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A few days ago, a colleague who has been working in the ABAP field for many years sent me an interesting email. A successful freelancer, top-notch ABAP developer and well-regarded analyst, he wrote that he was considering orienting towards SAP Composition Environment, and asked if I had any input for the decision. I responded to him and decided to blog about my thoughts on SCN.

How good is SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment?

We all know CE from slides and presentations – composition, integration of third-party applications, immediate access to cutting-edge technologies, light-weight applications, and so on. All of these points are correct! CE is a host of great opportunities to perform model-driven development and reap plenty of synergy effects in the process.

The composition tools are excellently tuned to each other, thus allowing for genuine end-to-end modelling and a tight integration.

From design time through software logistics to operating the software, all the components of the infrastructure work together seamlessly, so that no technical or conceptual discontinuities occur.

As far as I can tell, general product maturity is good (except for a few bugs, mostly in the IDE, which require the creation of OSS notes). The AS Java has gone a long way since its first release around 6.20. It is nearly eight years old and many of the composition tools have had plenty of time to ripen. (Even some of the newest stuff like BRM is actually old because SAP bought it and integrated it into the server.)

For customers who want to integrate new developments with an existing base of SAP systems (ABAP or Java), I sincerely believe there is no better development platform than SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment.

So my answer is that CE is very good indeed.

But who cares?

Sadly, few people do. One wonders how many customers and software vendors are starting CE-based development projects. From my little corner of the world, I cannot see much going on yet (my employer being an exception, thankfully).

As far as I have found out, smaller projects sprout everywhere, as they have for years; but larger development projects are generally rare in the SAP field and even rarer in the SAP Java sector.

In the perception of IT professionals, CE seems to be kind of sitting between chairs, being disregarded by both non-SAP professionals (Java developers) and SAP professionals (ABAPers):

Many Java people are completely unaware of the strengths of the toolset and EE implementation. There is an innovative DC concept that bears many similarities with OSGi; there is the completeness of the model-driven development approach, and finally the fact that SAP had the first Java EE 5 certified application server. All of these are indicate how significant a player in the Java world SAP has become. The general awareness of this fact will hopefully change when SAP showcases their concepts more in Java literature, magazines and on conferences. It’s happening, but sadly, many Java developers still avoid SAP because they are prejudiced – to them, SAP reeks old-fashioned, proprietary, and of career-ending personal vendor lock-in.

ABAPers, on the other hand, are often disinterested in the world outside their ERP system. “Standards? We work with the standard.“ Many of them reject “new” developments (anything newer than 30 years) in IT such as object-orientation and XML. They, too, are prejudiced and believe these things to be falderal, too juvenile and not ready for the challenges of serious sweat-stained lumberjack IT such as high-performance, parallelized mass-data processing and complex enterprise software logistics.

This is evidently absurd because of the long-standing history of mostly customer-specific Java-based enterprise applications. And the nay-sayer should know better: Wherever SAP forces them to run something on the AS Java, it does work. Think of the Portal and Process Infrastructure, which are present in many ABAP-focused enterprises. (Sadly, because of the strong focus on ABAP, these companies often do not invest enough in the Java administration skills of their people, so the systems do not work as smoothly and fast as they could, which doesn’t help the reputation of the servers but gives admins a great opportunity for bad-mouthing the technology.)

These are factors that slow the advent of SAP NetWeaver CE.

Will CE prevail? Why?

I think it will. The AS Java’s advance can hardly be stopped simply because first, customers using the AS ABAP are forced to use it. I’ve already mentioned PI and the Portal, there are also BI, the SLD (important for Solution Manager), MDM, and before you know it’s, you’ve got a bunch of AS Java installations up and running and reached the point where one more won’t hurt. It starts with a foot in the door and develops into a large presence.

