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So what does an ASE database look like in SAP ERP?

(originally published at in December 2011; moved to SCN in November 2012)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with no internet connection, it will not be news that SAP and Sybase have been working on making SAP Business Suite run on Sybase ASE. Engineering teams from

the two companies (well, we’re really one company now, but you’ll get my meaning) have spent a lot of effort over the past 1.5 years or so, porting SAP’s Business Suite to Sybase ASE.  A question I’ve been asked a lot over the past months -by non-SAP ASE users- is what sort of ASE features are used by SAP Business Suite. We’ll look at that, but first let’s clarify some of the terminology. SAP Business Suite consists of five main parts which a SAP customer may or may not all buy. These are:

  • ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  • SRM (Supplier Relationship Management)
  • SCM (Supply Chain Management)
  • PLM (Product Lifecycle Management)

Now back to Sybase ASE: I had a look at an ASE database for SAP ERP.  Buckle up, here we go:

  • SAP will be releasing Business Suite on ASE version 15.7.
  • All SAP application data resides in a single ASE database. There is another small database for use by SAP tools.
  • The ASE database uses a 16KB page size.
  • For ERP only (i.e. not counting CRM and the other Business Suite modules), the database contains about 80,000 tables and 170,000 indexes. This is because SAP ERP has many features and functions, all with their own set of tables. SAP customers typically run only a subset of all those functions so in practice a large part of those 80,000 tables will always remain empty.
  • All SAP tables use datarows locking (there is an interesting historical dimension here: check out the last big paragraph on this page)
  • All tables names are in uppercase; some table names contain special characters, like the slash character in “/BCV/C_QATTR” (I don’t have a clue what that name means, BTW)
  • Apart from the tables, there are also about 10,000 views. No stored procedures or triggers are used.
  • SAP makes heavy use of dynamic SQL (also known as “prepared statements”).
  • Many tables have a text or image column.
  • All tables are owned by one database user (and that’s not the dbo user).
  • The ASE database is accessed through ODBC.
  • SAP makes frequent use of the built-in ASE Job Scheduler (originally added in ASE 12.5.1).
  • The ASE server uses Unicode with the utf8 character set.

An architectural aspect worth mentioning is that the database is completely encapsulated in a SAP system; it runs as an embedded component.  Also, the database is always accessed through SAP tools, specifically SAP’s ‘DBA Cockpit’.

DBA Cockpit is pretty much what the name suggests, namely the central management tool for an SAP system.  In principle, you would never access the database in the SAP system manually outside of DBA Cockpit. In ASE parlance: you wouldn’t use ‘isql’ in an SAP system. Things like looking at query plans or MDA tables is all done through DBA Cockpit.  In fact, I have to say that SAP’s DBA Cockpit is a really nice management and monitoring tool. Because SAP controls the application and the middleware, they have been able to build pretty nice monitoring features into it, allowing the kind of detail and drill-down that every ASE user would like to have (before you ask: yes, DBA Cockpit is specifically designed for SAP Business Suite; and no, DBA Cockpit is not available as a separate tool outside the Business Suite context).  

Another question that has been asked frequently is if existing ASE DBAs will be able to help SAP customers with the implementation of Business Suite-on-ASE. My best guess is that this is will probably not be a very common sight. The primary skill needed to work with SAP customers is knowledge of the SAP application and systems architecture. Installation and creation of the ASE database is all handled by the SAP tools. 

Having said that, Sybase ASE skills will definitely be needed somewhere. Customers who run SAP systems on Sybase ASE, especially for large installations, will need some DBAs with ASE knowledge.  I’ve said it before: with the SAP acquisition, having Sybase skills (ASE, IQ, Replication Server) will eventually turn out to be a Good Thing.

With SAP’s recently stated ambition to become the #2 database company in a few years time (read more about that here), that’s another reason to keep your ASE skills up to date — and to migrate to ASE 15.7.

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