SAP Weaves Microsoft .NET And IBM WebSphere Into Its ESA Tapestry

Event Summary

On January 16, SAP AG (NYSE: SAP), the leading provider of enterprise applications, in its intent not to be left behind in the rush for the enterprise infrastructure and integration platform El Dorado, further outlined its open-standards-based infrastructure blueprint that should eventually enable technical interoperability and should drive collaborative business in an admittedly heterogeneous IT world. The vendor 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.

By combining SAP's business process and industry solution expertise with the openness of Web services and other commonly adopted technology standards, SAP's new enterprise architecture blueprint is aimed at providing companies with a template for the creation of fully integrated IT environments built entirely on services-based business solutions that would extend across systems and beyond business four-wall boundaries. Going forward, all SAP solutions will reportedly be developed using the ESA blueprint, and are expected to set new standards in usability, scalability, adaptability, and extensibility.

The ESA outlines how an integration and application platform is used to orchestrate business processes by means of packaged composite applications across and/or atop existing systems leveraging Web services. Gradually building up on an arsenal of technologies the vendor has introduced so far, the ESA will reportedly introduce a new layer of flexibility to manage all aspects of a given business process, including people (all roles participating across the value chain), business systems (be they SAP or non-SAP), and information (structured or unstructured). Services-based architectures have been increasingly recognized in the 2000s as the way to solve the growing integration challenge.

Looking back, SAP's 3-tier client/server architecture introduced in 1992 soon after became the industry 'de facto standard,' providing the fundamental structure upon which client/server systems enabled information and process integration at the user, application, and data levels. The 3-tier client/server architecture remains a highly-scalable framework which provides the foundation for SAP business solutions today at more than 19,000 companies worldwide. While the 3-tier client/server architecture then abruptly replaced existing mainframe based systems, the ESA is instead devised to allow companies to gradually add important new levels of flexibility while allowing customers to maintain and build upon their existing solutions investments through Web services.

SAP claims to have already begun to deliver on the promise of ESA with the first shipments of SAP xApps, a new breed of packaged process-oriented composite applications that snap-on to existing diversified IT environments. The first SAP xApp cross-application, Resource and Program Management (xRPM), was shipped globally to customers in December 2002, with many additional xApps scheduled for shipment in 2003. However, xRPM will not be the first deployed xApp, given TransAlta has already deployed the xApp Visual Information for Plants (xVIp), developed by independent software vendor NRX. In a demo given during the recent SAP TechEd conference keynote address, xVIp was shown integrating financial, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), and asset lifecycle management processes using structured and non-structured data from SAP and non-SAP applications. Developed by SAP and partner companies, xApps target specific business process needs -- such as advanced product portfolio management, plant maintenance management, and post-merger integration -- by delivering new functionality leveraging information and services that come from a variety of systems located both inside and outside the enterprise.

Going forward, the ESA will reportedly provide the framework for all development and delivery of new capabilities across the SAP solution portfolio. For example, these will include new integration scenarios within the SAP solution suite, new capabilities delivered on top of a SAP industry-specific solution, functionality extensions to SAP's core ERP solutions, and new levels of flexibility to enable custom development projects.

This is Part One of a three-part note.

Part Two will discuss the Market Impact.

Part Three will present Challenges and make User Recommendations.

SAP NetWeaver

On the same day SAP announced 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. Additionally, SAP aspires to take the technology high ground by designing SAP NetWeaver to be fully interoperable with Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere (one of the leading Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based platforms), providing customers with flexibility to manage heterogeneous infrastructures. To that end, SAP, IBM, and Microsoft have recently established a joint collaborative technology support centers which will staff and support the companies focus on customer projects around the usage of SAP NetWeaver and its integration with IBM WebSphere and Microsoft .Net.

SAP was one of the first companies to deliver a technology platform to enable collaborative business when it introduced mySAP Technology in 2001 (see SAP Opens The 'Miss Congeniality' Contest). The advanced iteration of SAP's technology stack, SAP NetWeaver should now serve as the backbone for the SAP suite of solutions, delivering possibly a complete, open, and flexible infrastructure that allows companies to realize additional value from existing IT investments.

