Oracle vs. Sybase: 10 reasons to use Sybase on Linux

Despite its fall from market leadership, Sybase is still a strong enterprise offering, says database consultant Dr. Mich Talebzadeh. In this tip, he gives 10 reasons why Sybase on Linux bests other databases, particularly Oracle.

This tip originally appeared on

Don't cross Sybase on Linux off your evaluation list just because it's not the world's number two database anymore,

says Dr. Mich Talebzadeh, principal consultant for London-based Peridale Ltd., which creates heterogeneous database architectures for large global trading systems.

Thanks to last fall's sterling upgrade, Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 15, and its Linux-friendliness, the database is winning new and retaining long-term customers, says Talebzadeh. In this opinion piece, Talebzadeh poses 10 reasons why Sybase running on Linux is an excellent option and, in his opinion, a better choice than Oracle-on-Linux for today's enterprises. – Jan Stafford, editor


Sybase products are generally perceived within the database administrator (DBA) community as very reliable and easy to maintain, particularly compared to Oracle. Any move from Sybase to another DBMS (database management system) has got to be justified in terms of the current level of dissatisfaction with Sybase and the level of desire to use the other. I cannot recall anywhere where this is valid.

  1. The latest Sybase flagship product, ASE 15, has filled much of the perceived functionality gap between ASE and other databases.
  2. Linux is an ideal and cost-effective platform for development teams and many companies. With the availability of heterogeneous dump and load of Sybase databases across different operating systems, Sybase -- by virtue of its modularity and ease of use -- is an ideal DBMS for Linux. This needs to be contrasted with Oracle which is, pound for pound, a far heavier beast and resource-hungry.
  3. Sybase has a well-established and skilled workforce, offering infrastructure and development teams who are fully familiar with database architectures and Sybase products.
  4. Applications developed using Sybase have been running for a while and providing adequate service. There is absolutely no guarantee that migrating these applications to another DBMS will result in the same level of service. I know of no case where a migration from Sybase to Oracle or otherwise has resulted in a noticeable performance gain.
  5. The exit barriers from Sybase and the entry barriers to others are high. For a medium-to-large application, it will take an average of 10 years for investment for ROI. A simple cost/benefit analysis will verify this statement.
  6. Check our Sybase ASE 15's total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to Oracle. Based on my clients' experience, one requires 2.5 Oracle DBAs to provide the same level of service as a single Sybase DBA.
  7. Sybase is fairly modular and has a simple syntax. Contrast this with Oracle where, in most cases, you require a third-party product to allow the DBA to reduce his/her workload. Perhaps that may be a reason why Toad, a non-Oracle product, is the most popular GUI interface for Oracle!
  8. Sybase is a very secure database. In fact, it is a favorite with the U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency. Sybase is quickly bringing the security features -- such as extensive Kerberos support, programmable authentication and data encryption -- to the market.
  9. SAP's release of its lightway product for Sybase on Linux and IBM's steps towards selling their line of P5 Linux servers with ASE, while they have DB2 and Informix themselves, are pretty strong statements about the future of Sybase.
  10. The future of Sybase is secure, largely because it is well entrenched in its core marketplace, the financial services market. More than half of Wall Street runs on Sybase. The majority of complex trading systems and banks use sophisticated replication technology to provide publisher-subscriber or peer-to-peer replication. At this juncture, none of the competitors can provide the same degree of functionality that Sybase Replication Server provides.

About the author

Mich Talebzadeh is a database expert with large DBA and architecture experience with special interests in Sybase and Oracle. He specializes in creating database architectures for large global trading systems involving heterogeneous databases. Mich is based in London and serves as Chairman of the Sybase Future Forum. He is a frequent speaker at Sybase Techforum and other international database conferences. Dr. Talebzadeh holds a Ph.D in Particle Physics from Imperial College, University of London, and C.E.R.N., Geneva, Switzerland.

Do you agree or disagree with Mich's assessment of the two systems? If you have experience with both Sybase and Oracle, email us with your opinion!

Reader feedback:

Buck writes:

My DBA experience with Oracle began in the early 1980s and I've racked up three to four years of experience doing Oracle installs on Sun, IBM and HP servers at a lot of customer sites.vThen I got hired at a startup that went with Sybase because the cost was so much lower. I found Sybase to be way easier to install, easier to maintain and just as fast and reliable as any Oracle instance that I had worked on previously.

