Weaves Microsoft .NET And IBM WebSphere Into Its ESA Tapestry
- March 6, 2003
Part Two: Market Impact
January SAP AG (NYSE: SAP) announced its Enterprise
Services Architecture (ESA), the blueprint for complete,
services-based architecture business solutions, which should eventually allow
companies to drive additional business value from existing increasingly legacy-status
technology investments, and enabling, possibly for the first time, enterprise-scale
usage of Web services. The announcement included a new product SAP NetWeaver,
the first enabler of the Enterprise Services Architecture. SAP NetWeaver is
an immediately available, services-oriented platform for all SAP solutions,
which should allow organizations to integrate people, information, and business
processes across technologies and organizations. (See Part
One for details).
embarked on a long (and likely a never-ending) journey to keep abreast of cutting-edge
enterprise infrastructure platform requirements, while, at the same time, not
leaving technologically laggard customers in the lurch, SAP continues to slowly
but surely simplify its overwhelmingly piled up maze of tools, frameworks, methodologies,
applications, and what not, with ever-changing naming conventions. SAP has been
incrementally executing what it committed to way back at SAPPHIRE 2001 when
it first unveiled product architecture as the modern technical underpinnings
of its broadly functional applications (see SAP
- A Humble Giant From The Reality Land?).
those announcements sounded grandstanding and bedazzling at that time, then
the latest announcements, although still slightly mind-numbing, would be the
next iterative fleshing out of the vision. Having the largest market share and
the broadest offering among enterprise application providers inevitably represents
a double-edged sword, as it also brings with it a major challenge of new technology
introduction and new application deployment, while ensuring that it spare existing
customers from any shock-therapy-like changes. SAP indeed seems to have been
dedicated to it, with some initial signs of a success.
some may jump to the criticism that NetWeaver is a spruced up and more astutely
renamed (i.e., now having a real product association) collection of long-existing
technology tidbits that was previously less-compellingly marketed as mySAP Technology,
the true importance lies in the fact that SAP might have finally seen the light
at the end of the awfully long tunnel of developing its future platform upon
which all new modules will be built. As seen in the Event
Summary, NetWeaver features SAP Enterprise Portal,
SAP Business Intelligence (BI), SAP
Business Information Warehouse (BW), SAP Exchange
Infrastructure (XI), and SAP Web Application
Server (WAS), which have all also been outlined within
mySAP Technology at the end of 2001.
is Part Two of a three-part note.
One detailed the SAP announcement.
Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.
Web Application Server
SAP Web Application Server (WAS) still provides Web services through platform-independent,
maintainable business Web applications and technologies, which encompass J2EE
and ABAP, and newly embraced connectivity with other unavoidable technologies
such as .NET. In addition, with Web Dynpro, the WAS provides
a Web development tool and runtime environment via a presentation layer technology
that should allow device-independent user interfaces (UIs) to be rendered in
either Java or ABAP environments, and again, with the future support for .NET
environments. The product uses smart' forms to replace SAP original scripts,
by which SAP hopes to greatly reduce nearly 2,000 less-compellingly looking
forms in its applications.
portal infrastructure still provides user-centric collaboration based on data
unification and role management capabilities that deliver relevant information
to users, easing navigation and allowing people to work smarter. With a common,
seamless point of entry across disparate systems and information sources including
any back-end system the user will be presented with only relevant personalized
information and should therefore make the best decisions based on previously
invisible informational relationships.
but not least, the exchange infrastructure provides process-centric collaboration
based on shared business knowledge for designing, configuring, changing and
executing collaborative business processes. Its realm of operation is in tying
together processes across multiple applications.
has since spent time enhancing these former mySAP Technology products, by delivering
the 5.0 version of its portal, the 3.0 version of BW, and the 1.0 version of
the XI. The products have even reportedly gained momentum in the market, with
SAP reporting over 500 new portal customers in the last year.
of the more exciting products preceding NetWeaver (i.e., its MDM part) was the
Collaborative Master Data Management (CMDM),
which ties the notion of cleansing all of the data in many dispersed systems
of record. This means not only having one unified copy of the customer, supplier,
employee, or item master (rather than dozens), but also understanding the context
in which, e.g., items are linked to products, stock item or spare parts record.
