Thoughts on the SAP Acquisition of Sybase: In Search of Credibility

Alguns pensamentos de  Dave Kellogg sobre a aquisição da Sybase pela SAP (do blog!

Thoughts on the SAP Acquisition of Sybase: In Search of Credibility

May 13th, 2010 · 11 Comments

Yesterday SAP announced that it was acquiring database and mobile provider Sybase for $65/share, or approx $5.8B in total, a 44% premium over Sybase’s trailing three-month average stock price and a 56% premium over Tuesday’s closing price.  Here are some quick thoughts on the deal.

  • SAP has been trying to figure out a way to get arch-rival Oracle out from underneath the majority of its deployments for about a decade.  For example, they did a partnership with runner-up DBMS provider SoftwareAG to create MaxDB.  Recently Hasso Plattner has been working with the Hasso Plattner Institute on a in-memory, column-oriented database.  He presented a paper at SIGMOD on this work (which I’ll call HassoDB) and recently did a bizzare-ish video called Hasso on Hasso where he interviews himself discussing the project.
  • SAP’s efforts thus far have lacked credibility.  No serious Oracle shop would consider moving to MaxDB.  Adabas is seen as a C-tier relational database provider in an oligopoly-dominated market (i.e., Oracle, IBM, Microsoft).  Nor, to my knowledge, has Hasso’s work been taken seriously by the academic community; friends I know who attended the SIGMOD where he presented — and I’ll be nice for a change — said the paper was not particularly well received.
  • SAP has a database problem.  That’s clear.  And I think buying Sybase was probably the best way out of it.  The price, at 4.8x TTM sales seems high as does the 50%-ish premium.  But then again, SAP didn’t have any real alternative if it wanted to buy size and credibility in the relational database market.  The only other $1Bish company in the space is Teradata and they are data warehouse oriented.  SAP presumably wants a data warehouse DBMS, but they need an OLTP DBMS as well.  With its wide portfolio of DBMSs (e.g., column-oriented, in-memory, mobile, OLTP), Sybase fits the bill nicely.  And that’s not to mention its Sybase 365 mobile services which position it well in mobile analytics.
  • The acquisition seems pretty controversial.  One banker I spoke to yesterday thought it was a terrible idea.  I coincidentally spoke to some top DBMS industry analysts yesterday and they liked it.  My analysis is simple:  once SAP finally decided to solve their database problem — which, yes, they should have solved years ago — what other option did they have?  Among the options obvious to me (e.g, partnering with IBM to leverage DB2, trying to commercialize HassoDB, buying Software AG, buying Teradata), this was the best one.  The question isn’t how did they get themselves into this difficult situation and why were they asleep when Oracle consolidated a huge chunk of the enterprise software industry?  The question is what should they do about it, right now? Sybase seems a reasonable choice, infinitely preferable to what I thought they were going to do:  a quixotic attempt a turning HassoDB into a real competitor.   (Presumably, the Sybase unit will now get that task and the odds of success go up by about 100x in handing it over.)
  • I can’t help but mention the irony here.  SAP was key reason that Sybase ended up a B-tier DBMS.  In the 1990s, when ERP application sales became a major driver for RDBMS purchases, Sybase lacked row-level locking which SAP required.   While Sybase played a leading role in the OLTP phase of the RDBMS market, they were locked out of the party when ERP-driven phase hit.  While Sybase eventually fixed the row-level locking issue (which was one of many knives also stuck in Ingres), it was too late.
  • If SAP thinks this is going to be another easy Business Objects style integration they are wrong.   Business Objects was naturally synergistic to SAP’s product offering and BI tools remained at the top of CIO priority lists around the time of the SAP / Business Objects deal.  So while I think the Sybase deal is a good strategic move, I think it’s going to be about 10x harder to sell Sybase to SAP customers than it was to sell BusinessObjects.  Last time, they were selling a complementary add-on product in a hot category; this time they’re asking customers to tear up railroad tracks.
  • Is this deal about credibility?  Yes.  Does buying Sybase give SAP a lot of DBMS credibility?  No.  Sybase’s market share is less than 5%, but they have a nice portfolio of DBMS technologies on which SAP can build.  Of SAP’s available alternatives, does this deal get SAP the most credibility?  In my estimation, yes.
  • Finally, a quick note on HassoDB.   The basic idea is that column-oriented databases go fast for data warehousing because data warehouse queries typically aggregate detail in columns.  Ergo, column orientation increases information density for these types of queries.  The problem is that column orientation is a disaster or OLTP operations because what would have been one simple insert/update gets split across N columns.  The solution to this problem, argues Hasso, is to put the whole thing in memory, ergo preserving the benefits of column-orientation while eliminating the drawbacks.

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