Navigating this guide will help you learn answers to questions ranging from the basic (such as what is SOA?) to the complex (such as implementing NetWeaver in particular SAP environments).
The tutorial discusses the role of eSOA in NetWeaver and explains how NetWeaver technology and NetWeaver architecture are changing the face of SAP deployment and development. It focuses on the technical components of eSOA and NetWeaver and also associated methodologies, such as Run SAP and business process management (BPM), which allow NetWeaver and eSOA users to maximize the ROI of their SAP investments and to achieve a more flexible, customizable business.
Since NetWeaver is at the heart of SAP, all SAP customers must sooner or later come to terms with the NetWeaver platform and use it to best advantage. This SAP NetWeaver tutorial is designed to help executives, line-of-business managers, CIOs, IT developers, SOA architects and consultants understand the composition, features, benefits and drawbacks of the SAP NetWeaver platform and SAP's eSOA.
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What is SAP NetWeaver?
It's difficult to understand what SAP NetWeaver is without understanding what SOA is. It's easy to pardon anyone, even an SOA architect, for not being able to succinctly answer the question: "What is SOA?" Let's start with the basics: SOA is the acronym for service-oriented architecture. As you can see, the concept of a service -- specifically, a Web service -- is a key part of the answer to "What is SOA?" Thus, you should start your journey by reading this definition of Web services and listening to this podcast entitled What is SOA for more detailed background on SOA.
The book SAP NetWeaver for Dummies comes highly recommended by many important experts in the SAP ecosystem. Chapter 1 of SAP NetWeaver for Dummies contains a helpful overview; for example, the chart on page 19 offers a clear representation of NetWeaver's abilities to integrate people, data, processes and applications. Chapter 3 goes into even more detail, offering an excellent overview of NetWeaver components. An SAP NetWeaver white paper offers another detailed introduction to NetWeaver. Meanwhile, if you want an introduction to NetWeaver that puts the technology into strategic context, check out this white paper on tactical tips for using SAP NetWeaver to achieve specific goals. After checking out these resources, you'll be able to answer the question "What is NetWeaver?"
Understanding Enterprise SOA
One of the best ways of understanding both the technical character and the business value of enterprise SOA is to draw an analogy with digital music. Years ago, making a mix album was a complicated and expensive procedure. For example, you had to buy an entire album to access a single track. Then you had to transfer all the tracks you liked from different albums on to a different recording medium, such as a tape, one by one. After digital music, you can assemble a customized play-list with just a couple of mouse-clicks. In iTunes, for example, you can instantly sort songs by name, popularity, artist and so forth, and buy only the ones you need. You can then place them into a specific order on your iPod, or arrange to have them randomly shuffled. The songs are interoperable with your digital music player and your computer; they are portable across media. If you grasp these concepts, you're on your way to understanding enterprise SOA.
Specifically, these are the three interrelated concepts that serve us well in understanding SOA:
- Loose coupling: Web services, like digital songs, are not embedded in albums but can be easily pulled from different sources in order to be on a digital play-list that can be easily customized. In SOA, no service is rigidly attached to a single system, just as in digital music no song is rigidly attached to a music album.
- Interoperability: In the age of SOA, computers talk to one another. A Web service from a shipping provider talks to a Web service on your company's website and -- voila -- customers can pull up real-time tracking information without even knowing that the data is coming from outside your company. Web services, like Lego blocks, are designed to fit into each other with maximum ease; and, because they are loosely coupled, you can keep creating and modifying them in just about any way that you choose.
- Portability: Services can go anywhere. In the old days of e-business, you might have had to pull up a customer's record from a single, bolted-down interface to a server. Today, Web services can access any Internet-connected computer or networked mobile device, allowing you to see the customer information wherever you are. From a technical perspective, Web services do not have to permanently 'live' on any one server or inside any one program. Like a mix tape, Web services are composed of different parts that come from different locations, but they feel like a single, organic entity.
