Why would you buy integration middleware from a packaged application vendor? That’s the question SAP AG and its peer vendors such as PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. are trying to answer as they expand their offerings to accommodate customers’ desires for cheaper and easier-to-integrate solutions. After gaining fame and fortune showing IT managers of large enterprises a better way to do ERP, SAP is now at a crossroads. Despite its previous domination of the ERP market, the company must now square off for its piece of the enterprise software dollar with fellow megavendors IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., and Microsoft Corp. Each company is reaching onto the others’ turf, and middleware is shaping up to be the field of competition.
To be sure, SAP has always offered some integration functionality along with its applications, starting with ALE (application linking and embedding), then BAPI (business APIs), and culminating in support for Web services interfaces. But now the vendor has come out with an entirely new framework, called NetWeaver, for linking applications throughout an enterprise and across enterprises. NetWeaver includes a stand-alone integration product, called SAP Exchange Infrastructure, SAP's XI integration broker, plus BPM (business process management) capabilities.
The NetWeaver approach looks at the integration world from a business process standpoint, with Web services interfaces to the world outside of SAP code. NetWeaver can also create so-called xApps, which are collaborative applications that cut across traditional application modules, such as CRM, SCM (supply-chain management), and ERP, and across multiple codes from multiple vendors.
"Some people want to call them composite applications," says AMR Research analyst Kimberly Knickle in Boston, Mass. “I’m not sure I’d go that far. I think they are opening up the interfaces. … There are times when this makes sense and times when it doesn’t." Specifically, she believes using NetWeaver makes sense primarily for enterprises that are integrating a small number of applications, one or more of which are SAP apps.
"The more heterogeneous the integration requirements are, the more you'll want to look at a traditional EAI product." Knickle adds, "I have trouble believing that an application vendor can truly remain independent. They'll worry about their own applications first."
Essentially, SAP has created object-oriented interfaces into its applications and is proposing that you buy middleware from the vendor that can best talk to those applications. For most chief technologists, the decision will come down to economics: Are you a big enough SAP shop that the more cost-effective, end-to-end capabilities offered by the convenience of a tightly integrated stack outweigh the disadvantages of a playing field slightly tilted toward SAP?
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