Stressed Partnership

A rift in the close relationship between SAP AG and Microsoft appears to be opening as both companies make product moves that encroach on the other's territory.

LOS ANGELES--A rift in the close relationship between software vendors SAP AG and Microsoft Corp. appears to be opening as both companies make product moves that encroach on the others territory.

Though not joined at the hip, the relationship between SAP and Microsoft stretches back to 1993 and includes numerous joint development projects, which have resulted in SAPs use of such Microsoft technologies as SQL Server, Internet Information Services and Excel as standard components in its products.

For example, a developer can use Microsoft development tools to create SAP Enterprise Portal applications and SAP development tools to create applications for Microsofts Pocket PC for handhelds. Microsoft even tapped SAP as its Global Software Partner of the Year in 2000.

But lately, the companies have been testing the limits of the relationship.

Last week, SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, committed more of its resources to Web services technologies developed by Microsoft competitors, namely Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java.

The mySAP Technology infrastructure, introduced at the companys SAP TechEd conference here, features an upgrade to the SAP Web application server that adds support for Suns J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) programming language.

The application server, along with portal and exchange components, provides a platform for integrating applications and Web services. SAP was quick to say that it will also provide adapters to .Net. But SAP has more plans to support technology from Microsofts competitors.

SAP next month will announce plans to join Suns Liberty Alliance Project, according to officials close to SAP. Liberty is developing a network authentication technology that will compete with Microsofts Passport technology. SAP officials said they plan to talk with Microsoft about supporting Passport.

SAP isnt the only enterprise software maker diverting its attention from Microsoft technologies. Officials at PeopleSoft Inc. said they also will join the Liberty group.

Both Liberty and Passport provide a mechanism for single sign-on to a federation of users. In a Passport world, all user information is stored in a database at Microsoft, but with Liberty, companies in the federation maintain their own user information.

Adding fuel to the fire, SAP CEO Hasso Plattner is less than enthusiastic about Microsofts positioning of Great Plains Software Inc., which it acquired late last year.

"The CEO of Great Plains said, In 10 years, we want to have $10 billion in revenues from this type of business. OK, fine. That means SAP is dead in 10 years," Plattner said in an interview at the TechEd conference. "And [Microsoft] said its much easier to write Great Plains than it is SAP—so [thats] not very good. Not because Microsoft enters the market do we jump out the window."

For its part, Microsoft is hardly standing still. Last week, the Redmond, Wash., company introduced its Microsoft Solution for Supplier Enablement, which is aimed at helping customers integrate disparate supply chain management, procurement and customer relationship management applications they have installed.

SAPs recently announced Exchange component, which incorporates technology that SAP developed with Commerce One Inc., essentially makes the same claim.

There have been more than 12,000 installations of SAP systems on Windows operating systems since SAP first added Windows support in 1993. The companies have held a joint user conference every year since then, but they have not yet scheduled one for next year. Microsoft officials did not return requests to comment on their relationship with SAP.

As for the SAP-Microsoft joint proj-ects, its anyones guess how an increasingly strained relationship will affect them. "Well know more in six months. Well see if SAP is going away from Microsoft. Maybe it would impact us in some way," said Yves Poitras, systems designer for Canadas Department of Foreign Affairs, in Ottawa.

SAP user Freddie Cummings, senior systems engineer at Atlanta-based Riverwood International Corp., is pleased from a security point of view that SAP is providing support for Sun.

"It seems like most hackers are on the Microsoft track. If you stay away from Microsoft products, your vulnerability is not as great," Cummings said.

While a battle may rage on high, many customers cared more that SAP is moving forward with a Web services plan than with the fact that it isnt exclusive to .Net.

SAP was "behind the times, but now [with the J2EE application server] theyre one of the leaders," said Michael Chirieleison, project lead for SAP consulting and strategies at Bayer Corp., in Pittsburgh, Calif.

Chirieleison was comfortable that SAP products will continue to work with Microsofts—if in no other way than through SAPs iViews portal technology.