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Much of the chatter around the integration, customization and extension of SAP applications today centers around SAP HANA Cloud Platform, along with SAP HANA Cloud Integration -- its native integration platform as a service, or iPaaS, offering.
And yet, if so much of SAP's customer base is still running SAP ERP applications in on-premises installations, isn't NetWeaver still a critical integration platform for SAP? The recent release of SAP NetWeaver 7.5 appears to confirm this, but where does NetWeaver fit in the puzzle of integration tools?
"I think NetWeaver is in a state of resurgence, but it will never be the go-to tool that everyone talks about and goes to conferences for," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting. "NetWeaver's essential role moving forward is to be the glue that ties together two big issues for the SAP customer base: It's going to tie together the on-premises world with the cloud world, and it's going to help orchestrate processes and break down process silos."
The most important traditional NetWeaver-based tool for integration and extension is SAP Process Orchestration, which SAP is more frequently referring to without the older NetWeaver branding.
"SAP Process Orchestration has been our go-to offering for some time," said Sindhu Gangadharan, vice president and head of product management for SAP's HANA Cloud Integration, Process Integration and Financial Services Network.
"What we did on that side is we brought together the process integration, the business process management, the business rules management, as well as the gateway capabilities, the business-to-business capabilities, and we offer it all as one solution bundle, called Process Orchestration. We also complimented that with an offering natively built on HANA, called SAP Operational Process Intelligence," she explained.
Forget discrete tools: SAP integration is now a portfolio
Meanwhile, when talking to SAP about integration, one thing quickly becomes clear: There is no single product that rules SAP integration. SAP considers Process Orchestration part of a much broader portfolio of integration and orchestration tools that customers can use to achieve their particular business goals.
And yet, there are differences in how certain features arrive in SAP's various integration offerings.
"In terms of [research and development] investments, the primary focus is cloud first, and then we bring that investment to our customers on premises," Gangadharan said.
Consequently, SAP HANA Cloud Integration (HCI) not only supports cloud-to-cloud, but also cloud-to-ground integration efforts, including non-SAP applications. "This is also complemented on the cloud side with API management solutions, because as you can imagine, iPaaS is usually an enterprise service bus plus an API management layer," Gangadharan explained.
It's clear that SAP's integration ambitions for HCI are not limited to the cloud.
But there is even more to SAP's integration portfolio. For instance, each of SAP's cloud-based line-of-business applications, such as SuccessFactors, has its own packaged integration components supporting out-of-the-box integrations.
"On [NetWeaver] 7.5, we have taken some of the core runtimes from our cloud middleware and brought it also to Process Orchestration, so our existing customers can have a stepping stone to leverage cloud middleware capabilities and they can natively run the packaged integration on Process Orchestration," Gangadharan explained.
Enter API management
While the dominant style of integration focuses on chaining together processes and synchronizing data, SAP is seeing increased demand for another sort of innovation project: apps.
"Lines of businesses want to build new apps, maybe smaller apps, on top of their core," said Christoph Liebig, lead solution architect at SAP.
"If you want to do that, how do you get to product master data or customer master data -- or even non-SAP data -- in a mobile app or a logistics portal that you would put up for your supply chain partners?" he asked. "This is where we see API management come in. And this is where we position SAP API Management, because it offers an easy way to expose data from all of our SAP core applications."
SAP API Management is offered both as an on-premises installation, as well as an on-demand service on SAP HANA Cloud Platform.
If you can use SAP Process Orchestration for on-premises to on-premises integration, as well as connect to cloud-based applications, and if you can also use the cloud-based HCI for cloud-to-ground integration, which integration method should you choose?
"If you see an increasing need for cloud-to-cloud integration, then you should absolutely consider using our HANA Cloud Integration offering," Gangadharan said. "On the other hand, if you're mostly on premises or cloud to on premises, then you could use NetWeaver 7.5. Especially now, as you can also benefit from the packaged integration that is continually being released by our SAP line-of-business cloud solutions."
The bottom line is that SAP is delivering integration tools, packages and solutions first to its cloud-based applications and through SAP HCI, then rolling those features out to SAP Process Orchestration -- i.e., NetWeaver -- and beyond, while also delivering other tools such as SAP API Management.
While some of the tools have overlapping capabilities, much of today's decisions come down to whichever deployment model an organization can support in-house -- or not -- or simply, whether it prefers cloud as a service or on premises.
Integration pressure rises
"What is already happening, whether it's with an SAP application, or a Workday or a Salesforce, it's becoming more imperative that you integrate and orchestrate, because workforce management doesn't stand alone and CRM doesn't stand alone," Greenbaum said, noting that SAP is facing increasing pressure to make integration, even with non-SAP applications, easier than ever.
"Now, CRM is service, and service is tied to supply chain and logistics. This deep integration is very important, and in a funny way, it is the thing that can make or break the next generation of SAP functionality. How well are you integrated? How easily is this integrated? How resilient are you to change?" he said.
"Fundamentally, NetWeaver is for the marriage of the old and the new, and having something like NetWeaver that promises to give SAP customers everything under the hood is a tall order, but that's what SAP has to do," he added.
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