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SAP NetWeaver: The Launch Pad for Innovation

by Aiaz Kazi | SAPinsider

April 1, 2011

In the last decade, SAP NetWeaver technology has continuously evolved as customer requirements have changed. This article offers a quick overview of the SAP NetWeaver platform’s main technical capabilities, and then hails the three “new horizons”: mobility, cloud, and in-memory computing. Uncover the possibilities that these horizons create, the new types of applications that can be built because of them, and how they will improve today’s enterprises.
 

In recent months, SAP has reiterated its commitment to the SAP NetWeaver platform, revealing details of its new investments in and plans for the technology portfolio. In the previous issue of SAPinsider, I debunked some common misconceptions around SAP NetWeaver and discussed the new use cases and benefits of its 7.3 release.1

Here, I’ll quickly summarize the platform’s technical capabilities, and then focus on the “new horizons” of mobility, the cloud, and in-memory computing; the possibilities that these technologies create; the new types of applications that can be built because of these technologies; and how these horizons will improve today’s enterprises.

3 Key Technical Capabilities of the SAP NetWeaver Platform

To enable customers to bring new developments into their SAP landscapes without disrupting their existing systems, SAP is both evolving its current platform portfolio and expanding it to reach new levels of innovation.

SAP’s current technology platform — SAP NetWeaver — is shown in blue in Figure 1. SAP NetWeaver supports mission-critical systems and ensures their reliable and coherent operation; it is the platform that connects all other systems. Its main capabilities fall into three categories:

  • The foundation technologies, such as SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS), as well as security and lifecycle management offerings, act as a basic foundation to run and manage systems smoothly and securely.
  • The extensibility technologies, such as SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (SAP NetWeaver BPM) and SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI), allow business processes and systems to be extended to other systems — both SAP and non-SAP.
  • The interaction technologies, such as SAP NetWeaver Portal, the enterprise workspaces in the portal, and the SAP Interactive Forms software by Adobe, allow people to work with and interact with various systems.2

In the last decade, these SAP NetWeaver technologies have continuously evolved as customer requirements have changed.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Foundation, extensibility, and interaction are the main capabilities of the SAP NetWeaver platform; SAP NetWeaver also ensures coherence across mission-critical systems

3 New Horizons of Technology

To take advantage of new trends and emerging technologies, SAP is investing in cutting-edge ideas and solutions in each of these three areas. Dubbed the “new horizons,” these technologies represent the future of enterprise computing. Mobility, the cloud, and in-memory computing not only extend the current capabilities of the SAP NetWeaver platform, but also transform the value equation for SAP’s overall technology portfolio. While we expand our platform, we will also continue to ensure reliability and cohesion — fundamental requirements for enterprise customers.

Let’s look more closely at SAP NetWeaver’s future and the types of applications that companies will be able to build with it and on it.

Becoming a Mobile Enterprise

Mobile computing has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, but the entertainment value of mobile devices has often overshadowed their utility as business tools. It’s time for that to change. Companies need to look at mobile computing as a transformational technology that enables its employees to interact with enterprise software in different ways.3

By 2012, more than 70% of enterprise end users will be mobile.4 Mobile software users typically are very active, accessing the software frequently. Sales employees, for instance, do a substantial amount of work on mobile devices, but there are also many people, such as inventory managers, whose jobs will be made easier if they can continue to be productive when they’re away from their desks. And the types of tasks these employees do on their mobile devices often differ significantly from what they do at their desks. When they’re mobile, they tend to engage in fast, narrow, transactional activities, such as looking up data, entering an order,  changing a status, or approving a purchase.

As a result of this reality, businesses can expect two major types of applications in the mobility area. First, companies will rethink their traditional applications and develop new ones, such as mobile sales and service applications, to better serve people whose work is largely mobile. Second, fast and simple transactional applications will emerge to enable approvals, searching, reporting, and decision making on mobile devices.

Sybase Unwired Platform is SAP’s pivotal technology investment in the enterprise mobility area. It provides an application development and management platform through which an enterprise can unwire its existing systems and create and deliver applications to a wide range of mobile devices. Project “Gateway” is another important innovation that complements Sybase Unwired Platform. On its own, it provides a standard-based and simple data and process access layer that allows any developer to create user-facing, lightweight applications that interact with SAP systems, in any language, for any type of user interface — including mobile applications and devices.

Don't think of the cloud as a new way to do the things you do today. Instead, think about the cloud delivering an unprecedented scale and availability for what you can do today and, more importantly, delivering the type of applications and economies that were not possible before.

Reaching into the Cloud

As it gains popularity, cloud computing is taking on different meanings.5 For example, cloud can mean renting software that is run and administered remotely, or it can refer to renting supplemental hardware capacity for testing or application deployment. For the purposes of this discussion, think of the cloud as a way to extend your existing on-premise systems; it’s a way to source and consume new applications.

