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:
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: