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Web Services Strategy - SAP Platform

It's not your father's SAP

SAP's NetWeaver roadmap is designed to address many of these needs. Later this year SAP will release its initial view of an Enterprise Services inventory based on its business applications. The focus will be on business process agility and this list can be used immediately for planning purposes. There will also be preview releases of an Enterprise Services Repository that will be another vital component of the NetWeaver platform. This repository will make Enterprise Services easier to locate, access, and understand.

SAP is also investing heavily in developer education, solution reference architectures, templates, and processes to teach developers how to be productive in an SOA environment. These assets will help developers leverage the Enterprise Services delivered with NetWeaver as well as plan and model new services based on their organization's unique business processes.

Step 4: Develop Composite Applications:  See Figure 3

By now you know that NetWeaver is a powerful application development platform. More importantly, its products and technologies create a Web Services-based enterprise SOA. But an SOA investment is only valuable when it's used to create cross-functional composite applications that solve real business problems in an agile way.

This new development approach creates challenges that aren't unique to SAP or NetWeaver. In a SOA world we define much of our business, application, and integration logic in metadata layers. This creates an interesting paradox. On the one hand, we are liberating integration and process logic from our business applications. This has been the promise of BPM hype for years. At the same time building applications and building integrations are becoming one and the same thing. Both involve leveraging loosely coupled Web Service invocations, just at different levels of granularity. That's what composition and SOA principals are all about. It breaks the traditional object-based design paradigms. We end up needing a whole new set of modeling artifacts and development tools to make best use of an SOA. This is where NetWeaver's Composite Application Framework (CAF) will come to the rescue.

The CAF enables the efficient, model-driven development of composite applications. CAF makes use of all of NetWeaver's components while hiding the complexity. Instead of having to move from tool to tool and build parts of your program in each product's environment, CAF provides a unified project. More importantly, it automatically generates significant amounts of code that saves developer time. The design time portion of the CAF involves modeling at four main layers. First are the entity services that define the business domain. Second are application services that capture business logic. Next is user-interface modeling that's role-based and can be composed from pre-existing UI patterns. Finally process and workflow logic are modeled.

These design time models are managed in a metadata repository that supplies execution code to the runtime engines of the various NetWeaver products. Version 1.0 of the CAF environment was released in 2004 and is limited. The next version will be more tightly coupled with SAP's WAS and provide improved modeling and support for all NetWeaver components.

A Dose of Reality

The NetWeaver platform has got a lot going for it, but it's not without its challenges. SAP is only halfway into the suite's planned development roadmap so right now it consists of equal parts "marketecture" and real product architecture. A lot of consolidation and integration needs to happen between the mature components and the newer products.

Second, SAP will always lag the market in adhering to the latest Web Services standards. A company whose products run on platforms ranging from the mainframe to Windows with an installed base of trillions of dollars of worth of transactions on its software has to be methodical in releasing highly reliable upgrades.

NetWeaver will also be hindered by the same technical problems that influence the rest of the Web Services, BPM, and SOA community. They include everything from the need for continued evolution of process modeling specifications to improved security, performance, and layering of technical policies. These are not SAP-specific challenges and NetWeaver's ESA strategy can only move as fast as the industry itself. Of course SAP along with IBM and Microsoft have had tremendous influence when it comes to driving these standards

Finally, NetWeaver will have to deal with user-adoption considerations. Relatively few IT professionals understand the SOA principals and value yet, which leads many SAP customers to perceive NetWeaver as merely as something they "have to deal with" as opposed to understanding the real opportunity for creating an agile IT landscape.

The best way to track the latest developments with the ESA vision and all of the NetWeaver products is on the SAP Developer Network Web site at http://sdn.sap.com.

Conclusion

NetWeaver is the technology platform on which all of SAP's business applications will be built. It's part of every SAP customer's upgrade path. At the halfway point in its implementation roadmap NetWeaver has become a great platform for exposing and consuming web services in SAP applications. It makes SAP products easier to integrate into non-SAP environments and includes significant support for Java and .NET development. NetWeaver currently provides the technology needed to model and orchestrate composite applications that execute cross-functional business processes.

The ultimate goal of NetWeaver is to provide the foundation for SAP's enterprise SOA strategy called the Enterprise Services Architecture. Because SAP is the largest business applications company in the world this has two implications. First, it validates that Web Service-oriented, process-driven models are here to stay because they help solve business problems through better agility and reuse. Second, SAP's product roadmap will accelerate the proliferation of Web Services computing and SOAs in many organizations that would otherwise not move to the new paradigm. These organizations will need education, training, and readiness planning for the Web Services world.

More Stories By Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell is president of MomentumSI, a professional services firm specializing in platform-ready, service-oriented enterprise architecture and business process management solutions. Prior to joining Momentum in 1998, Scott helped open the Houston office for DiaLogos, Inc., and he previously held various positions in product marketing and IT at 3M.

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