Sybase Launches Adaptive Server Enterprise 15 Database
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you are currently a customer of database maker Sybase and you are using its flagship Adaptive Server Enterprise 12 release, you might be wondering why Sybase last week announced ASE 15, the next release of its database. Did something go terribly wrong with ASE 13 and ASE 14 that the company never brought them to market? No. Don't get nervous. It is just that Sybase has been delivering commercial relational databases for so long that its release numbers are getting up into the unlucky numbers of 13 (in the West) and 14 (in the East), so like buildings that skip floor numbers, Sybase is calling the kicker to ASE 12 by the ASE 15 name.
Call it what you will, but when Sybase's ASE 15 database started shipping on September 15, it provided some key new features that customers have been clamoring for in ASE 12 and, not coincidentally, in the database products of Sybase's competitors. According to Tom Traubitz, senior marketing manager for Adaptive Server Enterprise, ASE 15 is focused on four major areas: data encryption, a technology called smart transactions to make conditional kinds of data processing work more efficiently, the integration of open messaging protocols (particularly XML), and the continuing assault on lowering the total cost of ownership of its database platform.
It is the data encryption that is now woven into the ASE 15 engine that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the updated database. According to Traubitz, most databases today can encrypt data using an external data encryption facility, but to do any comparisons of encrypted data, this data has to be decrypted by that external facility. As we all know, in the States, Social Security numbers are often a key field for searching in customer databases, and what this means is that with this external encryption approach, you can indeed encrypt the data located in the database, but to do anything useful with it--such as look up someone's account with all or part of a SSN to get into their account data--you have to decrypt the entire column in the database and then do a match against that decrypted data. This takes time, performance, and also leaves the data in a decrypted form, which can be a security risk. With ASE 15, the AES encryption algorithm is woven into the database using a 256-bit key and if you are searching for data, you encrypt the search criteria and do a search across the database against the column of encrypted data. Nothing ever gets decrypted. The AES keys can be backed up and stored and are themselves encrypted using a master key, because, as Traubitz points out, the most common way to hack into a database is to steal the encryption key.
Sybase had been partnering with third parties--mainly Protegrity--to deliver an outboard encryption facility that sat between end users and the databases behind their applications, which would encrypt and decrypt data in transaction streams. Traubitz said that while this solution was OK for human resources systems with low transaction volumes, it had external keys and also had a performance penalty that made it impractical for the kind of online transaction processing systems that Sybase databases tend to support.
With Smart Transactions, ASE 15 can be programmed to run little queries in the middle of a transaction to do some rudimentary analysis of how a transaction should proceed before it actually does proceed. While this sort of database programming has been a part of databases for years--notably in data marts and data warehouses--what is different this time is that Sybase is weaving it into the database for production OLTP jobs. In effect, the kind of quick analysis you would like to do before deciding to commit a transaction--Does the customer have enough credit? Will this stock trade put the portfolio out of balance?--can be done on the fly. You could do this programming with triggers and stored procedures, but Sybase says the Smart Transactions feature is a lot easier to use and offers higher performance, too.
ASE 15 can also generate messages straight out of the database that can be absorbed by XML engines or messaging queuing software such as IBM's WebSphere MQ (formerly MQ Series) and Sun Microsystems's Java Messaging System. This feature creates the messages based on log scanning. While ASE 15 can scan its own logs, it will also be able to scan database logs of IBM's DB2 databases and Oracle's 8i and 9i databases and, later this year, 10g databases. The Oracle log scanning and message generation will offer improved performance later this year as well, says Traubitz. Basically, what you want all of this stuff for is to generate XML documents, which are becoming the basis of data interchange between databases and applications.
On the TCO front, Sybase has made a lot of tweaks to improve the performance of the database management system. Traubitz says that ASE 15 will offer about 12 to 15 percent better performance on OLTP workloads compared with ASE 12, and that for report-type queries performance could be as much as 80 percent higher. For shared schemas with multiple relations, performance has improved by as much as 90 percent.
ASE 15 is available on Solaris 8, 9, and 10 on Sparc and X64 chips; AIX 5.2 and 5.3 on Power chips; Red Hat Linux on X86, X64, and Power processors; SUSE Linux on X86 and X64 chips; and Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP on X86 and X64 chips.
Sybase has been shipping a version of ASE 12 for free on Linux, called the Express Edition, and it will continue to do that for ASE 15, says Kathleen Schaub, vice president of products at Sybase. She also says that the company is considering offering a free version on Solaris and/or OpenSolaris, the open source variant of Sun's Solaris platform. (Sybase on Solaris is a reasonably popular combo in financial services and banking.) Sybase is also thinking about offering a version of Express Edition for Windows, just to rattle former partner Microsoft's cage a little. (SQL Server shares a common code base from a bunch of years back with Sybase.) The Express Edition is a bit crimped in that it can only run on a single CPU with a maximum of 2 GB of main memory and 5 GB of data stored in the database.
ASE 15 comes in two commercial flavors. The Small Business Edition costs $1,495 for five users and $200 per user beyond that, while the Enterprise Edition (which is more scalable and has more stuff) costs $3,995 and $795 per user. The new encryption features, while integrated tightly with ASE 15, are a priced feature and cost $8,000 per server processor. The messaging features cost $10,000 per server processor. The Smart Transactions feature is free, however.