Blog post

DBMS Legacies are Very Sticky

By Donald Feinberg | December 18, 2014 | 5 Comments

Operational DBMSDBMSData ManagementBanco de DadosAnalyst

Donald Feinberg (@Brazingo) & Merv Adrian (@merv)

Every so often, there’s a wave of interest in the “imminent retirement” of one or more legacy database management systems (DBMS). Usually, it’s because someone with very little knowledge of the actual use and distribution of the products becomes enthusiastic about someone’s sales pitch, or an anecdote or two. Sometimes it’s the result of a “replacement” marketing campaign by a competitor. It takes longer than 40 years for DBMS technology to die, and for a (competing) marketer, it is like the villain in a horror story who just keeps coming back. And so far, it’s usually as illusive- and as far off – as the “death of the mainframe”.

Recently, a financial analyst report stated that in 2015, the industry would begin retiring Sybase products (owned now by SAP) and Informix (owned now by IBM). We and our colleagues have since had several inquiries about this and our response is simple: poppycock. DBMS market data, and our thousands of interactions with customers, do not support any such assertions.

Let’s start with Sybase, or specifically, SAP ASE and SAP IQ, acquired by SAP from Sybase in 2010. (Full disclosure: Merv worked at Sybase in the 1990s.)

Since its acquisition of Sybase, SAP has released several enhanced versions of both SAP ASE and SAP IQ (including recently in 2014), and there’s no reason to question its intent to continue development and support of both.

Generally, the customers using these products are happy, and are not looking to replace them. We receive a steady stream inquires from Gartner clients asking about them, which have not changed in character or in volume. It is true that customers ask the question, however the vendor’s intent is not questioned. They are not typically or disproportionally about removing these products, though we regularly get inquiries about replacing all the “legacy” RDBMS offerings with new products.

SAP IQ is the oldest and most widely installed column-store DBMS on the market. It is used for both analytics and as a general purpose data warehouse; it’s also part of the SAP HANA infrastructure, used as a near-line storage engine for cooler data not required in-memory in SAP HANA.

SAP ASE has retained a sizable loyal customer base on Wall Street, where it is part of the infrastructure used for trading systems, and elsewhere. It’s been certified as a DBMS platform for SAP Applications for about two years, and its use there is growing: Gartner estimates over 6000 instances of SAP Applications using SAP ASE as a platform at the beginning of 2014 [Edited Dec 19 to change number to 6000 – see below for comment from SAP]. That rate of growth for SAP ASE is actually faster than it had been in the 10 years before SAP acquired it – most likely because now SAP ASE is an alternative to Oracle, as a platform for SAP Applications.

Given the SAP sales force’s focus on SAP HANA, and the minimal marketing of SAP ASE and SAP IQ, we do understand how a misconception around the future of these products could happen. But it is just that – a misconception.

What about Informix, acquired by IBM in 2001? Over a decade later, it remains an integral part of an IBM information management portfolio that includes three primary DBMSs – DB2, IMS and Informix, and newer entrants such as Cloudant. IBM has continued to release new enhanced versions of Informix since the acquisition; for example it has recently added JSON support with MongoDB JSON Drivers. Due to the implementation of embedded indexes, Informix is a good choice for audio and video indexing. Finally, the number of IBM Informix customers has continued to increase and its user base is very loyal, with one the largest and most active User Groups.

IBM positions Informix for three primary use cases:

  • High-speed processing in verticals like retail (point of sale systems) and manufacturing
  • Time-series DBMS – one of its primary features, and a “timely” one
  • The Internet of Things, where its high-speed ingest capabilities and small footprint are well-suited

So, it’s our opinion that the report referenced above is erroneous, and is not based in fact. At the end of the day, one of the most powerful forces in DBMS is inertia. Just ask Oracle, whose 2Q15 financial results press release on 17-Dec-2014 noted that “software updates and product support revenues drove nearly half of total company revenue.” Legacies are sticky – if it works, people don’t take lightly to changing it. In all these cases, legacy products are not only holding their own, but finding new markets in the hands of large companies with loyal customer bases.

Don’t believe everything you read (unless, of course, we wrote it.)

Leave a Comment


  • I agree with Donald’s statements, SAP has been investing in SAP ASE capabilities and we have a strong and compelling roadmap, specific examples include our in-memory capabilities, and renewed focus on SAP ASE cluster edition. With SAP Business Suite, SAP now has over 6000 new productive installations. SAP ASE owns the top 2, 4 and 8 socket SD benchmarks.

    Our roadmaps are published on service market place, and have a very vibrant community at

  • Sethu says:

    Can’t agree with you more Donald and Merv. I have read and heard this “poppycock” comments for 25+ years 🙂

  • Paul Marriott says:

    Agree Donald and thank you for pointing out this fact, we see positive adoption of ASE and IQ in Asia Pacific Japan from both Sybase install base customers but also net new customers that want a very robust platform with a very compelling TCO.

  • Paul Clare says:

    As a rookie DBA 20 years ago, Sybase was the first RDBMS I was given to work on. The IT manager’s words back then were “don’t get too attached to it – it’s on its way out”…

    These stories have always been bandied around.. usually after someone’s had lunch with an Oracle sales rep.

  • For completeness would it be possible to specify the mentioned study? I can’t seem to find any reference to it, besides on this article.