Secondly, there are things that CE is simply much better at than the AS ABAP. Not everyone needs them, but when you need them, they constitute a strong argument for a CE project:

  • Cross-system workflow inbox (Universal Worklist in the Portal)
  • Cross-system workflow processes (Guided Procedures)
  • XML Validation with Schema and other schema languages
  • Global Data Types and custom modelling for Enterprise Services (Enterprise Service Repository)
  • Directory services for Web Services (Service Registry)
  • Advanced WSDL features (attachments, message-based authentication, etc.)
  • Asynchronous Web Services

CE, NetWeaver Developer Studio and the AS Java have other strengths, such as highly efficient model-driven development using the Visual Composer, but hearing about them convinces nobody who is strongly biased against new technologies. However, appetite comes with eating when you’ve been sitting at the table for a while for other reasons. Java haters may come to the table reluctantly because of the Universal Worklist and stay because they’ve acquired a taste for Composite Applications.

This is why I expect that customers will adopt CE slowly and hesitatingly, but – finally – widely and happily. Once it is in the house, they will discover CAF, VC, etc. and appreciate their strengths one after another. From this point on, CE should be quite successful and be used for many development projects.

I believe that this process has already begun. My impression is that we’re still in the very slowly ascending part of the curve, but adoption will pick up speed and the curve will come to the point where adoption skyrockets.

What does this mean for you?

Employee are often in the comfortable situation that employers invest into their skills at their own risk. If your employer sends you to CE training but doesn’t use your new lodge, it’s their loss. If you use your increased market value to move on to a different company, your employer loses the investment completely.

Freelancers, on the other hand, cannot afford a dry spell. Investing too much to early into a platform that generate no customer projects for them might endanger their economic existence. Any bigger investment of time or money must pay back quickly, or it might ruin the freelancer.

Which investments pay back quickly?

If you’re an ABAPer, learning about the ABAP side of CE integration should be a pretty safe step. How to connect an ABAP system? How to implement and expose web services for Composite Applications and Service Oriented Architecture? How to integrate your ABAP system and application into the entire CE, SOA, CompApp and Portal infrastructure? How to provide and consume services and applications? If you build up knowledge in these fields, chances are you’ll be able to use them very soon.

Also, even if the ABAP business is running well and time for non-paying activities is rare, it’s a good idea to find some time for self-study. Thanks to the excellent resources available in SDN (CE download, blogs, tutorials, Wiki), you can learn learn plenty about Composition Environment and developing Java Enterprise applications – enough to find a place in any project that combines ABAP and Java roles. From this starting point, you can broaden and deepen your skills as appropriate and required.

Installing your private AS ABAP and a CE 7.1.1 system and working with the two puts you into a unique position – it gives you an overview and allows you to contribute valuable experience to cross-platform developments. Few consultants know their way around ABAP, but also Java, Composite Applications, and internet standards, because the cultural differences between these worlds are so big that most people don’t even want to look or move from one into the other.

A practical approach

  • Download and install a CE 7.1.1 and start work with the tutorials that are included with the installation. Check SCN regularly for interesting contents – there are many articles and blogs that teach you the basics so you can get a quick start at most development tasks you will encounter in “real” CE projects.
  • Register in the BPX community on SCN – it has many interesting blogs and features on CE and the AS Java.
  • SAP Press has good books on CE, Visual Composer, Java EE 5 and Web Dynpro Java. These are well worth the money and time invested.
  • There are brilliant books for Java programmers such as Joshua Bloch’s “Effective Java” (2nd Edition) that will deepen your understanding and provide invaluable best practices for every-day design decisions.
  • Have fun. It’s extremely rewarding!
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18 Comments

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  1. Vijay Vijayasankar
    You have framed this discussion very well – nicely done.

    It is rather unfortunate that composition has not taken off as well as it should have. Instead, most clients I have seen are more keen to stick to the tried and tested enhancement/extension approach.

    Interestingly, in a recent discussion with a client’s solution architect – he was questioning the need to do composition in SAP’s CE. He liked the concept well enough, but felt that it should be done using more mature tools that are already out in the market.

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    1. Benny Schaich-Lebek
      Hi Vijay,
      first of all, how do you know it has not taken off? NetWeaver Composition Environment hit the market in December 2007, that means it’s now 16 month old.  As it was a spin off from NetWeaver we started virtually from zero. Of course, we cannot take over the market in just one year 😉
      However, CE already shows nice adoption rate, while I still meet even SAP customers who do not have much of an idea what it is all about. But I remember very well that I basically started to hear about Java just a year after it was started back in 1996.
      As you seem to be an evangelist for CE, you may be interested to hear that is *is* already in the market and available for everybody in the NetWeaver license. What is not generally available is Enhancement Package 1, that includes the famous BPM stuff – But many parts are already here.

