Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 15 is the newest relational database management system (RDBMS) from Sybase and succeeds ASE 12.5.3. The numeric skip reflects the superstitious avoidance of "13" (Europe and the Americas) and "14" (China). The skip also reflects upon the scale of changes in the two releases; the query processor, for instance, was completely rewritten in ASE 15. Most of the authors are database administrators at Nielsen Media Research where they participated in beta testing of ASE 15. The book appears to be a byproduct of their beta testing and subsequent production usage.
After a mild jibe at Larry Ellison (Oracle CEO) on the first two pages, we encounter the disclaimer "SYBASE, INC., AND ITS SUBSIDIARIES DO NOT TAKE ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CONTENT OF THE BOOK. SYBASE DISCLAIMS ANY LIABILITY FOR INACCURACIES, MISINFORMATION, OR ANY CONTENT CONTAINED IN, OR LEFT OUT OF THIS BOOK." I'm rather dumbstruck by the disclaimer and the usage of "official" in the book title. It smacks of false advertising and the inclusion of "official" in the title is not beneficial.
Progressing to the introduction we see that the intended audience is (primarily) database administrators, technical managers, system architects, and developers. The first two chapters provide an overview of the new features and some pre-15 features. A layered approach has been well-established with these two chapters. (But have the authors created an onion or a cultured pearl?)
The heart of the book follows with chapters on semantic partitions and very large database (VLDB) support, scrollable cursors, query processing (features, performance issues, and availability of processing metrics), computed columns, and functional indexes. The topics are covered thoroughly (purpose, extensive sample code, usage rules, benefits, limitations, and impact to current code are usually included). Many subtle feature complexities are addressed within these topics. Some of the thoroughness is provided by pasting large SQL outputs (e.g., outputs of sp_help for all 12 valid combinations of clustered/nonclustered and local/global indexes are included). Shorter chapters on the graphical plan analyzer, software asset management, and server installation complete the new features.
The authors provide considerable repetition throughout the book. The same DDL for the Rental table is specified on pages 243, 247, and 250. This can be helpful since the reader is not inconvenienced with having to flip back pages to understand specific contexts - unless he is checking to see if there had been a subtle change to the table definition to illustrate a point. A blanket statement at the beginning of the book that states that DDL code is unchanged within sections of the book would have been helpful. On the top of page 199 a subtle critique of the old Oracle optimizer is made: "Remember, ASE uses a cost-based optimizer, not something like a `rules-based' optimizer." Three sentences later we have "ASE employs a cost-based optimizer or query processor." The difficulty that many technicians have in presenting well-written information is shown on page 113: "A global index can also be prefixed. Prefixed global indexes are available for all data partitioning strategies. Non-prefixed global indexes are not supported in ASE 15 as the industry deems this concept to not be useful in real applications." A good editor would have been helpful.
On page 152 the authors characterize non-scrollable cursor processing: "In prior releases of ASE, subsequent fetches from a cursor set were often performed within a while loop. The while loop would check for @@sqlstatus of 2." A check for @@sqlstatus UNEQUAL to 2 is actually intended. A better practice is to check for a status value of 0 for the "while" loop and have a separate "if" check for 2 after the loop. Still, the valid point is made that one will have to check both @@fetch_status (new) and @@sqlstatus with scrollable cursors.
Some mention of the Volcano query processing system, which the ASE query processor is based upon, would be nice. (Why did Sybase choose this model? What are its theoretical strengths and weaknesses?) But I readily admit that this would have been a fringe benefit.
The latter part of the book covers some pre-15 improvements: multiple temporary databases, Monitoring Diagnostics API (MDA) tables, JAVA, XML and Web Services. I wish that the authors had also included the "kill <spid> with statusonly" command. This option for "kill" does not seem to be in any of the current (June 2006) Sybase documentation.
There are two appendixes. For those who believe in certification, the first appendix is a useful sample ASE 15 certification exam with 80 questions and answers. The second appendix is on three fictional use cases involving historical data, XML storage, and an order processing system using cursors. These describe business issues and the advantages and limitations of several design options. This appendix may be of use when trying to persuade management to upgrade to ASE 15. This technical book is somewhat unusual for its type in that the authors have interspersed marketing and management perspectives throughout the book. The table of contents is detailed and the index is comprehensive.
The authors have provided a thorough guide to the new features of ASE 15.0. Are there any reasonable alternatives? The Sybase online documentation is voluminous and free, however the "What's New for ASE 15" section is only 16 pages long. Printed versions of the online documentation will cost $600+. The Administrator's Guide to Sybase ASE 15 by Jeffrey Garbus and Ashish Gupta is also about 460 pages long. Its scope is all (or almost all) of ASE and therefore there is less material for the new features. Data partitioning, for example, is a terse seven pages in Garbus and Gupta versus 92 pages in Taylor, et al. (Note, however, that this chapter includes 25 plus pages of sp_help outputs.) Finally, there are good technical articles in the International Sybase User Group Technical Journal issues, which are spread out over quarterly issues during 2004-2006. Collectively, they are about 100 pages long and cover most, but not all, of the topics in The Official New Features Guide to Sybase ASE 15. In particular, a "Capturing Query Plan Metrics in ASE 15" Technical Journal article is an excerpt from this book.
If you are already using ASE 15 (why are you reading this review?) then this book is probably not worthwhile. You should have enough familiarity with the basics so that the above-listed alternatives will address your needs. If you are not yet on ASE 15 then I recommend the book as your introduction to ASE 15. In this context I rate it as a cultured pearl. There is a lot of new material to digest; using summary references or Sybase technical documents is not the approach to take. The difference is that this book provides guidance. A final thought is whether the authors plan to provide a revised edition. Additional security features, archive database access, (scalar) user defined functions, and shared disk clusters should all be in 15.0.2 by the summer of 2007.