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Why Is SAP Entering the Web Application Server Arena?

by Dr. Peter Barth | SAPinsider

April 1, 2001

by Dr. Peter Barth, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), April (Issue 2)
 

Dr. Peter Barth is the SAP AG director of corporate marketing for mySAP Workplace and mySAP Technology. Prior to joining SAP, he spent two years as a consultant, helping clients to develop and implement successful IT strategies and advising them on operations issues. A computer scientist by training, Dr. Barth is also an expert in operations research.

Q. Last June, at SAP TechEd in Las Vegas, you announced the "SAP Web Application Server." What is it?

The SAP Web Application Server is an enhancement to the comprehensive Web infrastructure that SAP has had in place for quite some time. With this offering, we provide a state-of-the-art infrastructure for creating highly scalable, dynamic, and collaborative Web applications.

A comprehensive e-business solution such as mySAP.com needs to additionally provide the flexibility for developers to quickly and easily create new Web applications with standard Internet technologies. Server-side scripting with JavaScript provides a Web programming model commonly known from Active Server Pages (ASP) and Java Server Pages (JSP). All this is now available with the SAP Web Application Server.

Q. For developers who will be reading this, what benefits do they gain from native support for Internet standards (HTTP and HTTPS, Internet document standards such as HTML and XML, and server-side scripting with JavaScript)?

Web application developers can jump in and immediately start to implement a new Web application on the SAP Web Application Server. No specific SAP knowledge is needed. The Web programming model - server-side scripting for the generation of HTML pages - is known by all Web developers. Also, all Web developers know JavaScript. Furthermore, with native support of HTTP and HTTPS, the SAP Web Application Server can be easily integrated with standard infrastructure such as common Web servers. Additionally, the SAP Web Application Server can serve as an HTTP client that allows direct access and integration with other applications or Web resources. No special additional infrastructure is needed.

Q. Why did SAP see a need to create the SAP Web Application Server? There certainly is no shortage of Web application servers available today.

A Web application server is part of any comprehensive e-business solution. For a fast time-to-market, as well as design and layout flexibility, custom development of some parts of an e-business solution is necessary. To enable all Web developers to do this, you have to use open standards such as server-side scripting, which is what the SAP Web Application Server provides. Web applications, however, are mission-critical applications that have to be reliable and highly scalable. SAP is the clear leader in this regard - this is our competitive advantage. With the SAP Web Application Server, you get a proven solution plus the native Internet standards - this is a unique offering.

This doesn't mean that SAP wants to compete in the pure tools market. SAP is a solution provider and not a technology tools player. In a heterogeneous system landscape, there are many different Web technologies and Web components. The SAP Web Application Server integrates with every other technology and Web application server on the market via open standards interfaces. If somebody wants to write a standalone Web application from scratch and use an existing Web application server, they will probably stick with what they have. If you, as an SAP customer, are integrating a lot of different components, have a team of developers, and are providing a reliable Web application, then the SAP Web Application Server will be a viable alternative.

Q. Are we to understand that this server offers 100% native support for Internet standards?

Absolutely - 100% native support for HTTP and HTTPS, XML, JavaScript, and more. You can use it to build pure Web applications. You can also use it to develop traditional applications. And best of all, you can use it to develop applications that draw upon the resources of the Web, your existing SAP solutions, and other non-SAP components. And let me add that no SAP-specific programming knowledge is required to leverage all the server's Web development bells and whistles.

Q. So, developers have a choice of development environments?

That's correct. All the long-standing staples of the SAP development community - the Workbench, BAPIs, RFCs, IDocs, function libraries, and integration facilities - are present on the SAP Web Application Server. ABAP and BAPI programmers can easily access all these SAP resources, and at the same time, Web application developers have access to everything they need to create and maintain Web pages. Web developers can use the most popular standalone Web development tools, including Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Allaire HomeSite, and others.

Now add to all that the "scalability" and "reliability" factors. ABAP and BAPI programmers have come to take these SAP characteristics for granted - now Web application developers can, too. They can create a small application today, and scale it to support thousands of users tomorrow. No specialized or additional infrastructure is needed. That's a powerful benefit. A set of comprehensive Web controls that are fully integrated with the latest server-side scripting and page-development models is another key benefit. Design elements such as tree controls, grids, tabs, buttons, graphics, and the like can be changed according to personal taste using style sheets or JavaScript routines. The application also has a coherent user interface and a common look-and-feel, which make it easier to navigate. Thanks to standard Web controls and fully automated data exchange and session management, developers of interactive Web applications will experience a real boost in productivity.

Q. How does this server mesh with a customer's existing IT landscape?

Integration is achieved in a number of ways. The SAP Web Application Server is platform-independent.¹

It offers native support for prevailing Internet standards, so that it can be easily integrated with common Web servers or even serve Web browser requests directly. The SAP Web Application Server can serve as an HTTP client. What's more, all integration capabilities that are available with the standard SAP infrastructure are also available with the SAP Web Application Server. This includes integration with Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) tools and the solutions offered by over 900 SAP Software Partners.

A comprehensive e-business solution consists of a wealth of services provided by different components in an existing IT landscape. Basically, everything is a service. You must have components that provide these services and make sure that users can access them - and that all these services work well together. We already mentioned easing access to services by providing an HTML-based user interface with the help of server-side scripting technologies. To make sure that the services work together, open integration is key.

This open integration capability is a real advantage: open integration provides both real-time and cached access to existing SAP and non-SAP applications, which in turn allows customers to expand to the Web quickly, without affecting their existing, stable environment. In fact, any and all integration facilities supported by SAP are available with the SAP Web Application Server, whether it is access to existing SAP applications, communication with existing technologies, connectivity to middleware components, or support of traditional communication standards.

In short, the SAP Web Application Server can communicate and integrate with other SAP components in exactly the same way that any SAP component integrates - fully.

Q. What about security?

Needless to say, when it comes to Web applications, security is the top priority. The SAP Web Application Server provides support for the leading Internet security standards, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and HTTPS. The SAP Web Application Server supports digital certificates, ticketing, and cookies, too. And with X.509 client certificates, users can be identified without having to remember passwords. The entire access permissions concept that is inherent in all mySAP.com components is also used for applications created with the SAP Web Application Server - making it easy to maintain tight control over which parts of the application, and which data and information, will be accessible.

Q. Are some applications better suited for this platform than others?

Well, I wouldn't suggest using it for CAD applications! The name says it all: this is a solution for creating Web applications, particularly those that need to be highly scalable and highly available. It is also ideal for applications that need to exchange information with other components, whether they are SAP builds or non-SAP builds on any other technologies such as Microsoft's .NET, Java, IBM WebSphere, etc.

Q. How do other Web development solutions stack up against SAP's offering?

SAP is way ahead of the rest in this effort. SAP's core competence has always been in delivering high-performance, high-availability, high-reliability, and highly secure transaction-based applications. With SAP solutions you can run, for example, 2 million fully business-processed order line-items per hour. That hasn't changed; these characteristics are all an integral part of the SAP Web Application Server. But now we've transferred these core SAP strengths to the Web application development community, so that any Web application developer can create and maintain fully scalable applications.

The bottom line is this: if you need to develop and deploy a durable Web application, the SAP Web Application Server is for you.

For more information on the SAP Web Application Server, visit www.sap.com/technology or share your ideas at http://news.sap.public.web-application-server.


¹ The SAP Web Application Server runs on all SAP-supported platforms, including Windows NT/2000 and Linux and other flavors of UNIX.

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