SAP weaves new net

SAP AG is taking the high road in the enterprise computing platform battle raging between Microsoft Corp.'s .Net and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) with the announcement Thursday of its new NetWeaver platform that will support IBM Corp.'s WebSphere and Microsoft's .Net.

SAP will be taking the wraps off NetWeaver -- the next generation of its mySAP platform -- in New York Thursday at a press conference where Microsoft's Bill Gates and IBM's senior strategist J. Bruce Harreld are expected to endorse the new platform. NetWeaver, which will be the platform for SAP's e-business applications, its cross applications (xApps), and its enterprise resource planning applications, is the way SAP plans to deliver on a new Enterprise Services Architecture that will blueprint how it will deliver Web services to enterprises.

"It's hugely important that SAP continues to acknowledge the heterogeneity in the market and not force its customers to make these kinds of infrastructure decisions," said Josh Greenbaum, a principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif.

"These are increasingly commodity products, commodity functionality that should not be forced on the customer. It also gets SAP out of one hot spot -- they get out of this competition with Microsoft and IBM. They don't want to have that religious war about infrastructure," Greenbaum said.

NetWeaver will feature SAP's existing application server, portal technology, business warehouse and exchange infrastructure, plus new Master Data Management functionality and a new composite applications framework, said Peter Graf, SAP's vice president of marketing strategy.

"With the Enterprise Services Architecture, this is our commitment to use Web services as a fundamental technology to all the solutions we bring to the market," Graf said. "NetWeaver describes the complete landscape that you need to drive a specific business process. It's very much an architecture that allows companies to leverage investments they have made in the past. We're deploying that concept of being able to add functionality without touching a specific system, and deploy it across SAP."

SAP will be offering a portal development kit for WebSphere as well as integrating with IBM's content manager, Graf added, In addition, SAP will offer a portal development kit for .Net, while supporting integration with Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net as well as its SQL Server and BizTalk.

"No matter who is going to win, [J2EE or .Net], we need to be able to support the platforms just like we support different databases," Graf said. "If you only have one silo, you have a very hard time understanding and defining cross-functional business processes."

SAP's move further validates the shift of enterprise IT spending dollars from core business operational processes to processes at the edge of the enterprise, such as those for linking with customers and suppliers, said Jon Derome, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston.

"At the edge of the enterprise customization costs are high, integration costs are high, and you're typically dealing with custom processes," he said. "To meet those needs and keep customization and integration costs down, you can take advantage of Java and XML technology."

The support for both .Net and J2EE could lower the cost of ownership for SAP applications, he added.

"If there is a way you can consolidate your SAP resources with your Java team and your Internet-commerce resources that is a really impressive cost-of-ownership advantage," Derome added. "If you can leverage expertise in those two camps, which today are very separate groups, SAP can play a role in delivering these edge-of-the-enterprise applications."

The new service architecture also gives notice to other enterprise applications vendors that SAP has strong technology capabilities and will boost its ability to provide its xApps, those that drive a business process across a disparate set of applications, Greenbaum added.

"There really isn't any other leading vendor that has gone out in front of the market and said, 'The next generation of applications are going to be these composite apps, and we are going to build them for you,'" he said.

Roger Ford, senior manager of SAP partner Accenture's North American energy practice, said NetWeaver will give enterprises the ability to create an umbrella of portal-based solutions leveraging existing technology.

"This is basically taking what you may have externally focused with IBM WebSphere, and taking what you have that is internally focused, which may be built with Microsoft SharePoint, and creating a collaborative commerce solution that focuses on all those," Ford said. "To put those components under this SAP-centric umbrella, which is a bunch of J2EE components itself, and make it work is key. We're enhancing and bridging really disparate systems, whether they are Internet-enabled or whether they are legacy systems that no one has access to other than accounting clerks."

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