I'm a big fan of Linux, too. So I'd have to agree with Mich

Mike Y. writes:

This isn't a cost benefits analysis at all; it is simply FUD. A significant number of arguments are for not leaving Sybase and don't compare cost or features at all. You can make the same arguements for IMS. Having been both a Sybase DBA and an Oracle DBA (and an IMS DBA), I would rather work in Oracle -- as a developer or a DBA.

George Basham, Senior Principal Consultant, Oracle Consulting, ATS, writes:

  1. Sybase has improved their product, OK -- one would expect that from any DB vendor.
  2. Would have to see some bench tests to verify this, but I think of Oracle as a functionality-rich, mission-critical database that can be tuned to perform well on any platform.
  3. Any DB vendor who cannot state this should hang their head; this is stating the obvious I think.
  4. The doesn't-pay-to-switch argument. I guess if one already has Sybase installed and it works OK, hey, what the heck. There is a lot of Sybase talent out there (sorry for the sarcasm).
  5. This seems to be a variation of #4. FYI, are you sure it's not 9.8 years, or maybe 10.2 years? Where are these statistics coming from?
  6. Oh come on, with Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM) many, many instances of Oracle can easily be managed.
  7. Yes, there are good third-party Oracle tools out there, which is a testament to the popularity of Oracle.
  8. Do you really want to compare a count of how many instances of Oracle are running under the DoD's umbrella, including top-secret projects, relative to Sybase?
  9. For SAP to want to use any DB other than its biggest competitor is not at all surprising. As for IBM, check out the number of positions IBM Global Services advertises for Oracle talent, and I rest my case.
  10. See argument #4 I guess. Oracle's technology, which is built on a J2EE infrastructure, and features advanced replication and messaging, is the most robust enterprise-wide product stack out there. I've heard that the Wall Street niche is Sybase's claim to fame. You know, I don't like seeing DB companies going out of business; I think competition keeps everyone on their toes and results in improved products. Based on my past experience with Sybase (albeit quite a few years ago) it seemed like a decent product, and certainly better than that other DB that starts with an "S." :)

Dave Hunt, a founder and co-principal of Dasages, LLC, a remote database administration company, writes:

Mich Talebzadeh and I have been friends and colleagues for several years now. He and I have enjoyably collaborated on projects from time to time. We have often had friendly discussions that address the Oracle/Sybase competition. I deeply respect Mich's professional insight into Sybase, its features and the benefits that Sybase provides to its users. Mich is a known Sybase proponent; I, on the other hand, am a known Oracle proponent.

So, given those disclaimers, here are my responses to Mich's assertions:

