Latest Sybase release aimed at Web apps

The newest version of Sybase's flagship database, released this week, has three main changes aimed at making the database a key part of enterprise Web applications.

First, the new release has much tighter and more powerful XML integration. Secondly, it can now load and run software components called Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), just as applications servers can. Thirdly, Sybase created an interface that lets the database "see" and manage enterprise data stored in flat files, enabling this external data to be brought into a Web database application.

A key change in the new release is that developers now store XML documents in XML form, instead of changing them into rows and columns and storing them as Binary Large Objects (BLOB). The latter approach was inefficient, draining processing speed and requiring a series of extra programming steps, including writing a separate parser for each type of XML document.

With Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 12.5, XML documents are parsed, indexed and stored automatically. Then, the data can be manipulated by using the XML Query Language (XQL), which is essentially an extension of the SQL traditionally used with relational data.

Sybase created a very fast indexing technology for XML that rivals the performance of the native XML database products that have been gaining acceptance, said Tom Traubitz, senior marketing manager with Sybase in Emeryville, Calif.

"Our view is that ASE 12.5 is all you need [as an XML repository]," he said, noting that the native XML database products were faster only when Sybase users had to write their own parsers and break XML documents into tables or treat them as BLOBs. "But now, we can deliver the same kinds of performance and have this completely blended into your relational queries. You don't have to use two different data managers to do this."

Sybase decided to run EJBs within the database, instead of constantly communicating with a separate applications server, to boost performance. Before, "the communication was done via the JDBC interface, and you had to make multiple queries to implement [or run] a single EJB method, which is inefficient," Traubitz said. By storing and activating beans in the database itself, and using internal shared memory instead of a network link for communications, processing speed can jump five to 10 times, especially for complex transactions.

Traubitz said only those beans that actually manage data are targeted to be moved into the database. The rest of the application logic remains in the application server.

To work with outside data, a new interface gives ASE 12.5 a way to talk to an external file system, said Traubitz. "The directory of files appears as a relational table. The file name, size and so on appear as attributes in the table. To the application developer, it looks as if the file is actually in the database," he said.

The new interface also can be used by the XQL query feature and the database's text searching programming.

ASE 12.5 is available now. Pricing remains unchanged. The workplace edition, on Windows NT or Windows 2000, costs US$195 per user; the enterprise edition, on Unix and NT servers with more than four processors, costs $795 per user.

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