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Application Integration in a Cloud-Connected World

Understanding Your Integration Options for Cloud, Mobile, Hybrid, and IoT Scenarios

by Harald Nehring and Christoph Liebig | SAPinsider, Volume 16, Issue 4

October 8, 2015

The growing use of cloud technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) is creating integration challenges for many companies. This article takes a close look at four integration scenarios, including how to access backend systems from cloud applications, how to securely manage digital assets, and integrating connectivity into the business process.

 

We are living in a hyper-connected world, where people, businesses, and devices are interacting digitally in real time. To capitalize on this march toward digitization, organizations are looking for ways to transform their business into a model that integrates with an increasingly digital landscape.

A digitally transformed enterprise will provide pervasive mobile access to digital assets along with access to application programming interfaces (APIs) and the app economy. It will also use real-time analytics to gain deep insights into the vast amount of data flowing into the organization from products, people interactions, and business transactions, and use this information to enable new and better products, services, and business processes. And underlying these elements will be software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud technology, which provide near-instant value with readily accessible best practices and universal availability.

To make all of this work, IT architects need to rethink their organization’s integration architecture — in particular, they need to answer the following questions:

  • How do I access on-premise back-end systems from custom (mobile) applications in the cloud?
  • How do I securely manage reuse of digital assets in mainly mobile applications?
  • How do I easily connect different cloud services and on-premise systems?
  • How do I deal with myriad “things” swamping my applications with unpredictable message loads?

This article looks at the options available to SAP customers for addressing these four key integration scenarios.

Accessing SAP Systems from Cloud Applications

Driven by mobile and social technologies, the cloud has brought with it an explosion of applications that make use of somebody else’s data. In contrast to traditional standalone desktop and web applications, which rely on their own data sources as much as possible, these new cloud-based applications, such as location-based services, can’t live on their own — they need to access content that is located elsewhere.

SAP systems host valuable business information — such as data on products, prices, customers, sales, and inventory — that can be reused in meaningful ways in cloud-based applications, such as mobile shopping applications. Organizations can custom build these types of applications either in-house; in collaboration with close partners (a partner might use customer and product data for a campaign-specific mobile application, for instance); or in an open ecosystem where data is shared through public APIs with any developer (for apps that use live data from sporting events, for example).

So, how do you enable access to the SAP back-end from these types of custom applications? The de facto standard for synchronous, online access to SAP back-end systems from cloud-based systems is the Representational State Transfer (REST) API. While REST is a rather loose set of guidelines and best practices, at its core it allows communication via HTTP and simple text-based message formats such as JavaScript Object Notation (JSON). The Open Data (OData) protocol is a REST-based protocol that goes a step further, standardizing and enriching many aspects of RESTful APIs — such as headers, status codes, and HTTP methods used — as well as providing a service’s metadata information.

All current SAP systems provide RESTful — and, in many instances, OData-based — APIs, either out of the box (as is the case with SAP SuccessFactors, Ariba, hybris, and Concur solutions) or via SAP Gateway, which provides REST-enablement to on-premise ABAP-based SAP Business Suite systems. When creating custom cloud applications on SAP HANA Cloud Platform, consuming these REST-based interfaces is made even easier with specific extension frameworks and development libraries. The SAP SuccessFactors extensions, for example, provide direct access to the user experience, lifecycle management, and the metadata of SAP SuccessFactors applications beyond basic access to functional programming interfaces, enabling tightly integrated functionality.

In addition, SAP HANA Cloud Platform provides the SAP HANA cloud connector, which enables secure, direct access from custom Java programs to on-premise ABAP function modules. While the cloud connector provides flexibility for invoking back-end functionality, it requires the developer to manage many aspects of the integration, such as data formats and call sequencing, which can be a time-intensive task, along with intimate knowledge of the underlying system.

Let’s look at an example of how this might work. Suppose a company wants to deliver a mobile app that provides an agent with access to insurance policy documents. On the back-end system, the ABAP developer uses SAP Gateway to provide an OData service based on an existing remote function call (RFC) module. On SAP HANA Cloud Platform, the included SAP HANA cloud connector provides secure access to the back end, and the mobile app developer uses the SAP HANA Cloud Integration OData provisioning functionality to discover and consume all of the OData endpoints in the back end via REST/OData calls.

