In the brave new world of fractured SAP solutions, what's a Basis person to do?
Back in the day when all we had to deal with was R/3, administrative work was pretty straightforward. SAP was contained in one system. All we had to worry about was R/3.
Now, with SAP's proclivity for openness, we have to deal with Java, message throughput, SSO, integrated partner applications sold by SAP, and enterprise service-oriented architecture (SOA), to name a few.
If you think the architecture will get simple again, forget about it.
But 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 greatest demand.
Being a NetWeaver architect means more than just knowing the underlying technology, however. It means understanding NetWeaver's solution capability.
If you are not interested in becoming a NetWeaver solution architect but want to keep your skills current and demand top dollar, you can focus on Java Administration, enterprise SOA, and Solution Manager.
Java is here to stay
More and more SAP functionality is delivered through the Java stack of the Application Server (AS), which comes in two flavors, ABAP and Java. ABAP is the classic SAP technology, and Java is the J2EE server on which most of NetWeaver runs.
Having evolved from a "pure" Basis guy based in ABAP technology to a NetWeaver expert a number of years ago, I can tell you there is nothing in the Java stack that relates to the ABAP world.
But it's not difficult to pick up the Java stack. SAP's Java AS is a J2EE-compliant Java server, meaning that if you know any other J2EE server, such as JBoss, learning the SAP Java AS is just a question of learning new tools.
SAP's NetWeaver training courses are good, but they cost an arm and a leg. There's always the old-fashioned, 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 the SAP Developer Network (SDN). You can get a 90-day trial version of the Java AS, or you can get a NetWeaver subscription. If you are a contractor, I recommend downloading NetWeaver 7.0 and Composition Environment (CE) 7.1 to get acquainted with both flavors of NetWeaver. I have CE 7.1 on my laptop, and though it takes a long time to load, 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. I haven't been able to get NetWeaver to install on Vista. You can download a trial version of VMWare Workstation.
Administering the Java AS in NetWeaver 7.0 is painful, but in NetWeaver 7.1, it's actually enjoyable. NetWeaver Administrator in NetWeaver 7.1 is a true administrator's tool – it's one-stop shopping.
Become an enterprise SOA administrator
Over the past few months, SAP has begun talking about its Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) functionality. With NetWeaver 7.1, they are truly delivering this capability.
SAP's ESB is composed of Process Integration (PI) 7.1, on the provider side, and CE 7.1. PI 7.1, on 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.
Therefore, there are quite a few moving parts you need to master. WS-Policy is a Web service standard that describes how you can define Web services requirements and behavior. WS-Reliable messaging describes the quality of services. And UDDI sync describes how services can be shared between UDDI servers.
SOA management is how I keep on top of all this stuff, such as monitoring services, providing and enforcing SLAs, and securing them.
For detailed descriptions of the standards mentioned above, you can go to OASIS Open or the W3C. SDN also has a great deal of information around these standards.
SAP is also 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. With these tools, non-technical people will be able to design and build applications within CE. A few things to get familiar with to stay ahead of the curve include BPMN, BRM, BEM and EDA.
Become familiar with Solution Manager
More and more companies I know are using Solution Manager because SAP is making the product more robust and because landscapes are getting much more complicated. Centralized monitoring, root-cause analysis and transport control are critical.
Consequently, the demand for Solution Manager consultants has picked up considerably over the past year.
SAP is splitting functionality into its 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.
CHARM, the centralized transport control within Solution Manager, is becoming very popular because it merges ABAP transports and NetWeaver Data Integration into a central command post.
So you see, if you're a Basis person, don't worry 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.
Kent Sanders has been working with SAP technology for more than 14 years. He is currently Senior Technology Director at Falls Church, Va.-based CSC, working in their global SAP practice. Kent was the SAP enterprise architect for The Home Depot. He is a certified TOGAF Enterprise Architect, an SAP Certified Technical Consultant and a certified Business Process Management Practitioner, and he holds a master's degree in MIS.