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With NetWeaver PI's future unclear, don't use it for strategic projects, Gartner says

SAP hasn't clarified a product roadmap for NetWeaver PI, and a number of factors, the most recent of which is the vendor's SOALogix acquisition, have led Gartner to believe there may not be one.

NetWeaver PI customers shouldn't use the middleware for new, business-critical projects because SAP hasn't clarified a roadmap for the product, according to a Gartner Research report.

A number of factors -- the most recent of which is SAP's SOALogix acquisition -- have Gartner believing that SAP will "drastically" redefine its middleware strategy this year and may even relegate the current NetWeaver PI technology to legacy status.

For this reason, users should ensure that their  SAP maintenance contracts guarantee support for the next three to five years, according to Dan Sholler, research vice president at Gartner. They should also limit NetWeaver PI use to tactical, SAP-centric, fast ROI projects – not strategic projects like SOA or BPM, which some large multinational customers, particularly in the manufacturing segment, have been engaged in.

"You shouldn't make a significant investment in PI until the long-term strategy gets clarified," Sholler said. "I wouldn't spend any more money on it until I had that really clear from SAP."

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SAP, on the other hand, says it remains committed to the product.

"Any customers that are considering PI for new projects going forward, we absolutely stand behind them and continue to support them," said Sanjay Chikarmane, senior vice president of SAP NetWeaver SOA middleware.

SAP did say at TechEd that the new version of  NetWeaver PI, which will be in ramp-up sometime in 2010, will include simpler and more efficient provisioning and consumption of enterprise services and unified provisioning of business events. It will also include improved performance and reliability, support for new standards versions like Java SE 6 and .NET 3.5, centralized monitoring via Solution Manager, and enhanced security, logging and monitoring, according to the report.

However, Gartner says: "The announcement was kept low-key by SAP, which didn't expand much on the long-term evolution of the product, nor its strategic role in the big picture. Therefore, it didn't dispel the growing uncertainty in the PI client-base about the product's long-term viability."

It's one of a combination of factors that have led Gartner to its assessment.

Many of SAP's customers, particularly the largest ones, never made a strategic commitment to the middleware.

About 3,000 user organizations have NetWeaver PI, and between 2,000 and 2,200 are using it in production, according to Gartner. Midsized companies are the most likely users. But many have found it too complex for their needs.

In turn, the largest customers were already using another middleware before NetWeaver PI became available in 2003 and never moved to NetWeaver PI because to do so was too expensive. Many companies have "cornered" PI into strategic projects, avoiding using it for  SOA, BPM,  business activity monitoring (BAM), complex event processing (CEP) or multi-enterprise B2B.

The exception is manufacturers, as well as some in oil and gas and utilities.

Compared with other middleware, NetWeaver PI has always been resource-hungry, Sholler said. To get the same level of performance, it needs to be run on a bigger level of infrastructure. Secondly, it only recently became a distributed ESB-like architecture with NetWeaver PI 7.1. Also, it typically takes six to seven more steps to do something with NetWeaver PI than with other middleware.

The bottom line is, NetWeaver PI isn't more complicated for SAP customers to use than other middleware, it's just not less complicated.

"What you could do with SAP and PI together was no different than what you could do with SAP and other middleware offerings," Sholler said. "People expected something better in the context of SAP."

SAP has also had several chances to use NetWeaver PI with its products -- and hasn't, he said. The most recent example of this is the SOALogix acquisition, announced in December. What the SOALogix Confero product does overlaps with PI almost completely. SAP says the product is for some very specialized use cases that require SAP PPM to work with Microsoft Project.

Nor was NetWeaver PI used for current, on-demand projects like SAP Business ByDesign, Sholler said.

"There are several examples where the SAP internal organization had the opportunity to use PI for something and has basically avoided doing so," Sholler said.

NetWeaver isn't sufficient to support  SAP's on-demand strategy and vision of hybrid on-premise, on-demand deployments for its customers. Gartner's expectation, according to the report, is that SAP will make NetWeaver capable of supporting new requirements through a massive refresh of the technology and/or will develop a new cloud-minded middleware platform. SAP may make an agreement with another middleware vendor or acquire another middleware company in pursuing a new middleware strategy, Sholler said.

Customers shouldn't worry that SAP will abandon them, though. NetWeaver PI will be supported at least through 2017, he said.

"It's not like the thing's going to go off in a puff of smoke. SAP is going to continue to sell and continue to collect maintenance payments," Sholler said. "The key is, you need to make sure your maintenance contracts allow you enough runway to make some kind of decision and move to another solution."

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