The cross-platform integration challenge

ERP SAP's Netweaver application platform has been heralded as a product that could drive the take-up of web services, but what...

ERP SAP's Netweaver application platform has been heralded as a product that could drive the take-up of web services, but what are the options for users wanting to adopt

SAP's Netweaver is getting a lot of industry attention as an interoperable web-based cross-application platform that can be used to develop SAP applications. Middleware based on the likes of .net, Java and IBM Websphere now supports Netweaver.

Launched in January 2003, Netweaver builds on the MySAP Technology initiative to distinguish between SAP's infrastructure, application and service offerings.

It enables the company to differentiate between the technical bits (Netweaver) and the overall architecture (Enterprise Service Architecture) that binds infrastructure and application components.

MySAP Technology introduced two integration layers for people and processes and Netweaver added a third "information" integration layer. This has two main objectives:

lIt positions Netweaver as an infrastructure capable of handling both structured and unstructured data

lIt enables Netweaver to meet the original enterprise resource planning goal of delivering high-quality, consistent data. This is done with Master Data Management (MDM), the only new technology component that Netweaver adds to what was already present in MySAP Technology. MDM aims to achieve master data integrity across all of SAP's application components.

Integration has always been a core concern of SAP, but prior to MySAP.com, the company focused on implementation. This meant that, until Netweaver, it kept diluting its integration message. SAP talked about integration from three points of view:

Products: portal and marketplace

Technology: web (service) standards

Business process and collaboration.

Collaboration, too often used as a synonym of integration, is now a subset of the people integration layer, although it does crop up now and then at all levels of the Netweaver and Enterprise Service Architecture message.

Despite its best efforts, SAP has had difficulty explaining what its infrastructure strategy is. The SAP sales organisation, as well as the company's customers, has struggled to get to grips with the ever-changing, increasingly complex SAP infrastructure strategy. This has led the company to focus on explaining, with real-life examples, why it is worth figuring out what Netweaver is about - the key issue is not what Netweaver is, or how to implement it, but what you can do with it.

Developers

Developers and partners have yet to flock to MySAP Technology and Netweaver, and SAP is keen to remedy the situation. Hence the launch, towards the end of 2003, of two initiatives.

The first, a certification programme, distinguishes between applications that are "certified for SAP Netweaver" (focused on integrating with Netweaver) and "powered by SAP Netweaver" (focused on using Netweaver as a platform. This is mostly targeted at those who want to develop xApps/PCAs). The programme has just started and will take at least 18 months to mature

The second initiative, the SAP Developer Network, aims to establish a technical community for Netweaver.

In 2004, SAP is moving away from the best-of-breed trend started with the New Dimension components in 1996 towards a "best-of-suite" approach that pulls all of its components together and focuses on how they interact with each other.

Towards the end of 2003 the company pledged that in 2004 it would synchronise its infrastructure components with each other under the Netweaver 2004 banner. It also said it would synchronise its infrastructure and application components so that version 2004 of a particular application component would be certified to use the Netweaver 2004 platform.

The Netweaver 2004 initiative does not mean that all technical components have reached similar levels of maturity: MDM is the baby of the bunch and has yet to mature further. The enterprise application integration component, called exchange infrastructure (XI), is now complete but has yet to prove itself. Only the portal component is genuinely mature, although it is still not 100% integrated with the rest of the SAP infrastructure stack.

In addition, not all application components make the best of what Netweaver has to offer: it will take another two or three years for them to do so.

Now that all of the infrastructure components are released, Enterprise Service Architecture and the Netweaver 2004 initiatives are all about large-scale process redesign. This redesign has only started with xApps (composite application) because the company has so far given priority to the actual delivery of its infrastructure components.

Moving to Netweaver

Netweaver represents a daunting endeavour, even for a company such as SAP. The same applies to SAP users who have also had to choose from a variety of options:

SAP R/3 Enterprise, which only comes with the SAP web application server. It does not feature any other Netweaver components

MySAP ERP, which offers the same functionality as R/3 enterprise, with some extra modules, and includes all the Netweaver components. It is significant in that it marks the end of R/3 as a brand name

Users can also mix and match SAP R/3 Enterprise and MySAP ERP with standalone application component families (such as MySAP CRM and MySAP SCM) and standalone application components (SAP APO, for example)

MySAP Business Suite, which replaces MySAP.com and consists of all application and Netweaver components minus xApps, XI for non-SAP applications, or any products SAP may roll out in the future. SAP's pricing and licensing options favour the Business Suite offering

Small and medium-sized enterprises can opt for the SAP Smart Business Solutions: either SAP All-in-One, a scaled-down version of MySAP Business Suite that runs on Netweaver, or SAP Business One, which does not runs on Netweaver but is likely to be ported within two years - the 2002 product currently runs on Windows.

Laurent Lachal is a senior analyst at Ovum



The route to Netweaver

If you want to implement Netweaver, you can either:

Upgrade from SAP R/3 to MySAP ERP, MySAP Business Suite or the latest releases of MySAP products

Deploy xApps (these are currently the most likely to make the best of what Netweaver has to offer) or any other partner solutions built on Netweaver

License individual Netweaver components.

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