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SAP's hunt for killer applications

Using its partners, SAP this week created a more tangible picture of its Enterprise Services Architecture, considered the most strategic initiative at the business applications giant.

SAP calls the Enterprise Service Architecture (ESA) the "blueprints" that underlie its sprawling line of business applications, which automate a wide range of business processes.

ESA documents the different functions of SAP's applications and the interfaces, expressed as Web services, to access these programs. NetWeaver is the actual middleware, or software plumbing, that SAP's applications run on, which includes things such as inter-application integration.

With the ESA, a third-party company can write software specifically optimized for SAP applications. Demos of these SAP-optimized products this week at its customer conference in Boston helped bring home the potential of NetWeaver and the company's ESA initiative.

During his Thursday morning keynote, Shai Agassi, president of SAP's product and technology group, said SAP's strategy is to make its business applications a platform on which to build third-party products.

ESA and the NetWeaver software will also allow SAP customers to create "composite" applications that combine data from different application functions.

"(ESA) is as big as Java but without all the fancy names," Agassi said.

The company on Tuesday announced that a number of industry heavyweights, including Intel, Cisco and EMC, have joined existing ESA licensees Microsoft, IBM and Macromedia.

SAP and Microsoft are jointly developing a product called Mendocino, which will be sold as an add-on to SAP or Microsoft Office applications. During a demo on Thursday, SAP executives showed that a person could use Microsoft's Exchange calendar to track how much time was devoted to specific projects.

Rather than have to leave Exchange, a person will be able to right click and be able to record information directly into an SAP application. Similarly, a task bar in Exchange will allow people to subscribe to or create reports from the SAP system.

Customer attendees at the conference appeared impressed.

"This is a great example of a technology deployment to the masses, which is always the greatest challenge with (enterprise) systems," said John Cirone, chief information officer at marketing and advertising conglomerate Interpublic Group after the Mendocino demo.

What does this close integration mean in networking? Cisco showed off two boxes still under development which will allow a person to access SAP applications, along with other services such as voice mail, compression, security and wireless access.

The Cisco products, which run a portion of SAP's middleware within them, are coming out of a new business unit called AON which stands for application-oriented networking

Meanwhile, Intel and SAP also showed off the fruits of a year-long collaboration: a line of HP servers, code named Euclid, which will be optimized for doing analysis on huge volumes of SAP data

By putting portions of SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence software on its 64-bit processors, Intel and SAP engineers were able to create systems capable of doing queries which used take several minutes in one second. Complex queries which used to take three or four hours can now be done in ten seconds.

The systems will go into beta testing soon, according to Will Swope, Intel's corporate vice president of Intel, and have a starting cost of about $50,000.

Agassi touted these partnerships as an "ESA coalition" and more than just "marketing handshakes."

Intel's Swope agreed: "This was literally a technology-driven from start to finish," he said.