SAP Ups Ante In Integration Wars 2

The world's largest software company used the world's largest technology show to tout the latest version of its consolidated integration and application platform.
The world's largest software company used the world's largest technology show to tout the latest version of its consolidated integration and application platform.

German software giant SAP AG on Thursday grabbed the spotlight at the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover, Germany, to showcase NetWeaver 2004. When unveiled in January 2003, NetWeaver included a loose confederation of SAP applications for building and integrating the functions of portals, business intelligence tools, business process management and composite application management. But with NetWeaver 2004, those disparate components--as well as additional functions--have become one piece.

A tightly meshed platform of components, NetWeaver 2004 includes SAP Enterprise Portal, Business Intelligence (previously called Business Information Warehouse), Master Data Management (for collating and syncing information about a product), Web Application Server and Composite Application Framework.

"NetWeaver is one product, one package, one price," said Ori Inbar, SAP AG's vice president of product marketing for NetWeaver. "Everything is user pricing and engine pricing. Now customers can get the functionality of the whole thing for what used to be the price of one component."

Inbar declined to elaborate on pricing, although a Forrester Research report distributed by SAP described NetWeaver as "free for licensed MySAP users and cheap for R/3 customers." The report, by Forrester analysts Sharyn Leaver and Ted Schadler, described SAP's strategy as using NetWeaver "as a loss leader to lower the cost of building, deploying, integrating and accessing SAP applications--and then to sell more applications."

Certainly, the latest version of SAP's server--which integrates SAP with non-SAP apps, enables a service-oriented architecture and manages composite applications--comes with a fair amount of bang for however much buck SAP charges. Its business intelligence function provides similar business planning and simulation features pushed by Hyperion and Cognos. The portal component now adds knowledge management functions that make it easier to find information scattered among document repositories. And a new work list and workflow feature enhances the ability of colleagues to coordinate projects within collaboration "rooms."

For the first time, NetWeaver also supports SAP's Auto-ID infrastructure, piping data between RFID readers to SAP back-end applications. And a new embedded business-process engine orchestrates message flows between systems. In addition, NetWeaver 2004 includes SAP's next-generation master data hub. Called Master Data Management, the component gathers information about a product or a person from across data silos, reconciles and synchronizes that information, and then puts everything in the same format. The capability competes directly with technology from Trigo Technologies, which IBM Software acquired earlier this month.

"The main difference is that IBM provides a project to solve the problem. We provide a product out-of-the-box to solve the same problem," Inbar said. "IBM is one of the greatest partners that SAP has and vice versa. But it's true that on the NetWeaver level, there is some overlap and competition between us."

SAP said NetWeaver will begin "ramp-up" shipping--trickling out the production-level product to ensure quality--on March 31. The software is slated to be generally available in the third quarter.

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