      Regards,
      Benny

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      1. Vijay Vijayasankar
        Hi Benny,

        Good question – my impression of “it has not taken off” is based on my client facing experiences in delivery and sales roles, plus the many conversations I have had with fellow enthusiasts in the field. Please don’t take it to mean that I have done an exhaustive study about this 🙂 .But then, I only see a small subsection of the ecosystem – and I will gladly stand corrected if you think it has indeed taken off.

        The reason I think it has not taken off has little to do with product availability. Its preecessor CAF version was around already as was other tools from non-SAP vendors, and the same things applied there. I am not an evangelist of CE the tool – I am a fan of composition as a concept or paradigm. Tool itself is secondary. I have nothing bad to say about CE the tool – from what little I have played with it, it appeared very good to me. Just that I don’t promote the tool itself, but more of the concept.

        Let me also point out that every one in SAP does not talk about CE or SOA with the same voice either to clients, and that too plays a part in decreased adoption. This is not surprising since SAP is a very large company – and I am sure you have taken care of that by now, and have educated a lot more people within the organization.

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  2. Ed Herrmann
    Thorsten, I appreciate the parts of this post talking about some of the features and strategy behind Java and CE.  However, your assumptions and generalizations of “ABAPers” are off base:

    …”ABAPers, on the other hand, are often disinterested in the world outside their ERP system. “Standards? We work with the standard.“ Many of them reject “new” developments (anything newer than 30 years) in IT such as object-orientation and XML. They, too, are prejudiced and believe these things to be falderal, too juvenile and not ready for the challenges of serious sweat-stained lumberjack IT such as high-performance, parallelized mass-data processing and complex enterprise software logistics.”

    While this may be your limited experience with a small percentage of ABAP developers, this sounds more like a representation of a bad ABAP developer.  Perhaps due to the low barrier to entry into ABAP, there are plenty of bad or even non programmers who happen to use ABAP.  However, this does not represent a truly good ABAP developer.

    A good developer may have their language of preference, however, in general terms, they are language agnostic. They want to use the best tool for the job, whether it be ABAP, Java, Flex, Ruby, etc.   

    …”The AS Java’s advance can hardly be stopped simply because first, customers using the AS ABAP are forced to use it.”

    This sentence probably best describes the reason for the lack of adoption.  Who wants to use something because they are “forced”?  Show a good developer why something is the superior tool for a solution, and believe me, it won’t have to be used against their own will.

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author
      Hi Ed,
      sorry if my writing wasn’t clear enough here – I wrote “often” because I didn’t want to generalize. Of course ABAPers aren’t generally prejudiced against other stuff – I know that because I am one and because I know plenty of examples for extremely open ABAPers.
      But we often exist in a very conversative environment: Our managers and colleagues are often not so open and quite prejudiced against stuff they don’t know.
      The type of ABAPer I discribed is one that I meet frequently. Of course it has nothing to do with ABAP, it’s just that a lot of these people are in the field and they block progress. Some of them are managers and define rules such as “object-oriented commands such as CALL METHOD are forbidden.” That’s a real problem for many ABAPers who like new things.
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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      1. Ed Herrmann
        Thorsten, thanks for your clarifications, but again, I just want to emphasize that these aren’t ABAP developers you are speaking of, they are just bad developers.

        “Some of them are managers and define rules such as ‘object-oriented commands such as CALL METHOD are forbidden.'”

        This really sounds like you have some very bad management in positions they have no business being in.  A statement like that takes being a bad programmer to another level stepping in the realm of idiocracy.

        I understand that this may be your experience, but I don’t suspect that this is so common that the overall adoption of CE in the SAP world is for this reason.

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        1. Michael Koch
          Hi Ed,

          I have to say that Thorsten’s experience is also one that I share. I’ve seen a lot of ABAPers over the last 10 years in several countries and about half of the ones I met were very conservative as far as OO or web technolgies are concerned, for example. Very often this is because (as Tobias and Thorsten pointed out) management hasn’t either got the technical insight OR refuses to listen to their technical staff, ie they don’t give them an incentive to innovate and look beyond the fence and thereby creating competetive advantage through IT innovation.

