Hot skills: Financial sector puts a premium on Sybase skills

Relational database system widely used in the City

Relational database system widely used in the City

What is it?

In the mid-1990s, Sybase was second only to Oracle in the relational database management system (RDBMS) market; today its share has fallen to 3%. But it is a solid 3%, with Sybase the platform of choice for many investment banks, fund managers and other City firms.

Thanks in part to a series of well-chosen acquisitions, Sybase dominates in mobile data management. By providing separate products for datawarehousing and other database-linked functions, Sybase has avoided the bloat of its larger competitors, and it can offer better performance and lower total cost of ownership in transactional environments. As one analyst put it, “Given that Sybase is no longer regarded as one of the 800lb gorillas in the database market, it is an ongoing surprise as to just how good its product is.”

After years in the financial wilderness, Sybase has returned to profitability and is selling strongly in Asia, particularly China. For this reason the most recent version of its flagship database went from Adaptive Server Enterprise 12 (ASE 12) to ASE 15, skipping not only the number 13, unlucky in Europe and the US, but also 14, which is unlucky in China.

Sybase also sells Powerbuilder, an application development system.

Where did it originate?

Invented at the University of California Berkeley, Sybase came out of the same stable as Ingres, Informix and Tandem’s Nonstop. An ill-fated technology deal with Microsoft led to Sybase code being used for SQL Server. When the deal broke up, Sybase SQL Server was renamed Adaptive Server. Although Microsoft re-engineered and rewrote its RDBMS, database architects say that the Sybase inheritance can still be seen.

What’s it for?

Sybase has its own patented query processing technology, which, together with features such as smart partitions, increases performance and reduces hardware consumption. Like Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, it offers a free Express version. ASE Express Edition is available for Linux only, and it is limited to one CPU and 5Gbytes.

What makes it special?

Having separated its datawarehousing functionality into Sybase IQ,, Sybase has put its development resources into improving ASE’s performance in transactional environments. Bloor Research said, “The company has concentrated heavily on supporting query processing within online environments, to the extent that there is a good case to be made for Sybase ASE being the best performing database for hybrid environments.”

According to research firm Standish Group, ASE’s total cost of ownership is up to 37% lower than Oracle, Microsoft or IBM systems.

How difficult is it to master?

A five-day introductory Fast Track to ASE course costs £1,995. You will need another 10 days of training to become an ASE administrator associate, and an extra 18 days’ training plus real-world experience to gain ASE administrator professional certification. There are online alternatives and free online tuition for ASE Express.

What systems does it run on?

Unix, Linux and Windows.

Rates of pay

Sybase database administrators are in constant demand for big-money positions with City firms, but to get a top-end salary of £80,000, you will need financial sector experience. Contract database administrators can look for £450-plus per day.

There are also openings with IT consultancies and in private healthcare.


Sybase has a training centre in London. Free tutorials for ASE Express can be found online.


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