SAP’s NetWeaver Part 1: A New Architecture for SAP, But Is It for Customers?

The Bottom Line: Putting the confusing marketing of its parts aside, NetWeaver constitutes SAP’s new services-oriented architecture. Customers should approach and regard NetWeaver in much the same way as they approached (or should have approached) the shift to client-server.
Written by Eric Austvold, Jim Murphy, Contributor

The Bottom Line: Putting the confusing marketing of its parts aside, NetWeaver constitutes SAP’s new services-oriented architecture. Customers should approach and regard NetWeaver in much the same way as they approached (or should have approached) the shift to client-server.

What NetWeaver is: SAP NetWeaver is the next-generation services-based platform that will serve as the foundation for all future SAP applications. NetWeaver comprises several technologies and components: a portal framework, business intelligence and reporting, Business Process Management (BPM), integration, Master Data Management (MDM), a common run-time application server, and the SAP application development and management platform.

SAP promotes NetWeaver as offering people, process, and data integration with SAP applications and information. Furthermore, SAP NetWeaver is the basis for SAP to offer composite applications to its customers. Commonly referred to as xApps, these composite applications will be built and managed with SAP NetWeaver tools. They will use existing functionality prevalent in the SAP applications to build out new functionality, or extensions, to the SAP family of products.

What NetWeaver is not: First of all, NetWeaver is not a product that companies can buy or even upgrade to on its own. Also, it’s not an option.

NetWeaver is not a general-purpose infrastructure replacement for IBM, Microsoft, or BEA. It is not a general development platform. It will not displace technology that companies already use to develop custom applications unrelated to SAP or to perform integration between non-SAP applications. SAP will not rewrite its proprietary development language, ABAP, in J2EE. While developers will still have to know ABAP, NetWeaver will act to wrap the code to interoperate with J2EE and .NET environments.

NetWeaver: Appealing, compelling, and unavoidable all in one package

SAP customers will eventually adopt NetWeaver whether they want to or not. In fact, when organizations upgrade SAP or adopt new SAP applications like CRM 4.0, they get NetWeaver whether they know it or not.

Still, companies have control over when and how they employ and control NetWeaver. While SAP regards NetWeaver as a platform upon which it and its partners build and deploy new composite applications, customers don’t have to.

NetWeaver is an architecture for SAP, but is it for SAP customers?

SAP’s motivation with regard to NetWeaver is fairly straightforward:

  • To retain revenue and account control by avoiding being treated as an anonymous data source that other systems simply access.
  • To grow revenue by increasing relevance and applicability to every employee, and more significantly, to external constituencies. Establishment as a crucial facility for interenterprise operations may represent the greatest opportunity for growth.
At every level--from data to middleware to desktop--SAP is exerting its control. It’s also ensuring that customers pay for every user’s interaction with the system, however minimal.

Thus, whenever an SAP customer puts data in or takes data out of the SAP system of record, NetWeaver will be the mechanism that controls the interaction with the data, acting as a toll booth on the SAP data highway. SAP will collect money from customers regardless of their mode of transportation: direct Application Programming Interface (API), general-purpose Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), Extensible Markup Language (XML), or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

Still, SAP makes a compelling argument: Why use third-party tools to manage data interactions with SAP when you can get the same technology, with prebuilt integration, from SAP? And why pay a third-party provider in addition to SAP?

For now, NetWeaver offers the greatest benefit to SAP

SAP had to develop and deploy the NetWeaver platform for its own sake. Specifically, it had to make its own development and deployment efforts, across a range of applications, more efficient and more responsive to emerging markets--to reduce its own costs and stave off potential competition from aspiring enterprise vendors. Clearly, it has learned from the history of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) markets.

In theory, a better, more versatile, more efficient platform for SAP is a better platform for customers. But the ideal platform for SAP is not likely the ideal platform for customers because of a couple of factors:

  • No one is quite as SAP-centric as SAP. Further, despite SAP’s acknowledgement, finally, that other systems exist, the professed target for NetWeaver is current SAP customers only. SAP will be gearing NetWeaver to companies and individuals that consider SAP the backbone of the enterprise and the dominant source of information. Others need not apply.
  • We can expect NetWeaver to serve SAP first, predominant SAP customers second, SAP customers with heterogeneous environments third, and non-SAP customers can just forget about it.
  • SAP is far from the only software vendor that will encourage, plead, coerce, or blatantly or surreptitiously (in the guise of a product update or a new product) force customers into adopting its framework. For instance, take a close look at Oracle 9iAS and the upcoming 10g application server embedded in many applications. Look even at Microsoft’s Office System 2003. Conflict is on the horizon, and every company will have to draw lines and make choices.
  • SAP resists standards when they compromise the ability to retain control. Many of the emerging standards--like the JSR 168 standard for portlets, run counter to SAP’s motivations because of at least two factors: 1) They may hinder their own development efforts. 2) They make them susceptible to being commoditized.
Clearly, SAP also simply wants customers to upgrade. In building a new, more capable and efficient platform, SAP must build also compelling reasons for customers to move to that platform. We will address issues with upgrade cycles and the general impact on the SAP ecosystem in “Part 2: What Will NetWeaver Become?” next week.


  • The NetWeaver platform is not, in itself, a sufficient reason to upgrade. Most companies will and should upgrade on the basis of new, critical functionality.
  • Consider that SAP’s interest in compelling customers to use NetWeaver--its own return in developing and deploying NetWeaver to its customers--will be far greater than yours. In the long run, SAP’s ability to save money should translate into lower costs for customers.
  • Like it or not, SAP makes a compelling argument when it comes to using third-party tools to manage the interaction with SAP data. This especially holds true for SAP clients where SAP is used pervasively throughout the organization, across all business functions and spanning divisions and geographies. The other 80% will feel as though they are being extorted to some extent.
AMR Research originally published this article on 12 December 2003.

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