Managing Access to Digital Assets

Mobile apps are continuing to displace traditional user experiences as the center of user interactions. With mobile apps come expectations for true 24/7 availability — for example, users now expect companies to provide anytime, anywhere access to product information and omnipresent channels to interact with the business.

To deliver the mobile content and services that users have come to expect, both internal developers and external developers need to be able to quickly and securely embed the digital assets (such as images, multimedia, documents, and digitized business processes) in the mobile applications they are creating (such as target-group-specific shopping experiences). APIs provide developers with a simple way to embed access to these assets, and as their use and necessity grow, the management, governance, and security of these APIs has become increasingly critical to businesses.

To enable its customers to more easily and securely manage and share digital assets with developer communities, in 2014 SAP entered into a close partnership with Apigee, a leader in API management, to offer SAP API Management. API management is a centralized approach to organizing activities such as API publishing, discovery, access, billing, usage analytics, load management, security, versioning, and monitoring. Building on best practices established with service-oriented architectures (SOAs), the API management approach additionally focuses on enabling agile development — that is, quickly adapting to new user needs and ensuring user friendliness for its target customer, the app developer.

SAP API Management, which is available both on premise and as a service in the cloud, allows administrators to register any available back-end service (that is, any service that exposes content in the back-end system or provides access to processes triggering business activities) in a central catalog, and define rules for all aspects of its usage (including security requirements, utilization limits, and versioning) for each possible user. Using the developer services portal in SAP API Management, internal and external developers can then discover the APIs best suited to their needs, subscribe to their use, and call them in their applications.

Figure 1 provides an overview of how the access works. Services can be provided through SAP Process Orchestration, SAP HANA Cloud Integration, or SAP Gateway, for instance. API calls from the apps to the back-end services are passed through the built-in API gateway of SAP API Management for runtime enforcement of the specified rules. Since each API call is recorded by SAP API Management, detailed, real-time analysis of usage patterns, such as API response times (see Figure 2) is possible, enabling you to quickly adjust any parameter, such as usage limitations. This information can also be used for building business models based on API usage. For instance, you could incentivize developers incorporating your organization’s services into their apps — by paying a commission for customer referrals, for example — to increase asset utilization, or charge users for digital services built into other people’s apps, such as travel bookings and licensed media.

 

Figure 1 — SAP API Management centralizes the definition and enforcement of API usage rules

 

Figure 2 — SAP API Management enables real-time analysis of usage patterns, such as API response times

 

So, what might this look like in action? Let’s say that a company called Aircon is expanding into a new market and wants a third-party service company to provide technical field service for Aircon in this new market. In this scenario, Aircon would provide an API that exposes access to its product data sheets and work orders, which the third-party service company can use in its mobile app to obtain the technical product data it needs.

Connecting Cloud-to-Cloud and Cloud-to-Ground

With compelling benefits such as reduced costs, rapid implementation, little to no maintenance, and scalability, organizations are incorporating SaaS into their business models at an ever-increasing rate. In fact, global SaaS software revenues are forecasted to reach $106 billion in 2016.1

Making SaaS part of your system environment typically means a hybrid application landscape, which requires integrating both on-premise back-office systems and numerous cloud-based services. While traditional on-premise integration solutions such as enterprise service buses (ESBs) can easily handle connections to cloud-based systems, new integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solutions are much easier to set up, configure, and operate. And the more cloud-to-cloud integration that is required, the less sense it makes to route all that traffic through an on-premise system.

SAP HANA Cloud Integration serves as SAP’s strategic process and data integration service for SAP HANA Cloud Platform. In addition to the expected capabilities of an iPaaS — such as protocol connectivity, application adapters, message mapping, routing, transformation, orchestration, and extracting and loading databases — SAP HANA Cloud Integration provides a catalog (available at https://cloudintegration.hana.ondemand.com/) of prepackaged integration flows for easing the most common SAP application integration scenarios.

One example of a common integration scenario is SAP SuccessFactors solutions, which often have to work with external solutions for tasks such as recruiting, time management, benefits, and payroll as well as SAP ERP for internal processes such as finance and controlling, service and project management, and governance, risk, and compliance (see Figure 3). Another example is SAP’s customer engagement and commerce solutions, which need to connect with on-premise systems to provide functionality such as suggesting the right products for customers, preparing resolutions for incidents before the customer calls, and enabling mobile app experiences. The predefined integration flows make it easy for these solutions to easily leverage the back-end processes and data they need. After selecting an integration package, its configuration can be adjusted to meet specific requirements (see Figure 4), and then easily deployed directly in the SAP HANA Cloud Integration system.

