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Transferring R/3 Admin skills to SAP NetWeaver

In the brave new world of fractured SAP solutions, what's a Basis person to do? Learn how to transfer all those R/3 admin skills over to SAP NetWeaver.

In the brave new world of fractured SAP solutions, what's a Basis person to do? Hi, I'm Kent Sanders and this is my first column for First a little background on me: I've been working with SAP technology for over fourteen years starting with Basis and security, then moving into architecture, NetWeaver, enterprise architecture and now management

Back in the day when all we had to deal with was R3, administrative work was pretty straightforward -- not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but straightforward. SAP was contained in one system, R3, and as administrators all we had to worry about was R3; we'd install one system, tune one system, secure one system, trouble shoot one system, monitor one system and that one system used the same technology, ABAP. Then along came BW and CRM which added real-time connectivity with CRM's middleware and ETL with BW, so now we had to start caring about the how application worked functionally.

Now, with SAP's proclivity for openness, we have to deal with JAVA, message throughput, SSO, integrated partner apps sold by SAP, enterprise SOA, etc. If you think the architecture will get simple again, forget about it!

So what does this all mean for you, the Basis guys out there? Simple -- life has gotten much more complicated. The good thing is that, if you can master this complexity, you will be an architect, and architects can demand top dollar by virtue of being in demand. Last December I attended an AMR Executive Summit Conference and one of the sessions I participated in was "How to Attract and Retain SAP Talent." Based on this session, the number one need that participating companies found hardest to fill was… NetWeaver Architect. Now, being a NetWeaver architect means more than just knowing the underlying technology but it also mean understanding the solution capability of NetWeaver. So what can you do if you are not interested in becoming a NetWeaver solution architect but want to keep your skills current and demand top dollar? Focus on these areas: Java Administration, enterprise SOA, and Solution Manager.

Java Administration

Java is here to stay in the SAP world and more and more SAP functionality is delivered through the Java stack of the Application Server. What used to be called the Web Application Server is just the Application Server now (I think this was to keep people for confusing SAP's WAS with IBM's WAS). The application server comes in two flavors, ABAP and Java: ABAP being the classic sap technology and Java being the J2EE server SAP runs most of NetWeaver on.

Having evolved from a 'pure' Basis guy based in ABAP technology to NetWeaver netweaver expert a number of years ago, I can tell there is nothing in the Java stack that relates to the ABAP world. That being said, it's not difficult to pick up the Java stack. SAP's Java Application Server (AS) is a J2EE compliant Java server, meaning if you any other J2EE server, such as JBoss, then learning the SAP Java AS is just a question of learning new tools. Okay, some good and bad news, starting with the bad news. Administering the Java AS in NetWeaver 7.0 is painful, but in NetWeaver 7.1 its actually enjoyable. Instead of going through a comparison of the two versions, I will tell you that the NetWeaver Administrator in NW 7.1 is a true administrator's tool, and its one-stop shopping.

So how do you pick up Java AS skills? Of course there is always training; SAP's NetWeaver training courses are good and…they cost an arm and a leg. There's always the old-fashioned way of on-the-job training. But if your employer or current client is not using Java, how do you get experience? I find the easiest way is to download either NetWeaver 7.0 or 7.1 from SDN. You can get a 90-day trial version of the Java AS or you can get a NetWeaver subscription from SDN. If you are a contractor, I would recommend downloading NetWeaver 7.0 and Composition Environment (CE) 7.1 so you can get acquainted with both flavors of NetWeaver. I have CE 7.1 on my laptop and, while it takes a long time to load and its not the latest system in the world, it gets the job done. You'll need Windows XP SP2 and at least 2GB of RAM. If you run Vista, as I do, you'll need a virtual machine to run NetWeaver in. I haven't been able to get NetWeaver to install on Vista. You can download a trial version of VM Workstation from VMWare.

Enterprise SOA

Who working with SAP has not heard of enterprise SOA, SAP has been touting enterprise SOA for four years. Remember when it was called ESA ? There is a great deal of admin work to do with enterprise SOA. Over the past few months, SAP has begun talking about their Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) functionality and with NetWeaver 7.1, they are truly delivering this capability. SAP's ESB is composed of these NetWeaver components: Process Integration (PI) 7.1 and CE 7.1. PI 7.1 (currently in ramp up and scheduled to go into General Availability in July) is the provider side of the ESB and CE 7.1 is the consumer side. Central to this ESB is the Enterprise Services Repository (ESR) which serves as a design-time service repository and a run-time service registry. The repository side of the ESR is SAP's proprietary modeling tool for modeling enterprise service. The registry side of the ESR if the UDDI 3.0 server used for service publishing and discovery.

