complexity of the database has gone up, but the stability of the database technology has also caught up. Right now is the time to make the database enterprise-class, which is stock room, which is something that you don't touch, or you don't need to touch very often, like changing filters. You might change a filter every six months, but you don't need to touch it every day. Some of the self-tuning features, self-recovery, self diagnostics, they send out an emergency signal to the vendors and say, "We self-recovered, but you have take a look at this." This whole concept of preventative maintenance is going to start creeping into the database space and that's what Sybase is really focusing on to make our database [have] zero requirements of human intervention, both in the maintaining and tuning sides. I don't want to mislead you; that won't happen immediately. But I think you will see major headway within the next 12 months, and not only from Sybase. I would venture to guess that a lot of my competitors are doing the same thing. We by no means think we are the only ones doing it. We think we're going to get it done probably sooner than anybody else because we've been on it for at least a year. The industry is going there in 12 months. First you're going to see it, and then there are going to be a lot of competing features going forward.
What will it take to get to a point of zero-administration databases?
The whole concept of a mainframe side: the quality, the testing, the self-diagnostics, the recovery, the ability to switch over, the true hot-standby concept, the active-active standby concept. It's really more a partitioning job, a design job in terms of what is the major philosophy and what is the philosophy in terms of recovery; those are all the drivers behind it. It really comes from the engineering mindset more than anything else. For example, today in our application server, we have already built in automatic switch-over that is completely transparent to the users and will alert the operators. So you could log in to one app server, and as long as you have two app servers tied in some configuration to a database, if one app server goes down we switch the job automatically to the other, but users won't see it. There is a lot of that going on, and obviously, once you have switch-over systems, you have to worry about integrity of the data and the timing of the data. That, again, is being solved well by all the mainframe coupling technology. The technical portion of that is understood, we just have to make sure we do it in the enterprise software side.
Do you think that, at least at the high-end, the database market is saturated?
Saturated, no. Because of the Internet and the requirements of doing commerce on the Net, actually, we've seen a little more buildup of demand on the high-end databases. If you look at our results, our core database and middleware grew 23 per cent in business volume year over year. So it's a significant growth. I think the real business apple-to-apple comparison is actually a much higher, stronger growth. What it seems driven by is a few, very high-end customers that decided they need more middleware, app servers, databases, for their e-commerce Internet applications - some of the major banks like the Chase Manhattans of the world. So I actually don't see it slow down, but it is being driven by a different set of needs.
It seems that Sybase has shifted its strategy. What is your current strategy?
In a very broad sense, it's e-business solution. We aim to provide both the platform and the services to build, to enable Internet-based applications. Our mission is to create an architecture and environment and a suite of products to tie legacy data to packaged apps like SAP, or any homegrown apps, or any kind of data set - structured or unstructured - and have them present it in a secure, scalable, personalisable way on to the Web. That's the Enterprise Portal Mission. The second part is we want to become the wireless applications choice for business and for the enterprise, so not only did we add a layer of mobility to the Web, but we are also going into the vertical [business-to-business] apps. So that's the second part. Those two complement each other. The third area is to go after specific verticals, like the financial industry, which we have strong holds on.