Appliance! What appliance? Sybase partners with Red Hat

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Sybase has announced a partnership with Red Hat that involves a close integration between Sybase’s two major databases: Sybase ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), which is the company’s OLTP database; and Sybase IQ, which is its data warehousing offering; and Red Hat Enterprise Linux Platform version 5. Both integrations are scheduled to be available during the second half of this year.

What this integration means in practice is tight coupling between the operating system and the database. The user will get a single install and will have a single course of things such as patches. In addition, support for virtualisation and clustering will be tightly integrated between the two product lines. All put together this effectively means that what you might previously have licensed separately from Red Hat, VMWare (virtualisation), Symantec (clustering) and Sybase can now be had in a single bundle sourced from Red Hat and Sybase.

Now, that’s great: it’s a really good idea for anyone who is, or might be, a combined Sybase/Red Hat customer, though it does raise questions about openness and portability. Vendors make a big play of this (when it suits their purpose) but if you leverage this partnership then it would make life awkward if you subsequently wanted to port to a different version of Linux, say. However, you pays your money and you takes your choice—I don’t have an issue with that.

What I do have an issue is with is that the companies are calling this an appliance. Okay, Sybase has helpfully provided its definition of an appliance, which is: “a way to integrate a number of products such that they work as one“. In this case, what they clearly mean by “a number” is two.

So, let’s see: if I integrate my Sales Ledger with my Purchase Ledger and my General Ledger (and that’s three products) so that they “work as one” then that’s an appliance? Which means Sage is an appliance vendor? And SAP? And Oracle? Perhaps we should try something else. Consider data quality and ETL (extract, transform and load)—these work closely together (as one is not a clearly defined term). Does this mean that IBM Ascential, Informatica and the other leading data integration vendors are also appliance vendors?

In fact, if you accept Sybase’s definition of an appliance then virtually every software vendor on the planet is an appliance vendor. Indeed, Sybase goes on to describe a washing machine as an appliance because “a washing machine integrates motors and pumps and timers and sensors into one device that washes clothes“. But doesn’t a PC integrate various electronic components in the same way? Not to mention a printer or a modem or a mainframe? In fact, all manufactured goods are appliances by this definition: a chair, to take something very simple, is an appliance because it integrates legs, a seat, a back and arms (optionally) into a single device.

Sybase goes on to say that “a database appliance integrates hardware enablement, operating system functions, storage control, and of course data storage and query functions. Previously one would purchase hardware, operating systems, storage software, HA software, a data base system, perhaps networking components, and assorted other bits. Ensuring they work together is a full time job and diagnosing difficult problems can result in finger pointing. As an appliance all of that goes away. It is one thing, and is not divided into pieces. It is sold, installed, operated and repaired as one thing.” The weasel words here are “hardware enablement”, by which they mean things like clustering and virtualisation, but you still have to purchase the hardware (and maybe networking and “assorted other bits”) and you still have to install the Sybase/Red Hat integrated software bundle on it yourself.

By Sybase’s definition this certainly is an appliance but so is everything else and the term becomes meaningless. Using conventional terminology this certainly does not represent an appliance: but, hey, why should we be surprised that marketing misinterprets vocabulary for its own ends? As for me: nice product, shame about that selfsame marketing—you won’t catch me calling this an appliance. Of course, what is important is the value that is being offered to the user, which in this case is considerable, but I still don’t like the terminology.