          Your company seems to take the completely different approach and obviously reaps the rich benefits of that by producing high-calibre developers such as you and your team. In my own experience, unfortunately, this is a rarity.

          On the other hand, this is what makes conferences such as TechEd and SIT so enjoyable for me: it’s the place where you meet the passionate developers, geeks and disruptive innovators.

          I think it’s our duties as SAP Mentors to encourage more ABAPers to look further and beyond LIST PROCESSING. And: Your eGeeks podcast is a cornerstone of this movement!

          Kind regards,
          M

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      2. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
        Thorsten:

        You wrote…

        “reject “new” developments (anything newer than 30 years) in IT such as object-orientation and XML. They, too, are prejudiced and believe these things to be falderal, too juvenile and not ready for the challenges of serious sweat-stained lumberjack IT such as high-performance, parallelized mass-data processing and complex enterprise software logistics.”

        I’m going to speak about my environment…This means…ABAP Consultans in Lima, Perú. It’s true that most folks I know are not aware or doesn’t work with OO ABAP, XML, BSP, WebDynpro or even WebServices integrations using Flex. But that’s not always because they don’ want to…Here, I can say that 85% of companies are still stacked in using 46C or 4.7…Which of course is a big barrier for them to actually had the opportunity to work using this tools.
        I already know and work with those tools…In real life projects? Of course not…Only on my NetWeaver Sneak Preview…I learned them because I love ABAP, I love new technologies and being an SAP Mentor…I just can’t stack myself in the past…

        I’m not sure if I’m going to give a try to CE…I love plain old coding…I rather spend 1 hour building an ABAP application from the scratch that using CE to get almost everything generated for me…

        Anyway…Nice blog and nice conversation you have started…Always good to chat with you -;)

        Greetings,
        Blag.

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        1. Thorsten Franz Post author
          Hi Blag,
          Don’t worry, if you ever give it a try, you can do as much plain old coding in the CE as you want. In fact I believe that everything I ask a framework to do for me, I want to be able to do for myself, because a) I want to understand what the framework is doing for me and b) I want to be independent and replace the framework with my own implementation. Then once it has become a routine task, you can ask the CE tools to take over and spare you the routine, until an exceptional requirement makes it reasonable to take over. 🙂
          Cheers,
          Thorsten
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    2. Tobias Trapp
      Hi Ed,

      a lot of ABAP programmers don’t write bigger software systems from scratch, they write Add Ons to existing software. Let’s take SAP financial solutions as an example. If someone is specialized in these solutions is an expert using existing frameworks like BDT or BRF but this doesn’t mean he had to learn concepts like object orientation. But even in this case this doesn’t mean that he or she is a bad programmer – perhaps he knows how to create a new BDT application (even in a subscreen!) within very short time.

      There is another aspect: Many ABAP programmers come I know come from business programming and some of them have Cobol background. Those business programmers know how to code highly scalable, robust and extremely high quality software (think of core applications in the banking area). But this doesn’t mean that the developers got in contact with concepts like object orientation, unit testing and so on. And it doesn’t mean that they are bad programmers, but most likely they will outperformed by Java programmers in an OO world.

      This is my conclusion: If someone tells me in a job interview that he has 10 years experience in ABAP programming it is possible that he never created a class. A Java programmer with 10 years experience will know object orientation and most likely he will have experiences with different implementations of standards like J2EE or JPA.

      Of course my thoughts are generalizations that we shouldn’t use them to judge people. ABAP guys are not “bad”, but I think most of them will be more “old-school” compared to Java guys.

      But there is an interesting point: If people are active in communities SDN they are looking for inspiration and usually they want to learn new things. And this is exactly what “good” developers do, regardless whether they’re ABAP or Java people.

      Cheers,
      Tobias

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  3. Wouter Van Peteghem
    Hi,

    Nice to read such an interesting blog, but as a netweaver developer with both knowledge of ABAP and Java (Web dynpro)/Visual Composer/portal/… experience I want to share my thoughts with you.

