SAP has fleshed out the integration part of its announcement this week, which saw it adopt a Java-based Web services framework for the front end of its applications.
In addition, the company took time to detail its plans for Java -- both its use of the language and its suggestions for how it could be improved.
The overall plan is perhaps a longer-term one than many have thought, and does not involve a wholesale rewrite of SAP's applications in Java. The message from SAP is that it did not spend 10 years building up a worldwide network of developers using its ABAP object-oriented language only to pass them over for Java developers, no matter how ubiquitous they may be.
Some of the newer applications, such as CRM, supply chain management (SCM) and product life cycle management, apparently comprise large chunks of Java code already. But rewriting something like SAP Financials is a "delicate subject" within the company, according to Franz-Josef Fritz, vice president of mySAP Technology -- and it is certainly not going to happen within the next couple of years.
The part of SAP's announcement that caused such a fuss was its apparent rejection of Microsoft's .NET Web services strategy in favor of a Java-driven one. But Fritz explained that SAP will be able to use .NET services and make SAP's technology available via .NET as long as Microsoft and SAP stay in line on Web services standards. Fritz points out that support for things like SOAP for messaging and WSDL for describing Web services is included in the current 6.10 release of SAP's application server, which has actually been shipping since July 2000, with SAP tagging the Web services support onto it as needed.
The next version of the application server, version 6.20, will be the first to support Java, and will run two execution environments -- Java and ABAP -- in parallel, but with a single monitoring and communication system, says Fritz. It is finishing beta testing now and will ship early in 2002. The Java element of that application server will come from SAP's In-Q-My Java application server. That product is currently compliant with version 1.2 of Java enterprise edition and needs to get to version 1.3, which adds crucial support for Enterprise Java Beans.
Then with the next release, probably called 6.30, SAP will unify both execution environments into a single operating system process and speed up the Java performance to match or better ABAP. That will be ready toward the end of 2002, says Fritz.
The Web DynPro front-end development environment will be remodeled to enable all SAP's screens, from the original R/3 screen through to the newer CRM and SCM applications, to use Java Server Pages technology. In addition to changing the front end, Fritz says SAP will need faster communications between it and the back-end application, which usually reside on different boxes. That will come after the 6.20 release of the application server next year.
SAP has also drawn up a list of its own technologies that it intends to offer to the Java Community Process, which manages the set of standards that comprise Java. SAP has already shown these 'trade secrets' to some members of the JCP's executive committees, of which SAP is not one -- it missed out on one of the seats in October's elections, but intends to try again. Nevertheless, it can still participate without being on the committee, and for the standard edition of Java, Fritz suggests some robustness and scalability improvements that SAP could contribute -- for example, to make it harder to kill the virtual machine -- as well as some better debugging and servicing. For the enterprise edition, he posits SAP's persistence layer and its data object technology, which he says is better than the container management it currently has.
Given the breadth of its applications, SAP's support for Java -- even at the interface level for now -- is a major fillip, but is not really a surprise since it has been making supportive noises for some time. The Web services olive branch to Microsoft proves that it needs to better define what .NET is and do it soon, as Java has already become the standard language for developing enterprise applications.
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