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Is SAP NetWeaver a Good Basis for Enterprise Application Ecosystems?

Helmuth Gümbel Henrik Klagges (TNG) – Dr. Martin Wagner (TNG)

July 2006


Table of Contents

1 Management Summary

2 Introduction

2.1 Background

2.2 The Importance of Enterprise IT Ecosystems

3 Ecosystems Overview

3.1 NetWeaver Overview

3.2 WebSphere Overview

3.3 Alternatives

4 High-Level Comparison

4.1 General Architecture – Layering versus Loose Coupling

4.2 Components Side by Side

4.3 Conclusions

5 Detailed Comparison

5.1 Application Server

5.2 Messaging Infrastructure and Process Management

5.3 Portal Server

5.4 Other Components

5.5 Development Environment

5.6 Standards Compliance

5.7 Comparison Matrix

6 Strategic Conclusions

6.1 Recommendations for SAP

6.2 Recommendations for IBM

6.3 Recommendations for Customers

7 Glossary

8 List of Figures

9 Bibliography

Why you need to read this

This paper carries the strategic analysis of “NetWeaver – Open Lock-in?” to the next, more technical level. It thus is intended for the technically minded CIO, the architect, and the application infrastructure planner. On 60 pages, we compare the technical features of the SAP NetWeaver and the IBM WebSphere middleware platforms. Today, each of them is intended to be a complete foundation for enterprise customers to host their business processes and to integrate their applications and data. However, NetWeaver was originally created to solve the many challenging integration tasks internal to the SAP world (and is now marketed beyond this scope), while WebSphere was designed from the start as a generic application platform.

On an architectural level, each platform has reasonably equivalent building blocks. On close inspection however, the principal NetWeaver constituents – the application server, portal software, messaging infrastructure and development environment – have serious deficiencies in areas such as standards compliance, scalability and ease-of-integration with non-SAP software. In contrast, each WebSphere component is typically among the three best products in its class - each offering very good integration support and standards compliance, allowing customers to leverage other standards-based software or even move between vendors if desired. Also worthy of note is that several open-source products have matured beyond the capabilities offered by SAP, for example in the area of Java application servers.

If you believe to be a pure-play SAP customer, you should thoroughly evaluate your application portfolio. In many cases, customers forget about the many non-SAP elements in their software environments. If it turns out that you really have an SAP-dominated IT landscape, you have no reasonable other choice but sticking to NetWeaver. Enjoy the integration benefits of a homogeneous IT landscape. Pressure SAP to increase NetWeaver's quality, ease-of-use and standards compliance. Periodically look over the fence and check whether the IT world has changed in order to re-affirm or change your policy.

But if you are a customer with a typical heterogeneous, i.e. non-SAP-centric environment, don't adopt NetWeaver outside the area mandated by SAP. Rather, enjoy your freedom to pick better products and services. Choose a highly rated commercial or open-source application server such as IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, JBoss or Apache Geronimo. Choose a portal that is compliant to the JSR-168 and JSR-170 standards, again for example from IBM, or from open-source groups like Liferay. For development choose for example the excellent open-source Eclipse, the free Oracle JDeveloper, IntelliJ Idea or IBM’s Rational Application Developer. Integrate applications with Web Services and standardized messaging engines like IBM’s ESB or the open-source ActiveMQ. For process integration, consider commercial toolsets such as IBM's mature process integration products.

If you are stuck in the middle, with a significant SAP infrastructure mixed with many other software deployments, evaluate your options very carefully. Some further adoptions of NetWeaver software may be unavoidable or even recommendable. But the road to permanent lock-in is risky. Therefore, on each decision that could lead to a deeper entanglement with the SAP as it stands today, consider the technical alternatives, such as the example tools mentioned above, or the strategic alternatives, such as switching to a software-as-a-service platform.

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