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When you ask SAP Developers what SAP NetWeaver will mean to them, frequently you get the reply, “I don’t know really. Isn’t it just marketing?”

SAP NetWeaver is marketing, but it is also a massive engineering, organizational, design, and architectural effort. The message surrounding the product is aimed an enforcing the impression that SAP able to lead the way into the future and solve the pressing problems of making integration easier and lowering the Total Cost of Ownership of enterprise software.

But SAP NetWeaver is also many other things that will make a significant difference to the SAP developer and integrator community. Here are five useful ways that I have found to look at SAP NetWeaver.

As a generational change for SAP.

SAP started life with R/1 in the 1970s, and then created R/2 in the 1980s, and R/3 in the 1990s. Each of these versions had its own development method designed to meet the needs of the applications and the deployment environment of the customers. The focus was always abstraction so that a central core of functionality could be applied to as many useful contexts as possible. In the beginning there were assembler macros, which led to the ABAP fourth generation language, the BASIS layer on the operating system and database, and a variety of other products.

If SAP’s product line had stayed focuesd on what became known as ERP, perhaps SAP NetWeaver would now be called the R/4 development platform. But the product line is much broader. mySAP Business suite has mySAP ERP, mySAP CRM, mySAP SCM, mySAP PLM, and so on. The notion of the what should be in a development platform also expanded. Now its not just a language and an abstraction of the operating system. Components like data warehouses, enterprise application integration, content management, and portal technology are all basic building blocks for enterprise applicaitons.

So what SAP NetWeaver is in this context is just the next generation of development platform. ABAP has become Java. BASIS has become J2EE. Abstractions for the user interface, the database have new incarnations, WebDynPro and OpenSQL, and all of the other platform component systems like data warehouses and the others will be tightly integrated.

SAP made the previous transitions in an elegant manneer. Customers are still running R/2, for example. The way that ABAP code can be accessed from within the J2EE environment will ensure that the transition will be smooth this time as well.

As a reimplemetation of ABAP.

SAP is not tossing ABAP on the scrap heap. Far from it. It’s more accurate to say the good parts of ABAP along with some new technology are being used to add missing parts to J2EE.

For example, OpenSQL which provides a truly portable way of accessing data is being brought over and implemented on top of JDBC. The ABAP data dictionary, which helps provide abstract data types and further protect from implementation dependencies is being brought to SAP NetWeaver as the Java Dictionary. WebDynPro is a flexible abstraction of the UI layer based on the model view controller paradigm that provides a much cleaner framework for UI development than JSPs, which have few barriers to mixing business logic and UI-oriented code.

From the development tool perspective, SAP is bringing over ABAP’s approach to central storage and versioning of objects and the ability to activate dependent development objects in a “lazy” fashion to ease development. All of these features are being implemented in the Eclipse-based SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio through the designtime repository and the component build service.

BAPIs written in ABAP are accessible in the SAP Web Application Server through Java object proxies, that allows the Java environment a complete window into applications written in ABAP.

As an expansion of SAP’s product line.

SAP NetWeaver will provide a powerful platform for development that gives a developer a head start in orchestrating a huge amount of functionality and 30 years of software development experience to solve busienss problems.

One way of looking at SAP NetWeaver is as a new product line that SAP is offering developers.

As an invitation to software developers.

Building on the last view of SAP NetWeaver, the product is also an invitation to developers to build commercial products on SAP’s platform. SAP’s GBU X that is pursuing xApps development is already working with several outside partners to create xApps that will be sold as standalone products built using SAP NetWeaver as the platform.

From an entreprenuerial view, this approach gives a software company access to more than 20,000 of the most desirable customers world wide.

As the next generation of development technology.

The abstraction of the UI layer and database like WebDynPro and OpenSQL along with metadata repositories like the designtime repository offer the foundation for creating a model-driven development environment.

SAP has mentioned it is pursuing something called the Composite Application Framework, which will use abstraction and metadata of SAP NetWeaver to create a model-drive development environment. Two groups of developers are currently using the tools in their early versions.

While it is easy to get carried away with claims about how model-driven development will eliminate coding (it won’t, of course) anyone who has made a living writing code would probably agree that there is a lot of room for improvement in automating mundane tasks and speeding the integration of existing software packages. CAF is aimed at improving developer productivity by using advanced techniques.

So there you have five ways to look at SAP NetWeaver.

Cheers,

-Dan

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