SAP Grabs for Crown of Middleware King

The enterprise applications giant unleashes details of ESA, its service-oriented plan, in which NetWeaver could well be at the center of myriad new technologies.

BOSTON—SAP Wednesday issued what its insiders have known for two years was news that would blow even the 2003 NetWeaver announcement out of the water: the technical details for Enterprise Services Architecture, the blueprint SAP has drawn to enable a service-oriented architecture.

"This is the killer announcement we made today: Technology titans are aligning around ESA [Enterprise Services Architecture]," Peter Graf, executive vice president of SAP AGs Product and Technology group, told Ziff Davis Internet following SAP CEO Henning Kagermanns keynote speech here at the Sapphire user conference on Wednesday.

"[Its not about] how people are using NetWeaver to be their platform, but how NetWeaver uses the technologies that sit underneath," he said.

"What were doing is working with those technology vendors to make the entire stack of technologies, from database to operating system to network to hardware, aware of business processes."

Indeed, SAP and Computer Associates International Inc. announced at the show an extended partnership in which CA is the latest in a string of partners that will fit into SAPs technology vision.

Specifically, SAP plans to plug in the security and computing environment management capabilities of CAs EIM (Enterprise IT Management) portfolio in three ways: First, CA plans to develop "xApps," which will be composite applications built using SAPs NetWeaver and pieces of CA and SAP software, to provide customers with what a CA news release described as enterprise-class business processes, control and information solutions.

CA is also planning to add to the ESA architecture by providing SAP with core technologies and domain expertise in IT services management, security management and systems management. Finally, CA and SAP will collaborate to develop SAP-specific versions of CAs management software solutions that let customers take advantage of functional synergies between ESA and EIM.

The ESA vision will encompass more than just security and management, though, and thats why SAP is so excited. "We launched ESA with NetWeaver in January 2003," Graf said. "When we launched, many people believed that NetWeaver was the huge announcement. But many people internally understood it was ESA that was big, as it would set the course for years to come."

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about SAPs business apps partnership with Microsoft.

SAP is looking to set the course for the world of SOA, eager as it is to become the monarch of middleware by virtue of NetWeaver sitting in the middle of the SOA infrastructure.

But analysts said the company is hardly alone, as many technology vendors are pursuing the same goal. Vendors are being pushed by customers who need quicker ways to get applications talking to each other than the gnarled, homegrown applications that used to do the job but took a good 18 months to write.

"Theyve been pushed by customers to pursue an SOA," said Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, in Waltham, Mass. "Does that mean suddenly SAP is fluid, with all these little modules? No. Are they doing better [than competitors]? No. Its not easy to take an environment as complex as the SAP R3 environment and make it an SOA environment, a total component architecture. Will they do it over time? Yeah, I think they will, but its a massive undertaking. But [SAP is] going in the right direction to do that."

Why? Primarily, Hurwitz said, because the German enterprise applications giant, like other vendors, has no choice.

"Its the only game in town. Its the only way to do this," she said.

What is "this?" "This" is technology that at some future date will allow an SAP customer such as Home Depot to respond quickly to an opportunity to, for example, partner with other businesses, such as or a lumber supplier, so that they have a unified way to sell to customers.

Hurwitz described the vision this way: Businesses all have siloed applications, be they databases, ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer resource management) or what have you, all of which tend to be duplicated across multiple divisions. On top of that, a customer such as Home Depot may have an opportunity to sell its own hardware, packaged with books on home repair through, plus lumber direct from the supplier.

That adds even more siloed data sources—from the partners—to the mix, and all that data needs to find itself and eventually be entered into the general ledger. In the pre-SOA landscape, that means writing a complex, hard-coded program to talk to what can be dozens of applications, bringing data from multiple applications.

Not only does the code for this have to be handwritten, but it also has to be tested to make sure it works. Thats what makes these applications take, say, 18 months or so to write, and thats why customers are screaming for a series of services to replace the monolithic code beasts, Hurwitz said.

"Now, if Ive got 10 new partnerships, and it takes 18 months to do this, Im going to lose to somebody who takes this and looks at it as a series of services," she said.

But if each one, instead of being a monolithic thing, is just a series of services that work together to put various data into a container, it means less time and less complexity—hence, customers get to market faster with more flexible partnerships and more agile grasps on their internal processes.

The strategy is sound, and vendors are increasingly partnering up to follow it.

"No one wants to be left behind," said Marcia Kaufman, an analyst at Hurwitz. "Everyone wants to keep as many options open as possible," meaning that SAP is dancing with enemies and competitors, including recently announced partnerships such as with Microsoft Corp. on the Mendocino project and with IBM on the SAP-optimized DB2 database.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about SAPs DB2 partnership with IBM.

Whats particularly interesting about the CA partnership, Hurwitz said, is its indicative of how the SOA concept is opening doors, creating opportunities and forcing SAP and others to redefine themselves as they rearchitect their offerings and decide the direction of their development.

This heralds a change in SAPs personality. Historically, SAP was a "self-contained world," Hurwitz said. "If you mentioned the word API, they cringed. Everything went in, nothing went out. Like their warehouse: Theyd get pretty upset if anybody wanted to take info out and take it somewhere else. That was a really bad thing to do."

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