Microsoft was apparently so desperate to get SAP to fall in line behind its .NET strategy that it managed to deceive much of the mainstream media into thinking that the German software giant had suddenly turned on its heels and run into Steve Ballmer's ample arms. As if SAP would ever do that. And once again, where Microsoft goes in Web services, IBM is right there by its side, as Big Blue provided some Java balance to this week's SAP announcements.
Context: SAP has been a longtime supporter and implementer of the core Web services standards, such as SOAP and WSDL - it's a founding member of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I). But it feels that it needs at least a partial outreach program to deal with the realities of an enterprise software marketplace into which Microsoft is making increasing strides. So SAP has announced that it's committed to writing connectors to .NET.
One of the main benefits that standards-based Web services offer developers is the ability to exchange data between applications regardless of the platform on which they run. The much more complicated next step is tighter integration when code and business processes are swapped at the deployment level - but that's a way off and looks like it will be the preserve of traditional EAI companies for some time to come.
.NET: The announcement that SAP made this week at CeBIT in Hannover refers only to integration with .NET at the interface and portal level and does not involve actual deployment on .NET servers. It is an important step for both companies, but not quite the tight integration that SAP has pledged for the Java platform.
According to Peter Barth, director of technology marketing for SAP, this arrangement with Microsoft is "not about deploying [on .NET]," and the company will "not be writing code in C#," he said, referring to Microsoft's Java-like language that is a central part of its recently shipped Visual Studio .NET development environment. But other companies might well be writing such code, and SAP wants to make sure it's backing all the right horses.
Java and WebSphere: Last year, SAP committed to using Java 2 Enterprise Edition as the principal non-proprietary deployment platform for much of its future technology. It has its own J2EE application server, called In-Q-My, for the job. The next version (6.2) of SAP's application server runs both Java and its own ABAP execution environments in parallel, with another version due later this year that runs both environments within a single operating system process. The 6.2 cut is now due next quarter.
In addition to its own J2EE server, SAP is now planning to support IBM WebSphere for the parts of WebSphere that are particular to IBM. Barth cites things like mainframe and other legacy systems support, plus the tweaks that make WebSphere run better on IBM hardware. As BEA WebLogic, the other leading J2EE application server, is not a mainframe player and BEA has no hardware, SAP has no plans to support it, Barth said. WebSphere support will come in 2003.
.NET specifics: The specifics of the.NET integration are that SAP is planning to release a portal developers kit that will enable companies with .NET-based applications to integrate them with the mySAP Portal application, which will ship in 2003. The J2EE version of that kit ships in the second half of this year.
Also, SAP is extending support for its Web DynPro high-end interface design environment to .NET. Web DynPro is the tool that adapts SAP's screens, from the R/3 system right through to the newer CRM and SCM applications. SAP announced last year that it would be adapted to use Java Server Pages technology.
Conclusion: This is probably about as much as Microsoft could have expected from SAP, which has never been a particularly close partner with it. Microsoft's recently announced CRM tools, based on its Great Plains acquisition, are too lightweight to compete with SAP directly, but it made its future intentions fairly plain to see.
At the end of all this, SAP will still be a platform based on its ABAP proprietary technology and, increasingly, Java, with .NET being a fairly significant and interesting hedge on the side. It will mean that Microsoft won't be selling vast amounts of servers into SAP installations anytime soon, but at least applications running on those servers at other companies will be able to talk to SAP.