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SAP signs on heavyweights

Company signs on the likes of IBM, Microsoft and Cisco to license its technical blueprints and build SAP-optimized programs.

SAP has significantly expanded the partner network surrounding its NetWeaver software, signing up the industry?s "big gorillas" to create closer ties to its business applications.

The German company said Wednesday that several companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco Systems, EMC, Computer Associates International, Macromedia, Mercury Interactive, Adobe Systems and Symantec, have licensed software from SAP to create SAP-optimized products. SAP disclosed the partnerships at its Sapphire customer conference in Boston.

The companies on the expanded roster will get access to the technical specifications, or blueprints, that detail the inner workings of SAP's products. SAP calls those blueprints its Enterprise Service Architecture (ESA).

With the partner program, SAP intends to transform its business application line into a platform on which third-party software providers can build add-ons and specially tuned versions.

A broader portfolio of SAP-specific wares will help drive sales and upgrades, said Shai Agassi, a member of SAP's executive board.

"A platform needs support from infrastructure companies and a platform needs killer applications to carry it through. It doesn't matter if it's Xbox or Windows, you need that combination," Agassi said.

He said that SAP has spent the last several months recruiting the "big gorillas" in different markets to license the ESA and put portions of it into their respective lines. Partners get access to SAP's toolkit and "run-time" software that is used within their own gear, according to the company.

Over the past three years, SAP has revamped the infrastructure software, called NetWeaver, that runs its business applications.

The goal of NetWeaver is to give SAP applications a more flexible design, called a service-oriented architecture, by using industry standards dubbed Web services. The design is meant to let customers more easily upgrade SAP modules and share data with non-SAP systems.

Following its acquisition of PeopleSoft, rival Oracle launched a similar initiative called Project Fusion to create a common Java and Web services-based software for its different application product lines.

Agassi said that using NetWeaver, SAP has written its own software programs for business intelligence, tools that pull transactional information out of applications for analysis. By using the modeling capabilities in NetWeaver, company engineers created 200 analytical tools tuned for specific uses and industries.

Close integration with Macromedia's Flash presentation format will simplify business intelligence tools as well, Agassi said. The analytics programs will available next year.

Last month, SAP and Microsoft said that next year a project called Mendocino will let people get information, such as customer sales records, stored in SAP systems from Microsoft Office applications.

In the networking area, Agassi said that Cisco routers will be able to look at application information as it passes through the network, rather than simply a network IP address. That will allow Cisco gear, for example, to prioritize traffic based of the contents of the data coming through.

"You're looking at all the giants coming together saying that they're all supporting this. Most wanted to add application awareness," Agassi said.

Agassi said he expects that 400 to 500 smaller software providers will sign on to build SAP add-on products.