The fact that SAP has been developing this initiative with several prominent
corporate customers, including Dow, Motorola,
and Nokia, might give some vindication to Oracle's
long-touted notion of a single database with a single data model underlying
all business applications, creating a so-called "single version of the truth"
for all enterprise data (see Stalled
Oracle Fumbling For A Jump-Start Kit).
SAP has not been known for speed, its holistic and meticulous approach to new
product delivery this time again may give customers some breathing space between
adopting new software standards and solutions, while at the same time upgrading
and maintaining custom legacy environments. Oracle, J.D. Edwards
and PeopleSoft, on the other hand, while gaining market shares
with their respective groundbreaking technologies a few years ago, have felt
the displeasure of client bases that were far from being ready to make a significant
technological leap. As a result, these vendors had to backpedal and rethink
their older product releases discontinuation strategies.
believe that with NetWeaver and ESA, customers should benefit from both the
strong heritage of SAP and its recent acceptance of the open integration reality,
since its traditional strengths of scalability, broad functionality and mission-critical
performance are now extended to both J2EE and .NET. Like its predecessor mySAP
Technology, NetWeaver is envisioned to reduce the pain of abrupt, disruptive
shifts in technology with continuous, evolutionary improvement.
a result of this evolutionary approach, customers should be able to modify,
enhance and adapt individual Web services without changing other services, mitigating
the need for the huge technology platform shifts and upgrades of the past disruptive
technology advents. This should in principle allow companies to protect existing
investments and add new functionality that can be reasonably easily designed,
built, deployed, accessed and combined with existing Web services and syndicated
across division, company and geographic boundaries.
NetWeaver platform should eventually give SAP a strong foundation for bridging
its existing predominantly ABAP-written applications and the rapidly expanding
collection of Web standard-based applications. Without having to rewrite its
existing applications in Java or .NET, SAP users should now be able to play
in both worlds. Once they have deployed the new application server to run their
SAP applications, users will be able to develop their own custom applications
in more pervasive programming languages and Web services without necessarily
having to purchase, deploy, or maintain an application-independent proprietary
third-party application server.
hereby maintains its focus on solving down-to-earth' business problems and
on positioning itself as a strategic partner to its customers. Particularly
during these times of risk-averse customers, SAP's aura of a stalwart vendor
and its prudent approaches to solving customers' business problems have become
even more attractive and assuring both to its huge customer base and to new
prospects. SAP's current posture is also the result of several years of a painstaking
effort to radically change its business philosophy, to reinvent itself into
a more nimble setup, and to reverse bad market perception.
company has by and large made the right strategic decisions it has embarked
on making its proverbially unwieldy R/3 product more granular and open, and
it has delivered attractive ERP-adjacent components that harness its latest
technology foundations, given the demand has been moving from the center to
the outskirts of any enterprise, and interest in solutions that promote collaborative
communication throughout the entire value chain is ever-rising.
has to that end been pursuing the right avenues to technologically keep its
product abreast of the latest market trends. Its recently unveiled Internet-based
product architecture roadmap that includes Web services, portals, exchanges,
BI, BPM and Web Application Server (WAS) bundled with its knowledge of business
processes should bode well for promoting it into one of a few vendors that will
be able to provide applications infrastructure foundation (an enterprise-level
equivalent of operational systems upon which other applications would be able
to be grafted). SAP is by no means the only vendor trying to oblige enterprises
in their mindset of increasingly seeking business process-oriented interoperable
with its 9i Applications Server (9iAS) Enterprise
Edition, PeopleSoft with its AppConnect, J.D. Edwards
with its eXternal Process Integration (XPI)/eXternal
Business Process (XBP), Invensys/Baan
with its ArchestrA/OpenWorldX, IFS with its
IFS Connect (see IFS
To Be At Customers' (Web) Service) and Siebel Systems with
its Universal Applications Network (UAN) (see
Rallies Its Integration Alliance Troops) have all laid out pieces of their
enterprise platform roadmaps. However, hardly any of the above can, at this
stage, claim the content and multi-layer comprehensiveness of NetWeaver/ESA,
nor the ability to wholeheartedly embrace both .NET and J2EE frameworks at all
the above levels of integration.