With NetWeaver, SAP introduces two capabilities that extend the technology stack beyond the initial capabilities of mySAP Technology. First, the new composite application framework built into SAP NetWeaver should enable SAP and its partners to create the above-mentioned xApps targeting cross-functional business processes through tools, frameworks, rules, and methodologies. These would include, for instance, an object access layer that allows customers to abstract from the underlying heterogeneity and to create a unified development and deployment environment. Second, SAP NetWeaver also includes Master Data Management (MDM) services, which is SAP's first standardized offering designed to solve the widespread challenges of data integration from multiple systems, physical locations, and diverse vendors. MDM should ensure information integrity across the business network by allowing companies to consolidate, harmonize, and centrally master data in heterogeneous IT environments. In addition to these new capabilities, SAP NetWeaver is comprised of the following:

  • Multi-channel access with both Web and mobile access to business systems in connected and disconnected scenarios;

  • Enterprise portal providing internal and external unified user interfaces through a Web browser in role-based fashion;

  • Collaboration providing real-time and asynchronous communication between people, in either a moderated or free-form fashion;

  • Business Intelligence (BI) providing the infrastructure for extracting, aggregating and analyzing structured business information across the enterprise;

  • Knowledge Management (KM) that unifies multiple sources of unstructured information, such as document management, file services, XML feeds, and so on for providing and managing knowledge;

  • An integration broker -- for internal and external process integration, based on XML messaging;

  • Business Process Management (BPM) providing design, development, execution, monitoring, and management of business processes across the extended enterprise;

  • J2EE/ABAP -- provisioning of native, secured Web services implemented and developed in J2EE or in proprietary Advanced Business Applications Programming (ABAP) language and extensibility through Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere;

  • Database and operating system independence since it is open and operable on all relevant platforms; and

  • Life-cycle management providing development, composing and modeling, testing, deployment, and management of the entire software landscape.

However, while SAP acknowledges the need for heterogeneous functional application modules, that would not necessarily be the case when it comes to the integration platform. Namely, the vendor touts that a key cost driver for business today is the challenge of integration, since in today's heterogeneous environment, a customer choosing a best of breed approach for its integration technologies (e.g., bringing together portal and BI from different vendors) is faced with the daunting challenge of integrating disparate technologies.

The customer must first make the technologies work with each other before any new business value can be realized, and, moreover, this integration challenge is faced not just at the outset, but must be managed over the life cycle of the solutions. Conversely, SAP claims that an integrated platform, such as SAP NetWeaver, significantly reduces cost of ownership by avoiding custom integration. When shipping business solutions that are powered by SAP NetWeaver, SAP pledges to pre-configure those solutions with business content such as user roles, taxonomies, reports, queries, and business process templates, all for the customers to be able to significantly accelerate their time to value.

SAP Partners Embrace NetWeaver

Many different types of SAP partners have reportedly embraced the SAP NetWeaver Platform, and are announcing their own support for the platform and the Enterprise Services Architecture. SAP system integrators who will be dedicating significant resources from their integration, portals, BI, and Java practice areas, and train them on SAP NetWeaver include: Accenture, BearingPoint, Bristlecone, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Deloitte Consulting (soon to become Braxton), EzCommerce Global Solutions, IDS Scheer, and IBM Business Consulting Services. Together, these SAP system integrators will reportedly commit to training over 6,000 consultants on SAP NetWeaver.

In order to drive adoption of SAP NetWeaver and support the development of new SAP xApps, SAP is also working to foster and support a developer community that will facilitate the transfer of knowledge and information between developers inside and outside of SAP. The vendor will support this group in providing technical articles, Web training, code samples, evaluation tools, special interest groups and developer-specific events, in addition to detailed technical reference materials. A multitude of SAP partners have announced their intent to build xApps, powered by SAP NetWeaver. The list includes Accenture, Bristlecone, Digital Fuel, IBM Business Consulting Services, EzCommerce Global Solutions, Lighthammer, NRX, TechniData, and Vedaris. Independent software vendors (ISV) who will also add support for the SAP NetWeaver platform include: Actional, Ascential Software Corp., Business Layers, Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Decisions, Digital Fuel, Documentum, FileNET, FileTek, Interwoven, Mercury Interactive, Seeburger, SeeBeyond, Stellent, WebEx, and webMethods.

There are reportedly three ways for customers to take advantage of SAP NetWeaver. First, SAP is already delivering SAP NetWeaver to customers as the technology platform that powers the full suite of SAP business solutions. Secondly, customers can use SAP NetWeaver to solve specific integration needs (for example, mySAP Enterprise Portal and/or mySAP Business Intelligence). Finally, customers can leverage SAP NetWeaver as their strategic integration and application platform to drive new value from their existing heterogeneous systems (for example, a customer who wishes to integrate and extend a number of existing systems on all levels). MDM services will begin customer shipments in the third quarter of 2003, while SAP NetWeaver is shipping with SAP solutions today. For existing customers, SAP NetWeaver will come as part of new releases, and, as such, is not a replacement of technology, but rather part of a customer's regular upgrade process.

This concludes Part One of a three-part note.

Part Two will discuss the Market Impact.

Part Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.

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