So, what does this mean to you, the administrator? There are quite a few moving parts you need to master. First let's talk about the concepts of WS-Policy, WS-Reliable Messaging, UDDI Sync and SOA management. WS-Policy is a web service standard that describes how you can define web services requirements and behavior. WS-Policy is important because it always you to mange services base on their policies. WS-Reliable messaging describes the quality of server of services. This means I can describe how many times to retry a service before failing it, what to do if I have a service failure in an orchestration, etc. UDDI sync describes how services can be shared between UDDI servers. SOA management is how I keep on top of all this stuff: how I monitor services, provide and enforce SLAs, secure them, etc.

Where can you find information and get hands-on experience with enterprise SOA? For detailed descriptions of the standards mentioned above, you can go to OAISIS Open or the W3C. SDN also has a great deal of information around these standards. The get 'hands-on' the CE you download from SDN also includes the ESR. Once you install CE and the ESR, you'll have some post-installation steps to configure the ESR and the service registry. These steps import the ESR content and perform the initial setup of the service registry. These steps can be accomplished through the NetWeaver Administrator. Once you have the ESR configured you can play with publishing services from the repository to the registry and with syncing between UDDI registries. While SAP has come a long way with its service management capabilities, they still are not best-in-class. The NetWeaver Administrator has a tab dedicated to service monitoring and there is a great deal of technical monitoring of services you can do from there, but there are still holes in the areas of policy management and SLA management. There are third party tools from AmberPoint and SOA software you should become familiar with.

As an administrator an emerging development for you to be aware of is that SAP is on the verge of releasing tools that will make the 'dream' of the Business Process Expert a reality. SE 7.1.1 (currently due for release in September) will offer model-based design of composite applications. This is important to an administrator because, with these tools, non-technical people will be able to design and build applications within CE. What do you think that will mean for performance? Also, when something doesn't work as easily as it is marketed to work then who will get the first call to fix it. So here are a few things to get familiar with to keep ahead of the curve, BPMN, BRM, BEM and EDA. How's that for an alphabet soup?

Solution Manager

You've probably been hearing about Solution Manager as the next big thing for years now. Sure, you can monitor a landscape without Solution Manager, but why would you? SAP is forcing Solution Manager on you for certain things like licenses and support packs so why not take full advantage of it. The days of everything running in a single R3 are DEAD! SAP is splitting functionality into the Business Suite applications and NetWeaver components, making landscapes very complicated. In a previous job with a very large retailer headquartered in Atlanta, GA (whose name starts with Home), I architected a 75 instance landscape for SAP for Retail Industry Solution. Some of you might say, 75 instances is not a big deal, we have 100! True, but this is a greenfield implementation and each instance is a separate Business Suite apps or NetWeaver components -- and that was only for the US! The point is, landscapes are getting much more complicated and centralized monitoring, root-cause analysis and transport control are critical.

More and more companies I know are using Solution Manager because SAP is making the product more robust. CHARM, the centralized transport control within Solution Manager, is becoming very popular. It is especially popular since it will merge ABAP transports and NWDI into a central command post. Looking at various job boards, I see the demand for Solution Manager consultants has picked up considerably over the past year. I don't expect to trail off anytime soon. Having Solution Manger skills in your repertoire will only make you more desirable to employers and clients.

Many years ago, I was concerned my skills were getting dated because I was doing a lot of staff augmentation work and I wasn't getting exposed to the 'new' mySAP stuff back around 2000. Now, you don't have to worry about that as much. If you are working with a company that is using older SAP technology and you what to update your skills, you can do it on your own by downloading NetWeaver 7.1 from SDN and teaching yourself Java administration and enterprise SOA administration. If you are a 'Basis Guy' and worried about what NetWeaver will do to your career, relax and be happy. NetWeaver is not going to put you out of business, SAP Business Suite still runs on ABAP and will continue to do so, meaning that your classic Basis skills are still going to be in demand. But, if you want to stay up with the latest in SAP technology and differentiate yourself from your Basis competition, then mastering the SAP Java Application Server, enterprise SOA technology and Solution Manager will keep you ahead of the game. And, if you want to become an architect, we'll address that in another article.

Good luck!

Kent Sanders is the Senior Technology Director for CSC's global SAP Practice. Previously Kent was the SAP Enterprise Architect for The Home Depot and before that worked in New Product Introduction at SAP. Kent has been an independent consultant, worked for 'Big 5' consulting firms and SAP customer during his fourteen year SAP career. Kent is a certified TOGAF Enterprise Architect, a SAP Certified Technical Consultant, a certified Business Process Management Practioneer and holds a Masters degree in MIS.

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