Cloud computing offers many opportunities for renovating or extending your current systems. SAP can help you quickly realize benefits, such as application availability and scalability, by running your existing applications on virtualized environments and private or public clouds. Further, you can quickly add services or applications, such as SAP StreamWork or SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand, to complement your existing on-premise or on-demand applications. In addition, you can use components of SAP’s OnDemand platform, such as Project “River,” to build your own applications to extend the capabilities of your existing applications.6

One practical use for cloud computing is to better connect your trading networks. Imagine being able to run a cloud-based service that links all of your trading partners, such as suppliers, retailers, and innovation partners. And consider that signing up to do business with your company — and actually connecting to your company’s business systems — can be as easy for a partner as creating a Facebook profile. In the future, companies can expect such an extension of core systems through the use of cloud computing.

The New Reality of In-Memory Computing

The concept behind in-memory computing is simple: organize and compress data for fast access; store it in main memory instead of on disk to enable swifter access by processors; and write software that takes advantage of the latest generation of multi-core and parallel processing technology to further speed up the processing of that data.

Despite the concept’s simplicity, the results have been quite amazing. For example, SAP In-Memory Appliance (SAP HANA), which leverages in-memory technology, can search billions of records in a split second. Having the ability to run business processes 20 to 3,600 times faster7 can be a significant competitive advantage. Plus, complex IT procedures such as prebuilt data extractions and aggregations can be completely eliminated.

When considering the applications that will be made possible by in-memory technology, it is important to note that it’s not just a faster database; it’s an in-memory computing foundation that will power SAP NetWeaver. This foundation holds business functions, models, and semantics (see Figure 2). The foundation enables delivery of new types of applications that are data-rich and computation-intensive and takes away the need to move data from the database to application layers for computation or processing. It also enables high-speed planning and simulation, and provides the ability to perform in-place analytics and computation, whereby analytics calculations are executed as transactions are processed. And the in-memory foundation decreases the layers and complexity beneath the business applications.

Figure 2
Figure 2 The in-memory platform stores data as well as business functions, models, and business semantics

The applications that become possible are those that rely on fast access to significant amounts of data and rapid execution of calculations; users can now work with mountains of data in real time. For example, think about the quantity of data generated by sensors across a transportation network. Today, processing that data in real time is prohibitively expensive. But what if you were able to see, in real time, the issues across the network and model the outcomes of making various corrective changes? Similarly, consider calculating the profitability impact of modifying a manufacturing workflow after recognizing that a supplier had accidentally introduced defective parts. Or consider determining the negative effect of comments flying around the social media sphere if people hate a new advertising campaign.

In-memory computing not only makes large-scale, real-time event processing like this possible; it also enables this type of modeling and decision making in seconds instead of days or weeks.

Simplifying the architecture also allows a completely new, design-driven approach to application development, in which end users are in constant communication with the development team, co-innovating in rapid development cycles. We expect this to completely transform the usability and value of these applications.

Putting It All Together

As important as each of these new areas will be to an enterprise, it’s key to think of them not in isolation, but as parts of a coherent platform. Consider the innovative applications you could create if you had all of the above — a stable SAP NetWeaver foundation, easy access via any device, cloud extensibility, and the speed and simplicity of in-memory computing.

For example, your enterprise could develop an application to model an innovative product’s entire supply and manufacturing flow and predict the company’s ability to be first to market. Or how about an application to evaluate a workforce’s unique qualifications to identify training needs? These are the types of applications that we foresee as the SAP NetWeaver portfolio evolves to support new areas of innovation and meet enterprises’ changing needs. And this is just the beginning.

Extending the core technology platform — SAP NetWeaver — to embrace mobility, the cloud, and in-memory computing can help you drive even greater speed, agility, simplicity, and innovation across your business. For more information, visit www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/sap-technology-innovation

Aiaz Kazi

Aiaz Kazi (aiaz.kazi@sap.com) is the Head of Technology and Innovation Platform Marketing at SAP. He joined SAP in February 2006 after holding leadership positions at TIBCO, webMethods, and BEA. Aiaz holds an MBA in Marketing, Strategy, and Entrepreneurship from the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

1 See "SAP NetWeaver: Still Going Strong and Getting Stronger" in the January-March 2011 issue of SAPinsider. [back]

2 For example, with the portal available with SAP NetWeaver 7.3, individuals and teams can interact and create their own content. [back]

3 For details about SAP’s mobility strategy, see “Becoming a Mobile Enterprise: Unwiring Your Business with SAP’s Mobile Solutions” by Jack Chawla in the January-March 2011 issue of SAPinsider. [back]

4 Forrester Research, Inc. [back]

5 For more information, see “Cloud Computing and SAP: Where We Are and Where We’re Going” by Kaj van de Loo and Roland Wartenberg in the July-September 2010 issue of SAPinsider, and "From Virtualization to Cloud Infrastructure: Why Managing the Many Layers of Your IT Landscape Is Now a Top Priority" by Gunther Schmalzhaf in this April-June 2011 issue. [back]

6 SAP StreamWork is a cloud-based application that enables productive team decision making, and SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand is a general-purpose analysis and reporting solution. Project “River” is an on-demand platform for creating edge applications. [back]

7 Based on existing lab results on customer data. These numbers continue to trend upwards. [back]

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