Most of the buzz about SAP's acquisition of Sybase has emphasized the mobility angle. For years now, Sybase has identified itself as the "unwired enterprise" company. It must be weird for a vendor with a long and storied history as a major data management player to be best known for its iAnywhere Mobile Office for workflow and secure email on the iPhone and Windows Mobile devices.
Of course the mobile angle goes deeper than that. Sybase works with telcos to process huge volumes of messages, creates tiny embedded databases for smartphones, and specializes in managing and analyzing mobile data. SAP, as a major enterprise application provider, can certainly use Sybase's expertise in mobilizing its enterprise applications. The core ERP business is not, shall we say, booming.
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But there's another, more conventional reason for the merger: Sybase has some awfully attractive customers.
A healthy chunk of Wall Street has stuck with Sybase. In an interview before the rumors about SAP and Sybase surfaced, Sybase CEO John Chen told me that "our customer base has always been enterprise, particularly government as well as financial institutions, the banks, and the insurance companies."
Chen freely admitted that Sybase went through a near death experience early in the last decade -- and that large customers, particularly those in the financial industry that built applications on his database, were what had kept Sybase going. Once a financial services company has built, say, a trading application on your database platform, "that is very, very sticky," said Chen.
The relationship with Wall Street goes deeper than that. Irfan Khan, CTO of Sybase, told me that Sybase has delved into providing the technology for souped-up risk management and ultra-high-speed trading. Khan spends a significant amount of his time gathering requirements for the high-end features his financial customers need -- and turning those requirements into product.