Middlewars: Oracle flings mud at SAP

Oracle's Asia-Pacific head attacks SAP's Netweaver middleware platform, flaying the software's support for open standards.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor

A senior Oracle executive delivered a verbal attack last week at arch-rival SAP's Netweaver middleware platform, flaying the software's support for open standards.

Oracle's Asia-Pacific senior vice president, Brian Mitchell, made the comments in a speech to an audience of customers and partners at Oracle partner Red Rock Consulting's Leadership Forum in Sydney last Thursday, November 2.

Oracle's Fusion middleware platform was "entirely standards-based", Mitchell said, adding customers could "hot plug" third-party products into Oracle's platform if they didn't want to use all of Oracle's products together.

"You can't do that with Netweaver," he stated.

The executive then went on to savage Netweaver's support for SAP's popular R/3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

"Netweaver really does not work with the vast majority of SAP customers, because it essentially does not work with R/3, which represents nearly 90 percent of the SAP install base," he said.

But Mitchell didn't stop there.

"It's also a fact that more than 70 percent of SAP users use Fusion middleware as their platform of choice anyway," he said. "And we have done a fair bit of research, and we cannot find a single non-SAP customer using Netweaver."

"You cannot claim it is not a proprietary solution, with that sort of information," Mitchell concluded, adding SAP had done a "great marketing job" on Netweaver.

Some of Mitchell's comments were backed by Monash University's David Saint later in the day. Saint is a senior project officer in Monash's Application Services division and is currently enmeshed in an integration project involving Oracle's BPEL Process Manager, part of its middleware stack.

"We looked at alternatives for an integration hub," Saint told the conference. "And I think the guy who spoke first stated why, even though we have SAP Netweaver, why we haven't gone for it. And that's because it's not open standards as much as Oracle BPEL."

Fighting back
SAP responded rather politely by e-mail to a series of questions on the issue.

"SAP participates in all major standards bodies and follows and incorporates industry standards across all products," a spokesperson said, noting Netweaver was the first application to support version 1.5 (enterprise edition) of Sun's Java system.

The German vendor was similarly unimpressed with Mitchell's comments about being able to "hotplug" third-party software into Netweaver.

"At the middleware layer of SAP NetWeaver, customers can choose to use other integration technologies, and at other layers in the platform they have flexibility too," the spokesperson said, noting SAP had for over two years collaborated with IBM and Microsoft on technology compatibility centres.

So is Netweaver compatible with R/3? "Yes," stated SAP. "Customers running R/3 can take full advantage of SAP NetWeaver, without having to upgrade R/3."

However, the vendor added its new mySAP ERP product was encouraging many customers to upgrade from R/3, because it was built using, and runs on, Netweaver, meaning the overall solution was very flexible and addressed a wider range of business areas than R/3.

And Mitchell's "proprietary" claim may swing both ways, with SAP pointing to a March report by analyst firm Forrester saying that Oracle was adding proprietary extensions for human workflow to the still incomplete BPEL specification.

SAP said its software had several advantages over Fusion, including the fact that Netweaver was "more than just middleware" -- instead being an integrated enterprise application development and runtime platform.

This, according to SAP, delivered flexibility and a strong infrastructure underpinning enterprise applications. Additionally, SAP has rebuilt mySAP ERP on Netweaver, with the platform now being stabilised for the next five years.

"Finally, SAP NetWeaver is truly technology-independent and not tied to any particular operating system, or database, giving customers true choice in this area," said the German vendor.

Get back to your corner
But according to March/April 2006 research produced by analyst group Gartner, both vendors' middleware software is most appropriate for use with that vendor's own software stack.

"While still not a credible platform for non-SAP application customers, current customers and those considering new SAP application purchases should view NetWeaver as a strategic middleware platform for extending existing business processes and creating new processes," Gartner's Michael Barnes wrote in a report on SAP.

The analyst is a research vice president in Gartner's application integration and Web services group.

Oracle got a similar report card.

"As a middleware platform, Oracle Fusion Middleware is a viable option for established Oracle accounts, as well as any organisations seeking to reconcile disparate middleware technology and products around a cohesive application platform suite," Barnes wrote in a separate report.

But customers of vendors Oracle has acquired, such as PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel should seek further clarification of Oracle's technology roadmap.

And Oracle may need to do a better job of its own marketing.

"Oracle Fusion Architecture remains ill-defined, and Oracle marketing has not identified solid differentiators, without which Oracle will struggle to effectively position itself between IBM and SAP," Barnes wrote.

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