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ABAP, Java, and the SAP Development Landscape — The Shape of Things to Come

by Dr. Rudolf Munz | SAPinsider

October 1, 2001

by Dr. Rudolf Munz, Senior Vice President, Development Platforms SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), October (Issue 4)

Q. SAP is clearly placing more and more emphasis on Java. Is SAP abandoning ABAP? Do you envision an ABAP-free SAP environment down the road? If so, when? If not, what role will ABAP play in future SAP landscapes?

SAP is not abandoning ABAP, and I can't envision an ABAP-free SAP environment anywhere in the near- or long-term. The singular stronghold that ABAP has commanded over the SAP development arena for the past decade, however, is going away. ABAP will not have a monopoly on application development options. Java is indeed a technology in which we are making significant investments. We are funding and staffing development efforts in both camps. It will be up to developers to choose, on an application-by-application basis, which development language and infrastructure - ABAP or Java - is preferable. SAP intends to support both.

     Look, nine years ago when ABAP was still in its infancy, SAP made the decision to keep it "close to the vest," so to speak. For its time, and even now, ABAP was - and is - a business application language of unrivaled functionality. Not giving it away as a standalone development platform was a decision made for competitive reasons. We regarded ABAP as a decisive competitive advantage, and indeed it still is. The downside of this decision? ABAP can't be found outside the bounds of the SAP ecosystem.

     Java, on the other hand, has real momentum in an expansive community. The recent university graduates who come to work for us here at SAP all know this language. Bookshelves are lined with Java reference manuals and magazines. Clearly, this is not the case with ABAP. So in my estimation, it would be shortsighted for SAP to stick only to ABAP, and absolutely audacious to presume that if we hail ABAP as the best business application platform ever, that the rest of the world will follow. It's not realistic. What is realistic, and of profound benefit to our customers, is to embrace a "multicultural" development environment and to open up our technology platforms. What better choice than Java to do this?

     I've watched Java from its humble beginnings. I've watched it evolve into a mature and robust platform as other companies invested hundreds of millions of dollars into this technology. And now I'm happy to follow their lead. It would be foolish to think that SAP can always be the technical lead on all fronts. This is one clear case where it makes sense to leverage, invest, and promote what's already out there. It is obvious to us that we still have to invest a lot into existing Java technology to bring it to a level of productivity and convenience comparable to our ABAP platform, and that we will need some time to accomplish this. But this is the way to go.

     So SAP will support both development languages and infrastructures side by side. The new SAP Web Application Server is a prime example of this. Here is a development platform that supports both ABAP and Java in parallel. It offers developers a "best of both" approach and seamless interoperability between the two.

Q. Open source is another key development initiative for SAP. Can you please talk about how this will impact customers, developers, and the industry as a whole?

SAP's core business revolves around e-business and enterprise applications. We have no intention of making mySAP Financials, CRM, BI, HR, or the like available as open source. But our underlying technology is another matter.

     That baseline technology provides a sort of infrastructure to build applications in a better or more productive way. Customer value is not created by that baseline technology. Customer value is created by applications. So I have no reservations whatsoever about using and supporting open-source commodities like operating systems or database systems. That's why you see SAP supporting open source endeavors like Linux and SAP DB. Other, hotter technology areas like Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) and Application Servers are not yet in that commodity stage. As I see it, all technologies will eventually either end up as niche technologies or become mainstream. Mainstream technologies inevitably lead to commodity markets with low margins. Whether you service these markets via low-price products or via open source products and a fee-for-service business model is just a matter of taste. My prediction is that fee-for-service pricing models will become more appealing for commodity technologies and will eventually replace the license-based pricing model.

Q. How should development managers prepare their teams for these important changes?

As for projects that are squarely within the SAP applications realm, I would suggest development managers look at the ABAP expertise they have in-house today and assess that team's ability to carry out web programming projects. This is an area that is still new for many SAP customers, but universally recognized as one of paramount importance. Web programming can be done with ABAP and Java. The choice is yours. Just be sure to cultivate this expertise. There's ample need for all these skill sets on your team - existing ABAP programs need to be maintained, modified, and web-enabled by developers with ABAP skills. Java-based applications similarly require the attention of Java programmers. It may also be advantageous to create new web-enabled Java frontends for existing ABAP applications, thus leveraging the investments in ABAP-based coding.

     With regard to new hires, I think development managers will find it relatively easy to recruit Java programmers. If you, as managers, don't know Java, perhaps it's time to start learning about it yourself. Moving forward, I think the ability to understand the similarities and differences of the languages, infrastructures, and developer skill sets in the ABAP versus the Java realms will be vital to your success.

     For those of you who have been around long enough, I liken this dynamic to the early days of R/3, when the mainframe guys ruled the shop, but the C, UNIX, and SQL programmers, fresh out of school, were changing the rules of the game (and for the better, I might add). Java technology is poised to do the same. It is the next wave.

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