  1. ASE 15's improved functionality represents Sybase's attempt to stay competitive with other DBMS "Big Boys." It does not mean that ASE 15 offers any unique capabilities that Oracle and other DBMS engines do not.
  2. The Linux platform benefits that Mich asserts match my findings for Oracle, as well. "Oracle is ... a far heavier beast and resource-hungry." Although there are merits in Mich's assertion, I personally would much rather have a trained elephant doing my heavy lifting, instead of a trained hummingbird. <grin>
  3. Replace "Sybase" with "Oracle" in the above assertion and it is true, times 100.
  4. Applications developed using Oracle have been running for a generation and providing remarkable service for business-critical applications across virtually all automated industries. To the issues of levels of service and performance gains, I must let years' worth of head-to-head Oracle-to-Sybase benchmarks speak for themselves. I am not aware of any firm that migrated from Oracle to Sybase and then experienced a cost-justifying improvement in performance.
  5. Extremely Rapid Applications Development (XRAD) platforms are available presently that allow DBMS-independent application development that run identically on virtually all top-player DBMS engines. This means that you can easily (even "effortlessly") port the same application amongst and across DBMS platforms from open-source/low-cost/full-functioned players such as EnterpriseDB and MySQL, through SQL Server and Sybase, on to DB2, and Oracle. A simple cost/benefit analysis (with modern-day price-point bases) will verify this statement, as well.
  6. I personally (and single-handedly) provide remote database management for 70+ Oracle installations, four Sybase installations, six SQL Server installations, five MySQL installations, two DB2 installations and four EnterpriseDB installations, from England to India, on platforms from Windows to all the "*nix" flavors, for a dozen client companies. I can tell you that the combined effort to manage the 70+ Oracle installations is far less than the management effort for the other 21 platforms, combined. I'll let those figures refute the "2.5" multiplier.
  7. Perhaps Sybase's "simple syntax" is attributable to the fact that there are certain SQL commands/features/functionality that Sybase just doesn't support yet, which Oracle (and other platforms) support(s). I don't use any third-party products to manage my Oracle load ... just straight SQL commands/scripts. And I still have time left over for my family and to offer free Oracle technical advice to "inquiring minds" around the world.
  8. I should hope that Sybase is a very secure database ... nowdays, "very secure" is a minimum ante to play in the DBMS market. Oracle security features meet and exceed U.S. Government security standards for databases. I believe that Oracle's U.S. (state/provincial and local) government client list dwarfs Sybase's equivalent. The fact that Sybase is still playing catch-up (by "quickly bringing the security features ... to the market") to compete with features already in-place with competitors' offerings is not a resounding vote of confidence.
  9. If SAP and IBM chose Sybase as their "exclusive" DBMS platform of choice, then this might be an important statement about Sybase's future. Third-party product offerings on the Sybase platform may not be as much an external vote of confidence of Sybase's future as it a decision of third parties to "puff up" their marketing collateral by listing support for as many DBMS platforms as possible. (Kinda like club-joiners in high school that wanted to "puff up" their college applications.)
  10. This might be similar to dubbing COBOL's future as secure because there are still more lines of COBOL code in production today than any other language. I believe that Sybase's client list among the financial services industry (and all other industries) would pale in comparison to Oracle's client list in each sector/industry. Mich's assertions regarding Sybase's replication technology certainly are debatable. I would like to see an independent (e.g., Gartner, DataQuest, etc.) evaluation of how Sybase and Oracle stack up on this issue.

Rajeev S. writes:

First my background -- I started with Sybase 13 years ago and quickly learned enough to become a DBA in one year. I started with Oracle eight years ago.

Here are some things that I find interesting:

  • In my opinion both Oracle and Sybase are very stable on Unix.
  • Sybase needs less memory and is less CPU-intensive compared to Oracle, which relies upon large SGAs.
  • Oracle implemented self-managed allocation of space in Oracle 9 -- Sybase implemented it from the beginning as far as I know.
  • Oracle has implemented new caching mechanims where a DBA can specify how much of an 8k block cache, how much of a 16k block cache, etc. Sybase implemented this in a version more than 10 years ago.
  • Smaller things -- do a count(*) from a table in Sybase and do the same in Oracle. Sybase returns it in a snap and Oracle doesn't. They haven't yet understood that count(*) is frequently used by programmers, power users, as well as users.

Anil Mahadev writes:

I have a statement that I wish to express in response to the person who said "Most people who say Oracle is tough to manage do not know enough Oracle."

Well, the reason for not knowing Oracle is that it takes the poor individual half his/her career lineage.

I mean, for some of the users out there, knowledge is not the only criteria; it's all about being able to deliver and maintain databases 24 x 7 x 365 in a year.

So in my humble opinion, yes training is necessary on a particular domain. But being able to be productive as quickly as possible is the key to the future of the DBA.

Mario C. writes:

I have been a production DBA in a European major bank for years and have worked with Oracle, DB2 and Sybase. I have to agree with Mr Talebzadeh's article in a number of points. Unlike the statement that Oracle is the most stable platform on Linux, I think Sybase is truly the one that deserves this merit. I have worked with Oracle, Oracle RAC and a number of other products from Oracle and I still think that Sybase has the best reliability and response. It is true that Oracle excels in DSS/data warehousing environments and in some areas it is the true leader. However, Sybase is the king when it comes to OLTP. On the DSS side, ASE 15 of Sybase has addressed most of these shortcomings. Additionally I disagree with the statement that for very large systems Oracle is the best. The Sybase IQ product which is column-based is the true warehousing giant and Oracle does not come even near compared to IQ.

