SAP Announces NetWeaver 7.1

Upgrades to the SAP platform return the discussion to where it started: process automation, management and orchestration.

LAS VEGAS—During the whole brouhaha over Business ByDesign—SAPs on-demand, mid-market suite announced nearly a year before it was unveiled last month—the companys NetWeaver integration platform seemed all but forgotten. At this years Tech Ed conference here, NetWeaver is again taking center stage.

SAP announced Oct. 2 the next iteration of NetWeaver, which brings the discussion around the integration and development platform full circle—back to business process orchestration, where it started when NetWeaver was announced in 2003. There are three main pieces being added to the NetWeaver stack in version 7.1: Composition Environment, Enterprise Services Repository and NetWeaver Process Integration.

By incorporating the three elements into NetWeaver, SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, hopes to lay the foundation for business process management in the world of SOA (service-oriented architecture), officials said. It also opens up the NetWeaver platform to a bigger cast of developers, an ongoing goal for SAP.

"Weve been talking about composite applications for the last couple of years, but what we realized with Composition Environment is the ability to do innovation—it should be model-driven and should give you the ability to do innovation," SAP CTO Vishal Sikka said during his keynote address Oct. 2. "CE [Composition Environment] 7.1 is exposure of our platform; you can expose it, you can develop on it."


Click here to read more about SAPs SOA plans.

The NetWeaver Composition Environment is essentially a set of tools that customers and partners can use to compose and deploy composite applications in a Java environment. CE combines infrastructure components such as SAPs Java EE 5 Application Server, Web Dynpro-based user interfaces, NetWeaver Visual Composer for UI modeling, guided procedures for collaborative process modeling and an infrastructure for service and business definition, according to the SAP Developer Network. CE also uses an Eclipse-based environment to compose processes across a companys IT landscape.

The Enterprise Services Repository, an upgraded version, provides the repository for SAP Web services. It also manages process models and business object models so that common business semantics are used across services, with the idea that services can be reused.

NetWeaver Process Integration, due later this year, is an evolution of the NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure, sort of an integration hub in SAP NetWeaver 2004—7.1 is the next iteration of that release—that was designed to manage the integrations between SAP and non-SAP applications. What the Exchange Infrastructure adds is more standards; for example, Web Services Reliable Messaging, and an event infrastructure designed to help companies both monitor business events and act on alerts.

At the end of his keynote, Sikka talked about what is coming next with NetWeaver. "We are doing our own modeling, our own process management," he said. "You are going to be able to link the processes to the underlying platform and manage it. You will have the ability to take a model and deploy it directly into the code in Eclipse—the environment we want people to start using. The key thing: this actually executes code."

Sikka gave the example of a project manager who wants to request a change in a process to insert a human activity—the approval or denial for a budget allocation—in a process model. The project manager needs to create a request that flows over to approval for the budget manager, who either approves or rejects the request. An approval goes over to purchasing and kicks off a purchasing process. The idea behind the upcoming functionality is that a business-process expert would be able to drag and drop process components into a model and have the changes reflected automatically.

"The process flow is linked to the underlying services," said Sikka. "This is not a closed-loop process—there is a supplier involved. You send a purchase order to the supplier and get a receipt back. As a process expert … you simply model that. Thats it. Thats all that has to be done for an end-to-end process to be modeled and executed in the backend system."

In the process-model description, Sikka said there also needs to be process governance—the ability to kick off a process instantly creates a governance issue—and lifecycle management, capabilities provided by NetWeaver 7.1.

The bottom line for Sikka—and, really, the overall message of this years TechEd—is that SAP has completed its ESA (Enterprise Services Architecture) road map laid out several years ago. The concept behind ESA—and SOA, for that matter—is to enable companies to respond to changes in their businesses by being able to change business processes without taking months to re-jigger applications.

"The ability to cover this vast spectrum of processes, that ability is here—the other components of our Business Process Platform," he said. "We are there."

That said, SAP still has some work in front of it to push NetWeaver adoption. While the company reported Oct. 2 that it has 13,000 SAP customers and 18,000 systems in production—and saw a 50 percent growth of NetWeaver revenues in its first quarter of 2007—SAP has more than 30,000 customers that could potentially utilize NetWeaver. SAP said it would give an update on NetWeaver adoption in its Oct. 18 third-quarter earnings call.


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