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SAP NetWeaver PI now on more solid footing, says Gartner

One year after discouraging users from using it for mission-critical projects, Gartner now says SAP NetWeaver PI is on solid footing.

Roughly one year after cautioning users against implementing SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (PI) for more mission-critical projects, Gartner analysts are now saying many of their concerns about the middleware have been addressed and the application now deserves a second look.

In a new Gartner Research report, analysts praised the improvements to the upcoming version of NetWeaver 7.3, set to debut sometime in the beginning of the year, including the corresponding new versions of PI and NetWeaver Portal.  Customers should look to deploy those applications once their benefits can be proven, it states.

Gartner analysts had previously said users should think twice about using NetWeaver PI for strategic projects due to that lack of roadmap clarity and questions over the application’s future. As a result NetWeaver PI should be used for tactical, SAP-centric projects involving a fast ROI.  SAP has largely remedied those concerns, the report states. 

While there were “right use” cases in which customers could benefit from PI, there has also been the mistaken perception that SAP shops should use the technology as a matter of course, said Gartner analyst Thomas Otter, one of the primary authors of the report.

SAP listened to those criticisms, according to Sanjay Chikarmane, senior vice president of SAP NetWeaver SOA middleware.

“There was a lot of angst out there,” Chikarmane said. “It wasn’t for lack of our not having the roadmap, or our lack in investing in these products. What we didn’t do a good job of at that time was communicating to the outside world.”

The recent TechEd conventions in Berlin and Las Vegas played a part in NetWeaver’s “resurgence,” where chief technology officer Vishal Sikka made it clear the technology would be the foundation of SAP’s applications now and in the future. 

That vote of confidence and the clarity into the NetWeaver roadmap in general are key reasons for the recommendation, according to the report. And while improvement to the application as a whole may not represent a quantum leap forward, it is a significant improvement over PI 7.0 and 7.1 releases.

 “7.3 is not a revolutionary release,” Otter said. “But it is about making life easier for SAP’s customers.”

Overall, 7.3 promises a much smaller total cost of ownership and several improvements, according to the report, including integration between PI and SAP Solution Manager and between PI and Duet Enterprise for integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint.  

NetWeaver PI also has an option for a single-stack Java only enterprise service bus (ESB), something that Chikarmane said customers had been asking for, and as a result would be easier to administer and require less hardware.

“Everything is contained within that single stack,” he said. “The cost of administration is much smaller, much more streamlined.”

Despite the praise, Gartner raised a number of criticisms, including continued confusion over how the various NetWeaver products all fit together.  SAP also contributes to that confusion by referring to NetWeaver as both products and a vision, the report states.

In addition to getting analysts’ attention, at least one current NetWeaver customer liked what he saw and heard. Mark Musser, the principal business systems analyst for California’s Sacramento County, said he had seen the newest version of NetWeaver at TechEd last month, and was enthusiastic about its benefits – if they turn out to be true. At the top of his list was SAP’s claim that the newest version of NetWeaver Portal is able to handle a 70% increase in the number of concurrent users. That’s huge, he said, given that he expected their number of users to go from 2,500 to roughly 10,000 sometime next year.

“If it ever comes close to that,” Musser said, “it’s really going to help us out. We may not have to buy any new hardware.”

Making it easier to make changes to the Portal – another one of SAP’s claims – was something else he was interested in, Musser said. Sacramento County is upgrading to version 7.01 in the coming weeks.

The goal is to move to 7.3 late next year once the software has been out on the market awhile and other, perhaps less conservative organizations – have had a crack at it.

“We definitely don’t want to be a ramp-up customer,” he said. “Taxpayers tend to not like it when you buy buggy software and then hear about it.”

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