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NetWeaver gets BI, Web services boost

SAP's Shai Agassi pitches NetWeaver as a way to get a leg up in the Web services race.

SAN DIEGO –- Harmonization. Normalization. Transformation.

Those concepts might sound better suited for a self-help seminar than a technology conference, but SAP executive board member Shai Agassi hammered away at them during his keynote yesterday morning at SAP TechEd '04 San Diego.

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"Those are lots of Shai-isms," Agassi said later, joking. But Agassi's goal was to seriously educate thousands of architects, engineers and system analysts about SAP's long-term Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) strategy and its foundation, NetWeaver.

"This crowd is at the epicenter of the NetWeaver evolution," Agassi said, following his keynote. "They need to understand why it's important. They need to understand where it changes business. When they go back and the CEO asks them, 'What are you going to do for me today?' and the CIO says, 'I read somewhere IT doesn't matter. Maybe I should outsource you to somebody.' Then they need to know how to stand up and say, 'Here's what I've learned about what NetWeaver can do for us.'" In January 2003, Agassi introduced NetWeaver and said it made SAP the "first vendor to really deploy Web services at an enterprise scale."

ESA coming to a SAP stack near you

Agassi highlighted several recent improvements within the NetWeaver technology stack. The company introduced new business intelligence (BI) capabilities, due in shipments of NetWeaver next year. Agassi said this new search technology can provide query response times that are 10 times quicker than similar tools because they are tied to the NetWeaver stack. He said customers with high data volumes or a large number of simultaneous requests are the most likely to benefit from it.

SAP also announced enhancements to its Master Data Management technology, a NetWeaver add-on option -- a new object modeling framework that allows users to create their own objects and new Web services capabilities.

"By 2007, the whole application stack will be ESA-enabled," Agassi said. "No one else is going to be able to do that."

The 2004 release of NetWeaver, which has been available since March, includes seven components: Auto-ID Infrastructure, BI, SAP Enterprise Portal, SAP XI (exchange infrastructure), Master Data Management, Mobile Infrastructure and SAP's Web Application Server. SAP also announced new NetWeaver technology for running Java applications. In May, SAP made .NET connectivity to NetWeaver a centerpiece of its annual Sapphire user event, and SAP executives at this week's TechEd continued to play up NetWeaver's "Switzerland" approach, emphasizing its neutrality in the .NET and Java war as a key competitive advantage.

Agassi told the crowd of about 10,000 users that they must focus on two broader skill sets -- consolidation and composite application building. "If you don't consolidate the junk you have today, you'll never be able to leverage it, " Agassi said.

mySAP ERP first stop to NetWeaver

In NetWeaver 2004, SAP has bundled components previously available as separate products within NetWeaver, and includes most NetWeaver components with any upgrade to mySAP ERP, or the company's full-blown Business Suite. Still, many customers are still deciding whether to proceed to mySAP ERP or choose a straightforward technical upgrade to R/3 4.7, or Enterprise.

"Going to Enterprise is like picking a train that goes to the last stop," Agassi said. "If you believe you need NetWeaver, then it makes sense to do a mySAP ERP upgrade as quickly as possible," he said.

Many of the TechEd '04 San Diego attendees are running components of NetWeaver, and they came equipped with hardcore technical questions, leaving upgrade strategies at home for their bosses to consider. Trevor Connors, a manager of enterprise application integration at Ottawa's Innovapost, said he appreciated Agassi's NetWeaver presentation because "he made it very clear where SAP is headed." However, Connors came to the conference to get answers about XI.

"I take care of all the interfaces, a lot of integration," Connor said. "I'm here to determine whether the new XI solution can replace what we've got now." For now, Innovapost is running integration software from SeeBeyond.

Likewise, Johathan Cano, a middleware architect for Tyson Foods Inc., in Springdale, Ark., is running iWay Software to "fill the void." A ramp-up customer for XI, Tyson is hoping XI 3.0 is better than previous versions. "Our goal is to have XI as the sole integration product. But right now our message volumes exceed what XI can do for us."

"We could have our whole NetWeaver stack in place in a year or two," Cano said. "At our company the motto is 'Why not SAP?' It's always the first choice -- if it can do what we need it to."

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