Sybase Has 'Record' Year

Once left for dead, Sybase Inc. has shored up its key tools and mobile businesses, while it remains a factor in a database market dominated by Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.

According to the company, 2007 was the best year in its 23-year history. Total revenues increased 17 percent to $1.03 billion for the year, Sybase said on Thursday when it announced its full year and fourth quarter financial results. The company reported net income of $168 million for 2007, up 26 percent over last year.

"Our performance enabled us to deliver all time record highs in revenue, operating margin, earnings and cash flow from operations," said Sybase chairman and CEO John Chen, speaking on a conference call to report the financial results.

Shadow of Giants
"They’ve proven you can live in the shadow of the giants, even thrive," said Forrester Research analyst Merv Adrian, who worked at Sybase over a decade ago.

Indeed that wasn't the case a few years ago, notes Noel Yuhanna, Forrester's database analyst in an e-mail. "We find that concerns about the long-term viability of the company have almost disappeared, which became the showstopper two to three years ago."

Nevertheless, there's no question those shadows loom large over Sybase. Oracle has its new 11g database, Microsoft later this year is set to ship SQL Server 2008, though that release is running a quarter later than previously planned.

Sybase had only 2.8 percent of the database market at the end of 2006, according to Gartner, a figure that dwarfs its three larger rivals, who collectively account for 83 percent of all DBMS sales. And while Sybase has held its own over the years against the three, it now faces a new challenge from Sun Microsystems, which two weeks ago said it is acquiring open source database vendor MySQL for $1 billion.

When asked by an analyst about the potential affect of Sun's move, Chen shrugged off any concerns. "We think we can offer the market and offer MySQL partners a very solid alternative," he said. "It won't really affect us negatively. There might be some opportunities."

Innovation Continues
Sybase said its database business grew 16 percent for the fourth quarter, year over year. "We find that enterprises are looking to deploy more of Sybase databases, mainly because it offers strong reliability, security and ease of use," said Yuhanna. "Although, Sybase has been overshadowed by larger DBMS players such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, it continues to innovate around XML data store, shared-disk clustering, unstructured data management and database administration."

While database software remains Sybase's bread and butter, the mobile tools, platforms and services are driving the company's growth. In a move that has bolstered its mobile business, the company acquired Mobile 365, now called Sybase 365. Run as a subsidiary, Sybase 365 is a gateway for wireless communications providers, SMS and MMS content, and enterprise services. The company is also planning on releasing new mobile commerce and risk analytics platform.

Despite its improved balance sheet, Sybase faces a major challenge. Sandell Asset Management Corp., its largest shareholder, last month proposed adding three independent directors to the company's board. In a filing, Sandell said it would like to see Sybase consider issuing an IPO or spinoff of its mobility group, aggressively repurchase shares or try to sell all or part of the company.

"We feel that shareholder representation on the board is warranted to ensure that all alternatives are considered and a course of action is taken to close the gap between the current share price and its inherent value," said Thomas Sandell, CEO of Sandell, in a statement released December 28.

When asked about Sandell's effort on the earnings call, Chen said the company's results speak for its approach to managing the business.

Sybase has several new products in the pipeline in the coming months, Chen said, including a its Adaptive Server Enterprise shared disk cluster database, a risk analytics server for financial services institutions to gather real-time trades, which will be launched at the New York Stock Exchange, and its M-Commerce platform that will enable high volume mobile transactions.

For the 2008 year, Sybase is predicting moderate growth. The company gave guidance of $1.075 billion to $1.090 billion in revenues for the year.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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