 

Figure 3 — Standard integration scenarios for SAP SuccessFactors solutions

 

Figure 4 — The template for a standard integration package can be adjusted as needed to meet specific requirements

 

In addition to serving SAP HANA Cloud Platform, SAP HANA Cloud Integration maintains a high level of content compatibility with the on-premise SAP Process Orchestration solution, allowing the reuse of data mappings, for example, to enable the easy exchange of complex business rules captured in data maps. In the future, SAP plans to enable the same standard integration flows to be deployed either in SAP HANA Cloud Integration or in the SAP Process Orchestration runtime component, so that integration scenarios can be easily migrated between on premise and the cloud.

Looping Devices into the Business Process

The digitization of the physical world into an Internet of Things (IoT) enables businesses to deliver new and engaging product experiences to their customers, such as predictive services, remote service management, and personalized vending. It also makes possible new business models that replace products with outcomes, such as selling compressed air in addition to compressors and selling car mileage instead of only cars, and that use big data insights to suggest target groups and opportunities to upsell or cross-sell to an audience of one.

In addition to opportunity, however, IoT brings with it a host of integration challenges, with a sprawling network of interconnected devices, hardware, and software exchanging massive amounts of information in real-time as this network only continues to grow — the number of connected devices is forecasted to surpass 25 billion in 2020, up from 2.5 billion in 2009 and 10 billion currently.2 To address these challenges, SAP delivers services with SAP HANA Cloud Platform and SAP HANA Cloud Integration that used together can facilitate and simplify these integrations — from devices to edge computing to analytics and processes — enabling you to easily build reactive applications that connect core business operations to intelligence at the edge of the network and transform existing business processes to gain efficiencies.

For example, SAP HANA Cloud Platform includes a set of IoT services that help businesses deal with the new reality of integrating things with people and processes, and provide a high-performance data fabric that can serve as the foundation for IoT scaleout scenarios. These services enable organizations to securely onboard, connect, and manage devices. SAP HANA Cloud Integration services provide integration with third-party edge platforms — platforms that manage and aggregate device connectivity and communication data on premise in locations such as plants and facilities for use by applications in the cloud — typically via standard web service and REST connectors.

SAP HANA Cloud Integration also supports native IoT protocols such as MQTT — a lightweight publish/subscribe messaging protocol for machine-to-machine connectivity — to provide a high-performance messaging service and to handle ingress data and event streams from millions of devices. These deployments can typically show data in motion patterns with peak loads of 10,000 incoming datagrams per second, which are published to the messaging service and in turn subscribed to in real time by SAP Event Stream Processor, SAP IQ, SAP HANA, and Hadoop for further processing. To help cope with this load, the messaging service decouples consumers of events from devices, and acts as a shock absorber and high-performance data movement fabric that can scale efficiently to handle these event streams.

These are just a few examples of the services delivered with SAP HANA Cloud Platform IoT Services. SAP HANA Cloud Platform provides a range of additional services, which customers can pick and choose from to meet their varying landscapes and needs, as well as packed services for specific scenarios, such as predictive maintenance, connected logistics, and smart cities.

Summary

Growing use of the cloud to source IT services and to connect people, devices, and business processes with one another creates a range of new integration challenges. SAP answers its customers’ needs with dedicated services and technologies that address the most common integration patterns on its cloud platform, enabling seamlessly integrated business processes across application landscapes.

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1 Forbes, “Roundup of Cloud Computing Forecasts and Market Estimates, 2015” (January 24, 2015; http://onforb.es/18dQ1zA). [back]

2 IBM Institute for Business Value, “Device democracy: Saving the future of the Internet of Things” (July 2015; http://ibm.co/1JdmyGO). [back]

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Harald Nehring
Harald Nehring

Harald Nehring is Vice President of Product Marketing for application infrastructure and middleware technologies at SAP. Before joining SAP in 2004, Harald served in various technical, consulting, and management roles at IBM, Systar, T-Systems, and Software AG.


Christoph Liebig
Christoph Liebig

Christoph Liebig is Vice President of Product Management for integration and orchestration technologies in SAP’s Technology and Innovation Platform development unit. Before joining SAP in 2002, Christoph worked as a researcher and consultant in the area of event-driven system architecture and EAI middleware.



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