battle for ownership of the collaborative infrastructure platform has been raging
for some time now (see The
Application Server War Escalates), with increasingly blurred demarcation
lines between network, database, middleware and application components. SAP's
introduction of its WAS back in 2001 was a noteworthy move, as it had long been
the remaining major piece of the puzzle for its integration platform offering
(given it has conceded Microsoft's supremacy on the desktop, and Oracle's/IBM's
supremacy in the database realm).
company had thereby made a major shift from providing points of integration'
solutions through its data access engine called Business Applications
Programming Interfaces (BAPIs) running over a proprietary
remote procedure call (RPC) protocol called RFC (Remote
Function Call). SAP WAS would consequently provide a strategic integration
platform for its customers, allowing SAP to more elegantly offer possibly a
complete collaborative solution even when some of the component applications
are not natively provided by SAP (that was possible via multiple BAPIs though,
but in quite a cumbersome way).
its Exchange Integration superseded SAP's proprietary enterprise applications
integration (EAI) architecture called Application Link Enabling
(ALE) that was mainly suited for asynchronous transaction process
needs, as a triggering mechanism to set again proprietary SAP IDocs
(Intermediate Documents) in motion as a means of data flow
between SAP modules and/or to third-party modules. Consequently, at first sight,
NetWeaver addresses the major infrastructure requirements of an exchange platform,
including internal integration within a single company and external between
companies, business process workflow across applications, identity/role management,
and content management. The power users' (rather than programmers' per se) ability
to dynamically write business process rules and to share them internally and
externally, might give other vendors pause and force them to come up with their
the leadership position and the consequent influence, SAP's decision on any
technology carries significant specific weight. To that end, having a company
with the stature of SAP supporting componentized Web Services technology is
likely to increase the concept's awareness and speed up its still fledgling
adoption. SAP's endorsement of Web Services technology might help it make up
for its latency of endorsing the component (object oriented) technology several
years ago. Web Servicces have a potential of becoming the latest evolution of
application integration technology and/or a revolutionary new application design
model by enabling developers to create or enhance applications by connecting
granular components that are accessed via platform-independent Web protocols.
With SAP NetWeaver and the Enterprise Services Architecture, SAP will have delivered
the blueprint for turning Web services from a concept into business reality
of uniting hardware, information, and software platforms & applications.
Web services leverage the aged concept of objects' reusability, they may finally
offer that extra mile by adherence to standards that are taking hold (see The
SOAP Opera Progresses - Helping XML to Rule the World). Further, they tend
to be simpler in their nature, partly owing to the above collaborative Internet
standards, and they also tend to be higher-level abstractions, which implies
more likely platform independence and "mixing and matching" opportunity by developers.
Furthermore, the strategy will help SAP further open and/or componentize its
product, as standards like eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and eXtensible Stylesheet
Language (XSL) make it possible to share data and have a common look-and-feel
across an application, without necessarily dreadfully digging in the source
decision to support more open standards from popular programming languages
like Java, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and C++/C# to its support for
evolving standards such as XML, Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration
(UDDI), Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and Simple Object Access Protocol
(SOAP) should give some homework to many enterprise application vendors. Moreover,
SAP's initial open preference for Java over the Microsoft's .NET counterpart,
and a consequent strained relationship between SAP and Microsoft of late might
have been hereby defused. Still, although SAP WAS remains Java-centric (i.e.,
J2EE will be supported natively, while .NET will have to settle only for a support
through a number of adapters/connectors), Microsoft gains some vindication via
SAP's investment to integrate NetWeaver with .NET at the levels of development
tools, integration platforms, office components, content management and portal.
