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SAP pros flock to SAP XI discussion

SAP pros are beginning integration projects with SAP Exchange Infrastructure, while other firms are considering the new technology.

Read our special event coverage of SAP TechEd '05 in Boston.

BOSTON -- About a year ago, technical online message boards began buzzing about SAP's latest integration technology, SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI.)

XI was SAP's vision and it closely aligned with where our architecture needed to be.
Chris Fowler,
SAP technical architectTexas Instruments

Those that had started tinkering with SAP XI were having varied results, while others thought it was too soon to even touch the technology.

The message this week at SAP TechEd '05 is that SAP XI is inevitable. SAP XI will replace standard plug-ins used in R/3 versions of SAP as an integration method, according to SAP.

A component of NetWeaver, SAP XI is used by IT teams to exchange information, both SAP and non-SAP data, from internal and external systems.

Mohammad Zanjani, an applications manager in charge of the ABAP group at Michael Foods Inc., is convinced that his company will eventually use the technology.

The Minnetonka, Minn.-based egg product distributor just recently completed an upgrade to SAP R/3 Enterprise, and data from some non-SAP systems may have to be integrated, Zanjani said. For now, Zanjani said he won't use the technology because he is happy keeping systems running in ABAP programming code.

"It's still too early," Zanjani said. "I'm happy with what we've got now. We're not running into any integration problems."

But Chris Fowler, an SAP technical architect on Texas Instruments' Exchange Infrastructure project, saw SAP XI in 2002 as the answer to his company's integration problems. An early adopter, Texas Instruments conducted an upgrade to SAP R/3 Enterprise, and wanted to get as much custom code out of its systems, said Fowler, who participated in a panel discussion on SAP XI at the TechEd conference.

"We knew going forward that we were going to have to use XI anyway," Fowler said. "XI was SAP's vision and it closely aligned with where our architecture needed to be."

Related information:

SAP XI Learning Guide

Quiz: ESA, XI and the new era of integration

"The discussion was, 'Do we need a unified architecture?' and the answer was, 'Yes, we do,'" Fowler said. "From our standpoint we had a lot of coordination issues with plug-ins. We're happy to see SAP moving away from plug-ins as the standard integrators in R/3."

Some SAP customers are using SAP XI because some of SAP's latest modules require its use. Users of SAP's Supplier Relationship Management (SAP SRM) applications, use XI as the main integrator for some sales and service components. Several of those SAP XI users are reporting sluggish performance, but Fowler said performance issues could be related to memory usage.

"When dealing with XML, everything is memory intensive," Fowler said. "The only adjustments we've made are increasing the memory allocation for Java."

SAP XI is also heavily used by Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp., which began using it during a project to streamline data to report product information to the Global Data Synchronization Network.

"There's about half a dozen of us that are heavily involved with XI," said Dan Boyce, who heads Whirlpool's XI initiatives.

Developing a set of governance standards is a very important way to set standards for common data formats to avoid messy integration issues, Boyce said. Whirlpool put together an interactive questionnaire so that someone building an interface that uses XI, could get answers, he said.

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