Enterprise SOA, usually abbreviated to eSOA, is the term SAP gives to its own SOA tools and technologies. Things start to get complicated here because NetWeaver is also built on SOA principles. Technically, then, NetWeaver is also part of the SOA universe. However, when we talk about eSOA, we're talking about the very bottom-level architecture that makes NetWeaver possible, and manages NetWeaver. Listen to this podcast to understand the SOA architecture within eSOA. That'll go a long way toward helping you understand how SOA is incorporated into specific SAP products.
SOA in SAP NetWeaver
So what is NetWeaver? Start by thinking of it as application infrastructure, or technology that makes it possible to develop, integrate and customize enterprise applications.
Let's simplify that a little bit and, in doing so, explain how NetWeaver leverages SOA. Imagine that you have a set of tiny Lego blocks, as this story of SAP versus Oracle demonstrates. Because every block fits into every other block, you have a flexible method of creating just about anything you want -- and, just as importantly, being able to break off a piece of something and attach it to something else. Now imagine that, instead of Legos, you have something really inflexible -- like a set of large bricks -- with which to work. The bricks have a number of disadvantages. They're not a flexible enough medium to let you really customize your design, and once you build something, you can't easily take it apart again. In NetWeaver, you're working with Legos, not bricks; the SOA in NetWeaver makes this possible.
Keep this metaphor in mind, and you'll begin to understand the true power and flexibility of SOA and its potential to support more agile, process-oriented organizations. In IT terms, what you need to know is that any SOA-powered platform solves IT infrastructure problems posed by pre-SOA architectures.
SOA architects will be particularly pleased to have this overview of using Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) for business processes, an integral part of the overall NetWeaver experience. For advanced SOA architects, this quiz tests your ESA knowledge.
Components in SAP NetWeaver integration
Now that we have a better handle on the principles behind NetWeaver and SOA, it's time to survey NetWeaver's components. Because NetWeaver allows you to both integrate and develop applications, let's start the overview with a look at NetWeaver's integration components. They are:
- SAP Web Application Server, which provides the supporting application infrastructure layer.
- SAP Enterprise Portal, an interface and collaboration layer.
- SAP Mobile Infrastructure, which makes applications mobile.
- SAP Business Intelligence, which allows SAP end users to pull data for SAP SCM and BI reporting and analytics out of their SAP applications.
- SAP Master Data Management, which cleanses and manages the data stored in, and shuttling between, SAP applications.
- SAP Exchange Infrastructure, an integration platform.
You can read more about how these integration components in NetWeaver map on to specific functionality in this overview of NetWeaver.
NetWeaver allows interoperability with IBM WebSphere and Microsoft .NET environments. This doesn't mean that SAP wants you to adopt or retain these technologies. Rather, it is possible to replace WebSphere and replace .NET with NetWeaver. NetWeaver can also allow your organization to create interoperability between Adobe and SAP. This interoperability in NetWeaver could allow you to use Adobe PDFs on the front end (for example, to gather data from partners or customers) and feed the data directly into an SAP system.
Components in SAP NetWeaver development
If you think of SAP NetWeaver integration components as connectors that allow you to plug pre-existing Lego blocks together, the development components of NetWeaver allow you to make your own Lego blocks. Here are NetWeaver's development components:
- SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio: An environment in which to develop Web Dynpro and J2EE applications.
- SAP Solution Manager: This is where you test your readiness to install SAP, optimize system performance, proactively discover unfolding problems, perform administrative functions and otherwise perfect the infrastructural performance of your SAP solution. Remember that Solution Manager is complemented by the Run SAP methodology.
- SAP Visual Composer: This is a modeling tool dedicated to the creation of user interfaces (UIs).
- The existence of all of these development components in NetWeaver complicates the question of when exactly you "have" NetWeaver. When you start using NetWeaver to create SAP applications or manage them, you can properly be said to have NetWeaver.
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