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Commentary: Waking up to NetWeaver

Forrester experts say SAP customers should consider NetWeaver for their next portal-centric or business intelligence projects--and ease into the rest of the NetWeaver stack.

Commentary: Waking up to NetWeaver
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
March 18, 2004, 2:30PM PT

By Sharyn Leaver, principal analyst, and Ted Schadler, vice president

SAP customers should consider NetWeaver for their next portal-centric or business intelligence projects--and plan to ease into the rest of the NetWeaver stack over time.

That's Forrester's conclusion, after we met recently with SAP board member Shai Agassi and Carol Burch, senior vice president of NetWeaver's Global Initiative, to hear SAP's plans for its middleware.

For a decade, SAP has been investing in middleware--application servers (Web Application Server), portals (Enterprise Portal), business intelligence (Business Warehouse), integration servers (Exchange Infrastructure), mobile platforms (Mobile Infrastructure) and data management (Master Data Management)--to support its business applications. With NetWeaver 2004, SAP is now taking these products to market to compete with the application platforms of BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

Forrester believes that the enterprise architects in SAP shops should look hard at NetWeaver for future projects that incorporate SAP processes or data, because it:

• Natively solves the SAP half of an integration, portal or business intelligence project. SAP middleware is ready-made for SAP data. Unlike BEA's WebLogic or IBM's WebSphere, NetWeaver comes with metadata, prebuilt services, and tooling that lower the cost and hassle of getting to SAP modules. So if your systems of record are in SAP, then SAP's Enterprise Portal, Exchange Infrastructure, and Mobile Infrastructure will be the easiest way to get to them.

• Demonstrates a commitment to standards and open source. SAP has shed its less-than-open reputation and is now clearly committed to Web services, Java and open source.

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SAP is on the board of the Web Services-Interoperability Organization. The application server supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition. And SAP, which began investing in Linux in 1998, is now investing in MySQL. SAP has also worked to advance process standards and is planning to add support for Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) to its upcoming Exchange Infrastructure release.

• Is priced to sell. SAP will compete aggressively with BEA and IBM on price: NetWeaver is free for licensed MySAP users and cheap for R/3 customers. Is this enough for SAP to stay committed to middleware? Probably not, but middleware revenues are not SAP's goal. SAP's goal is to use its middleware as a loss leader to lower the cost of building, deploying, integrating, and accessing SAP applications ? and then sell more applications.

How to proceed
SAP shops should adopt NetWeaver piece by piece. Despite the software's low--or nonexistent--price, firms shouldn't embrace the complete NetWeaver stack all at once. Instead, SAP shops should introduce NetWeaver components over time by:

• Starting with a portal or business intelligence project.

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With 7,500 installations, SAP's Business Warehouse product is the most mature and proven of the NetWeaver components. SAP's Enterprise Portal solution is next in line with 2,500 installations and is particularly strong at integrating with R/3 business objects in addition to Business Warehouse. This makes these solutions--together or individually--a logical starting point for firms looking for SAP information delivery and analysis features.

• Piloting other components as needed. SAP shops with integration requirements should consider components like Exchange Infrastructure today. But firms already running integration software from independent software vendors (ISVs) like BEA or WebMethods shouldn't jump ship just yet. Three hundred firms are currently using Exchange Infrastructure for data integration, but the product has yet to prove its process management merits. Similarly, SAP's Master Data Management component has sparked early interest but isn't ready for broad adoption.

• Favoring standards-based partners to fill gaps. SAP customers with sophisticated needs in areas where NetWeaver falls short have two options: Wait for SAP to strengthen its offering or go with a third-party ISV. For mission-critical functionality that can't wait, firms should favor standards-based ISVs that are either "certified for" or "powered by" NetWeaver, like Intalio for business process management. Why? Buyers will get the functionality they need today with an insurance policy for moving to NetWeaver tomorrow.

© 2004, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.