As Oracle waxes eloquent about Fusion Middlewares platform uptick—the company announced April 4 that 30,000 customers are using Fusion Middleware—and SAP AG gears up for its yearly Sapphire user conference, customers are still largely in the dark about imminent technology changes at both companies.
A recent report by IT research firm Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., written by analysts John Rymer, Paul Hamerman and Ray Wang, looks to solve some of the conundrums of SAP and Oracles next-generation application and infrastructure development.
The report, released March 31, takes a comprehensive look at Oracles Fusion Architecture and its underlying Fusion middleware and applications as well as SAPs Enterprise Services Architecture and its underlying NetWeaver integration platform and mySAP 2007 applications.
While its hard to pin down a single conclusion from the wide-ranging report, the Forrester analysts make a good point for users to keep in mind: Both Oracle and SAP are seeking deeper-than-ever customer commitments to their technology stacks.
“Oracle wants to own from the database up through cross-functional business processes,” writes Forrester. “SAP is slightly less ambitious, seeking only a single stack from the middleware up through cross-functional applications.”
Forresters summation is that companies will, in the end, require more than all-Oracle or all-SAP (as each vendor would have it), for three distinct reasons. First, neither Oracle nor SAP can handle users middleware requirements, in Forresters view. While both stacks are capable, they each have their limitations.
“For mainframe integration, IBM is the best of the best,” writes Forrester. “For large-scale and complex applications, BEA Systems, IBM and Tibco Software have been more widely used … application neutral middleware products also provide the breadth of integration and scalability that many large companies require.”
Forrester also posits that large companies have diverse business processes requirements, and a good number of those companies will be able to rely on SAP or Oracle to automate only a portion of their processes.
“Best-of-breed will continue to be vital in industry-specific areas and functions where the big application vendors have not distinguished themselves,” writes Forrester.
Finally, IT shops needs to think seriously about retaining vendor and architectural leverage. “The consolidated stacks advocated by Oracle and SAP promise economies of scale,” writes Forrester.
“However, as our research indicates, the risk of vendor lock-in remains high, despite the vendors respective support for standards … Customers risk getting locked out of innovations in the new world of SOA [service-oriented architecture] and getting locked into high costs at renewal time.”
The next-generation application and infrastructure development underway at both Oracle and SAP (and to some degree Microsoft as well) is similar. Both companies are developing services-based architectures—Oracle with Fusion Architecture and SAP with its Enterprise Services Architecture.
Both companies are developing a new set of applications that will be broken down into component parts to let users SOAs and Web services integrate based on business processes. Where they differ is that Oracle is basing Fusion Applications on its E-Business Suite, and bringing in “the best of” functionality from its PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel Systems acquisitions.
SAP is building on its mySAP 2005 suite of applications, and pulling in componentization work its been doing over the past couple of years.
Oracle is building out its Fusion Middleware platform, which is based on existing products. SAP is evolving its NetWeaver integration platform to a Business Process Platform.
But the similarities stop there. While the result of each vendors development work will be “enterprise apps unlike any previous generation,” writes Forrester, SAP and Oracle are pursuing different paths.
“The differences are stark,” writes Forrester. “Oracle will continue to build through acquisition; SAP will rely more on internal development and partnerships.
Oracles next-generation apps will run only on its own database (Oracle has not gone public with this statement); SAPs applications will run only on its own middleware.”
SAP is looking to ship its next-generation suite in 2007; Oracle plans to ship theirs in 2008.
The two companies will battle over a couple technology fronts, according to Forrester: Master data management, analytics and repository architectures. While SAP has stronger momentum in the market, a better articulated value and a better partner strategy, Oracle has a strong middleware platform and greater support for standards.
On Common Ground
Despite their differences, Forrester found a number of areas where SAP and Oracle have settled on common development tactics.
First and foremost, Forrester has come to the conclusion that both companies are writing “substantial amounts of new code” for their upcoming application suites—a fact that could lead to issues for users looking for a standard upgrade, rather than a migration.
“Both vendors dispute our conclusion, saying they are primarily repurposing existing code to create their new application suites,” writes Forrester. “Neither vendor offered hard evidence to support its claims.”
Likewise, both Oracle and SAP are relying on a number of common standards, including Java/J2EE Web services, BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) and HTTP.
Where they differ is that Oracle will embrace more J2EE and Web services standards than SAP, while SAP will provide BPEL editing that converts BPEL into a proprietary runtime format.
Both companies, according to Forrester, have chosen proprietary technologies—no surprises here—to optimize the performance of their architectures. Oracle will optimize at the database level, while SAP will optimize at the application platform and Web user interface.
Finally, both companies have talked extensively about, and are building, service repositories that will sit at the center of their architectures.
Like other repositories planned—IBM announced its SOA repository earlier this week—Oracle and SAP repositories will store Web services and business process definitions. But, they will also hold user interface, user and platform metadata, according to Forrester.
The major difference between the two offerings? Oracle is currently using its repository at both design and run time, while SAPs, which is still under development, will be used at design time only, Forrester said.
There are some other key areas that SAP and Oracle are taking a similar stance on, including process modeling (SAP plans to use its own and IDS Scheers Aris toolset; Oracle is using its own tools and is reportedly in talks with IDS Scheer), composite applications and analytics.
SAP, in conjunction with partners, has come out with a stable of about 150 composite applications, or xApps (though some industry watchers believe SAP has stalled in its own internal development of xApps). Oracle is still talking about composite applications.
As for analytics, SAP and Oracle appear to be neck-and-neck.
“Both vendors have incorporated analytics into their next-generation architectures,” writes Forrester. “But neither has made the investments required for market leadership in business intelligence.”
So with at least another year left for even the early code of next-generation applications to be available from the worlds largest and second largest software vendors (SAP and Oracle, respectively) whats a customer to do?
Forrester has a few ideas: Break down the architectures and plans of both companies to see what matches your strategic imperatives; focus on the major new technologies used in both architectures—portals, services deployment, integrated analytics and Business Activity Monitoring; acquire enough Fusion Middleware or enough SAP NetWeaver to start learning; and evaluate alternative paths.
“Take the opportunity to evaluate the other options available to you in plotting your course to SOA-based applications,” suggests Forrester. “You have buy and build alternatives.”