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SAP takes off down a Java-driven Web services path

SAP intends not to follow the Microsoft path to Web services for now, at least until Microsoft's C# Java alternative gets up to speed

SAP is making the switch to Java-driven Web services, denying Microsoft the support of one of the largest applications companies in the world for its .Net vision.

The move comes as part of SAP's conclusion that Web services will be central to its future strategy.

The company has decided to use Java for server-side application development for all its front-end applications. It will combine Java with its proprietary ABAP (advanced business application programming) object-oriented language for back-end systems and eventually drop C/C++ altogether. In addition, the company is trying to position its application, portal and exchange servers as a viable platform on which companies can run all sorts of Web services apps, not just SAP's.


Although SAP tried to present this move as an embrace of Java, ABAP and .Net -- it promised "connectors" to .Net -- co-CEO Hasso Plattner was adamant that the company intends to phase out C and C++ in favor of Java once it's satisfied that Java's performance is up to snuff. That means that SAP intends not to follow the Microsoft path to Web services for now, at least until Microsoft's C# Java alternative gets up to speed. Only when the .Net technologies reach that point and prove to be a viable way for developing enterprise applications will SAP will consider using them, the company said.

SAP is not rewriting everything in Java just yet, though. For example, Plattner said there will be no rewrite of SAP Financials, SAP Human Resources or other core products that manipulate vast amounts of disparate data. Instead, it is redoing 150,000 interfaces, right down to the pop-up windows, using J2EE and Java Server Pages (JSP). Although that might not be the end-to-end Java of lore, it's certainly not .Net either.

SAP says it will license, rather than write, a Java Virtual Machine and some other Java technology, most likely from Sun Microsystems or IBM. But it will use its own J2EE application server, called In-Q-My.

Plattner said the company chose not to support application servers from market leaders such as BEA and IBM -- as most other application vendors are doing -- because they are not robust enough to handle the transaction-oriented systems that so many of SAP's customers run. He dismissed their heritage as one of managing "websites," rather than transactional applications. In addition to the Java VM, SAP is also looking to license some Java security and directory technology from either Sun or IBM.

Along with the application server layer, SAP's Web DynPro application development environment will be rewritten as JSP and XML tools. By combining it with Java, Plattner believes SAP has extended the life of ABAP by 10 years.

The exchange server, sold by the SAP markets unit, was originally aimed at public exchanges, but that market never took off so the company is now pushing it as an integration server to pull in other vendors' applications. SAP needs to explain the integration story a bit better -- so far it's a bit vague -- but basically the company is saying that it is now open because it will run on J2EE application servers. The same goes for the newer mySAP Portal application, which already had a components-based model.

Competition and partners

Microsoft and SAP have never been particularly close partners, although SAP's technology, perhaps inevitably, does run on Microsoft platforms. Microsoft's purchase of Great Plains Software last Christmas probably raised eyebrows at SAP, even though Great Plains plays mainly in the small to medium-sized business market, rather than in SAP's traditionally strong area of large enterprises.

In addition to SAP slighting Microsoft and snubbing BEA, its integration software partners, most notably webMethods and Tibco, will be glancing anxiously over their shoulders now that SAP has decided to try to use Web services to integrate its applications with those of other vendors -- rather than buying the applications and then tying them together using webMethods' and Tibco's software.


SAP's move will undoubtedly please Sun and annoy Microsoft. But there's more to it than that. SAP, with its hundreds of applications and partners, will be a Web services case study as it tries to move from its own proprietary system with its own language to one using standards -- albeit with some lock-in on the back end for many years to come.

Of course, if .Net, Sun One and all the other Web services visions are entirely aligned with all the standards, and all support the same things, then SAP choosing Java over .Net should count for nothing -- or so goes the reasoning behind SAP's insistence it will still support .Net. Of course, that's never happened in the computer industry, which is why this move is significant. Regarding Java and the alternatives, Plattner said there is "no debate anymore within SAP as to what is better." He then confused the statement by saying that this is the day Java became "our second language" to ABAP. Still, it wouldn't be a proper SAP announcement without a confusing marketing message.

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