This should be a good enough endorsement for Microsoft to live with (given IBM
WebSpehere's similar treatment) and abandon any more open hostility towards
it is also not very likely SAP will use this technology outline to aggressively
pursue application server or EAI markets, it will certainly make the respective
niche vendors' jobs of selling into fertile SAP client base very difficult down
the track. SAP might have conceded to the fact that its customers might not
necessarily accept the one-size-fits-all mantra when it comes to its functional
applications, but SAP hopes they may likely opt for that approach when it comes
to the enterprise integration and infrastructure.
given the nascence of the offering, in the short term, it will not affect nor
lessen the value proposition of independent EAI vendors such as SeeBeyond,
Tibco Software, Vitria, Mercator
or webMethods, or vendors that provide generic application
servers, such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle,
Microsoft and BEA Systems. In the long term,
however, these will have to devise an answer to SAP's superior business process
level of integration and modeling within NetWeaver, in addition to their EAI
offerings' mere immaculate transactional performance. Given that SAP expects
its users to not only run SAP applications on NetWeaver, but to also be able
to run third-party applications and custom applications on it, one might expect
to see the commoditization of the infrastructure market down the track. Although
integration servers may reduce the disparate applications integration complexity
to a degree because all the applications plug into a central hub, the EAI servers
themselves tend to be proprietary and non-standard.
are increasingly desiring to do away with point-to-point integration approaches
at that data level (with extensive lists of custom Application Programming Interfaces
(APIs) and connectors/adapters) and to replace it with more inter-enterprise
ranging integrations, based on business processes that extend beyond the traditional
definitional boundaries of a single application suite. NetWeaver seems to fit
the description at least within SAP shops, owing to a number of envisioned built-in
connections (hooks) in xApps for accessing various legacy databases, drawings,
documents or so, and thereby avoid the need for unwieldy point-to-point connections.
importance of NetWeaver might particularly lie in the fact that it enables SAP
and its partners to create the cross-applications from a variety of existing
SAP and external systems leveraging SAP's newly delivered tools, frameworks,
rules and methodologies. SAP might thereby be able to extend the reach of its
core ERP functional modules with a series of xApps, a new combined middleware-application
layer that can either sit atop of a heterogeneous applications' concoction or
simply be used to overlay and extend an existing SAP infrastructure. They will
supposedly feature the following characteristics: 1) being cross-functional,
2) being collaborative, 3) being built with reusable components, and 4) will
use SAP's NetWeaver technology stack.
xApps will be built on SAP middleware technology, the underlying applications
do not necessarily have to be SAP applications, since SAP XI can be used to
integrate the different applications and their associated data, while the business
process logic not found in existing applications can be incorporated into the
xApp by developing on the SAP Web Application Server in either Java. .NET or
the traditional ERP in 1990s superseded many planning, financials, and logistics
software islands of information, xApps harness the users' crying need to leverage
existing ERP and other legacy applications. Typical enterprise applications
are built around functional lonely islands, such as financials/accounting, manufacturing,
logistics or Human Resources (HR), and xApps are devised to let users tie together
pieces of these different enterprise applications to support a complex business
process. For example, a xApp could be built to support a field service customer
relationship management (CRM) component that uses service workers' skill information
stored in an HR system, parts inventory information stored in the inventory
application, and service cars information stored in fleet management to coordinate
the deployment of field workers and parts to a repair site.
there is not much enthusiasm for another round of excruciating big-bang ERP
implementations, pulling existing functional applications together into new
xApps should offer companies ways to incrementally improve business processes
and fix some functional gaps in order management (or logistics, supply chain,
product development/engineering, supplier management, or any other area for
that matter). SAP on the other hand will gladly allocate its R&D funds to leverage
its existing stacks with newer technologies rather than to develop brand new
prepackaged applications. To that end, built into the SAP xApps infrastructure
is also the ability to use business analytics and Key Performance Indicators
(KPIs) to measure the impact of the newly automated business processes, which
borders on BPM. xApps promises companies the ability to innovate and continually
improve business processes, leveraging the applications they have long installed.
This should sound like music to both sides' ears, as users want more functionality
delivered through portals that tie disparate applications and functions together,
in a visually seamless manner, whereas SAP certainly has the technical assets
concludes Part Two of a three-part note.
detailed recent announcements.
Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.