At the end of the day what matters is what is suitable for the application. In today's information-driven age, the costs to generate, keep available, recover and communicate data are staggering. In addition, in a business world that is growing increasingly distributed and with the increased use of heterogeneous systems and proprietary databases across different levels of business, partly historical and partly due to acquisitions and mergers like ours, there is a need for these disparate systems to exchange data or simply talk to each other. In short the ability to deploy specific tools to automate these types of operations is becoming increasingly business-critical. We for our needs use sophisticated bi-directional replication technology from Sybase to keep our databases in different locations in sync. Without Sybase Replication Server we could not have achieved this. I do appreciate the third-party products like Golden Gate, etc. for Oracle and Sybase. However, none of them is as good or reliable as Sybase Replication Server. Even Oracle's IOUG in its briefing on July 5, 2006 // Volume 2, Issue 13 announced the availability of Sybase's new Oracle-oriented version of Replication Server. This shows how good Sybase products are.

Arvind R. writes:

Sure, all the 10 points are valid, but beyond that there is also the need to simplify operations.

Having just a single enterprise database can help simplify operations.

Oracle is also very popular so getting temp resources may not be an issue. Hiring an Oracle DBA to do remote DBA activity is a lot easier than a remote Sybase DBA.

Of course all this really depends on the cost of exiting Sybase and entering Oracle. If there is no cost benefit then I would agree with the author that there is no benefit unless the intangibles are more valued.

Godzilla83 writes:

I agree with the premise that most people that say that Oracle is too confusing and Sybase/MS SQL Server are easier to manage simply lack training and experience with Oracle. Obviously a DB platform that has limited functionality will be easier to learn since there are fewer items to cover. If that DB platform suits your app or your project then good for you; however that doesn't mean it will fit your needs in the future. One example is table partitioning -- Oracle has had this feature since at least 8i and every release since has increased the functionality to where today it is a robust and mature option that many companies find indispensible. Sybase on the other hand only offers a very limited version of table partitioning in v12.5.x(although v15 is supposed to offer a more complete version of it). So again if you don't have to learn how to use table partitioning then Sybase would be considered easier to use, but you're losing out on the functionality side of things. There are many other features that Oracle has that don't exist in Sybase/MS SQL Server that I could list, but you see my point.

Randall J. writes:

I have been reading Mr. Talebzedah's article and I would agree with many of his statements. Having installed and used both over the years, I would pick Sybase. Why more companies don't use Sybase more has always been a mystery to me. Sybase is cheaper to install and operate both in hardware resource usage and manpower utilization. As an example, which can be repeated ad infinitum, one of the companies required 20 DBAs to support a single Oracle Financials system in version 7 Oracle. And they were terrified to upgrade to Oracle 8 as Oracle does not supply a migration path. Sybase in this same company was used extensively in 24/7 environments, and only had 18 DBAs supporting more than 800 Sybase databases, with more than 15,000 logins. In Mr. Talebzedah's article he mentions 2.5 Oracle DBAs to one Sybase DBA, and since you and I know that 0.5 DBAs don't really exist (see mythical man month) I would put that, rounding factors aside, to 3+ Oracle DBAs to one Sybase DBA.

Oracle supporters always mention the "sophistication" and maturity of Oracle features, and in the same breath include the requirements for learning more, and of its complexity. This complexity extends to its high requirements in installation and operating Oracle databases. Ask an Oracle DBA why they have to maintain backup configuration files three or more times to feel safe? As an example of this heavy requirement for installation, Oracle makes more money consulting on how to install it than selling the actual RDBMS product. As another cost Oracle DBAs are higher paid than Sybase DBAs; you do have to pay for all this sophisticated knowledge. That's not a fault of the DBA, but it is still a business expense, and adds to the TCO.

As for the maturity and sophistication, Oracle may win here, but I am not comparing ASE 15 as I have not used this, but in almost every environment I've ever worked in, this sophistication is never utilized. This is not a lack of programming skills in the staff. It has to do with not being locked into any particular RDBMS feature. Many companies are completely heterogeneous with regards to databases, probably due to corporate merger mania. And database transportability is prized much more than any particular database feature. In some cases junior programmers utilize databases more as file systems than RDBMS systems and hence, gain nothing from the mature, sophisticated features Oracle might provide.

Ultimately Oracle grants nothing in the benefits column when the costs are taken into perspective. Oracle is more expensive, fragile and harder to develop applications for. Sybase is cheaper, faster, more stable and requires less hardware and manpower to operate.

This was first published in August 2006

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