When Microsoft announced plans this month for an extensive upgrade to its SQL Server mobile database software, it was the latest attempt by a large DBMS vendor to grab some of the mobile market owned by Sybase Inc.
Code-named Laguna, the enhancements -- scheduled for early 2005 -- are the most important since the product was released in 2000, Microsoft said.
Laguna will have better synchronization capabilities and multivendor interoperability , features that Sybase has built its reputation on, according to industry analysts.
Microsof is not alone in its battle against Sybase.
IBM is Sybase's chief competitor holding about 15% of the mobile database market with its DB2 Everyplace product, said Carl Zetie, an analyst of mobile enterprise technologies with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. IBM has improved application synchronization to mobile devices with software that provides customers with a real-time view of their business applications, including e-mail, instant messaging and enterprise applications.
While Microsoft is improving its integration with other vendors, it remains a favorite only with Microsoft-only shops, Zetie said.
"This market is all about being able to mix and match," Zetie said. "Versatility has been key and that was always Sybase's strength in this market."
Oracle Corp. also has a mobile offering called Oracle Database Lite, which has, according to some analysts, lived up to its rather unfortunate name. Thus far, Oracle Database Lite only works in Oracle environments, and the mobile database option is not one Oracle customers have rushed to, according to industry analysts. Oracle Database Lite uses data synchronization exchange data between Oracle databases and mobile workers.
While Sybase's iAnywhere mobile database software accounts for 70% of the market, analysts said IBM and Microsoft have a long way to go before they chip away at Sybase's dominance.
"This is Sybase's last stronghold…," said Mike Schiff, vice president of data warehousing and business intelligence at Current Analysis Inc., a Sterling, Va.-based research firm. "But their ability to remain flexible when market conditions change is keeping them a solid player."
Sybase is responding to the latest surge in competition by strengthening and broadening its mobile and wireless products through acquisitions, said John Girard, vice president of research at Gartner Inc. The recent acquisition of XcelleNet, will give Sybase greater market share in enterprise mobility, by adding a new entry point into the enterprise for mobile applications, Girard said.
Mark Soukup, a senior software developer at Akron, Ohio-based MICROSYS Computing is one of Sybase iAnywhere's 12,000 customers. Soukoup said that while he is watching the competition, so far Sybase's mature product line and replication tools make it an obvious winner.
"They had replication built into their product line a long time ago and they enhanced it the right way to help device management," Soukup said. "Compared to some of the other packages, you just can't beat it, but we're keeping an eye on the competition."