Sybase Inc. this week upgraded three products in its business software suite, which includes a wide array of tools and server software for linking business applications within an organization and across different companies.
The new products are PowerDesigner 9.0, an application modeling tool; Business Process Integrator (BPI) Suite 2.1, which contains six integration and process management tools including an application server, and Enterprise Portal 2.5.
Taken together, the products represent Sybase's "e-business" offerings, which are designed to let companies move applications and business processes on to the Internet in order to save money and boost efficiency. They compete with products from IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp., as well as from several smaller vendors.
The new PowerDesigner has a simplified user interface intended to help non-technical users, such as business analysts, model processes upon which applications are based. For technical developers, the tool adds some UML (Universal Modeling Language) models and data modeling features and support for the latest incarnation of Enterprise Java Beans, version 2.0, Sybase officials said.
One industry analyst called it "one of the better integrated modellers on the market." Sybase "lost its way" for a while and was "trying to figure out what they were," but the company has rebounded with some strong products, said Jim Duggan, a vice president and research area director for Gartner Inc.
One user admired the broad range of features in PowerDesigner.
"We found that it fulfilled all the needs we had for the design we were doing," said Bill Green, president of Power3 LLC, a Philadelphia-based software integration company. "We could do our database design, our systems design and business process modeling all within the same tool."
"I'd like to see the other UML models built in so you have a more complete product," he added. "They support most of the major UML models, but it's hard to keep up with a company like Rational, who's virtually inventing the stuff."
Green was referring to Rational Software Corp., which is regarded as a leader in UML modeling tools.
PowerDesigner 9.0 is available immediately for Windows 98, NT and 2000, a company spokeswoman said. Pricing starts at US$995 and goes up to $7,495 for the full enterprise version, with upgrade pricing also available, she said.
The BPI suite includes products from New Era of Networks Inc. (NEON), which Sybase acquired last year, including the NEON process server. Among the new additions to the suite are support for standards used to build "Web services," Sybase officials said. For example, the Sybase application server now supports software components created in SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, Integration) and WSDL (Web Service Description Language).
BPI Suite 2.1 is scheduled for release this quarter for Windows NT/2000, Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris, Hewlett-Packard Co. HP-UX and IBM Corp. AIX, and it will be priced at $200,000 per CPU or $60,000 for a developer license, Sybase said. It works with databases from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase.
For its Enterprise Portal 2.5, due for release in the current quarter, Sybase worked to improve security aspects of the product, including audit subsystems, role-based authentication, access control and a single-sign-on system. It also includes technologies for integrating applications, and has a new content management interface. Enterprise Portal 2.5 is available for Windows NT and Sun Solaris, with prices starting at $85,000, the company said.
Sybase hopes to distinguish itself from its rivals in part by being a neutral player in the partisan world of business software. For example, while Oracle and IBM are firm supporters of Java, and Microsoft is pushing its competing .Net products, "in our application server environment we tried to remain neutral," said Bob Breton, senior director of product strategy for Sybase's e-Business division.
For the past two years or so, Sybase has been expanding beyond its roots as a database company to tackle the markets for application development and integration software. Gartner's Duggan said it now seems to have identified which markets it wants to play in, but he noted that Sybase is up against rivals that have deep pockets.
"They have a pretty nifty application server, but they're chasing along behind some pretty big dogs in all this," he said. "They've got to be very focused to be successful, and they seem to be getting better at that."