    As far as I see in my current and past projects, the newer technologies are mostly used to visualize SAP data (using RFC’s, XML services, BI connectors, …) The real business logic still remains in the backend (insert, update, create, list, autorisations, …) and is thus still to be maintained in ABAP.

    I’m happy to see that things are moving (better UI, openness using web standards, ..) and totally agree that having a combined knowledge of mature and newer technologies within SAP is the way to go.

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  4. Matthew Harding
    I believe CE functionality has great potential, but it should be just a part of the current Enterprise Portal release if it is to get more traction.
    Most developers will have a hard time convincing their basis dudes (or dudettes) that they need another system landscape (plus all that goes with it) to trial starting a business process or developing composites, but it’s not until they’ve done something significant that they’ll convince the business that this is worth doing.
    In addition, I envisage a significant percentage of sites with a single SAP vision or similar that it’s probably still not worth doing since they are probably best to stick with ABAP and web services and maybe WDJ/VC.
    Unfortunately in order to merge CE and other products, CE needs to stabilize in terms of functionality/features which means it’s probably very hard to achieve convergence of older products at the moment.
    Maybe when PI/XI merges into a JAVA only implementation with BPM and CE functionality merged, CE will have it’s day but until then, I’m inclined to say that you need a real business driver to go with CE and it’s mean to give CE to a developer to play around with if it’s going to be too hard to convince management to maintain it going forward.

    Cheers,
    Matt

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  5. Stephen Johannes
    The problem with java products by SAP is that it seems with every new release number the strategy on things should be done changes.  The products themselves are improving, but honestly sometimes approach path is a crazy squiggly line with no sense of direction.

    My favorite recent case in point, was the that just recently SAP switched away from dual-stack installs of abap+java on a box, back to a more separated landscape again.  If that makes things work better fine, but fundamental setups should not change this frequently.

    My honest impression of CE is that it looks nice, but how long will be before SAP changes its mind again and tells us to go develop java in a different fashion.  It appears the marketing guys and hardware vendors are designing the software and not the software engineers who understand to get it right in the first place and not chase every single trend.

    The other problem as noted is the fact that anytime I need more hardware, or increase the complexity of the system without due need causes problems.  It’s a lot easier to build on existing infrastructure, than trying to sell/pitch a whole new thing.

    Now I will say one positive is that this blog definitely raised my interest to take CE for another test spin.  I’m always interested in seeing what can be done to make my development life easier.

    Take care,

    Stephen

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  6. Michael Koch
    Hi Thorsten,

    First of all let me tell you that you’ve opened up a very interesting and timely topic here. In these stormy economic times a lot of SAP consultants are looking around for perspectives and areas of SAP Land with future potential. Despite the issues around adoption, CE can be such an alternative for ABAP developers. I’m not a CE consultant or developer myself, but have been keeping an eye on it for a few months now.

    I think the debate so far has been too focussed on code and skills. As far as the future potential of CE is concerned, two main reasons for customers to seriously consider CE have not been mentioned: time and money. Because of its agile nature CE can be a excellent choice for a rapid application deployment. BPM, BRM, CAF et al have the potential of implementing system changes much faster, which is exactly why CE was created in the first place.

    One of its strengths is the ability to quickly integrate legacy and 3rd party systems – a much quicker option than to contemplate migrating a “situational application” (IBM) onto Netweaver, which brings with it a whole raft of projects, consultants and (potentially) custom code. To take this a step further the CE approach could lead to more enterprise backend systems in vanilla condition and thus simplifying NW and app stack upgrades. Some companies also use CE to sunset some of their legacy systems or systems they had to take on due to a merger or acquisition.

    Despite today’s news on Oracle buying Sun, I think (based on fellow SAP Mentor Dagfinn Parnas’ great input) that there is great potential in composite applications for current and future SAP customers, because they can provide quicker and more customised solutions.

    For interested ABAP programmers, it can be an interesting new area to get into and excellent way to look beyond the normal “ABAP plate”.

    Kind regards,
    Michael Koch

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  7. John Travolta
    Nice blog and good topic for discussion.

    What I like less is, if we already have a SAP JAVA Server in house (Portal + CM + Collaboration), to benefit from Composition Environment features, and I’m not talking only about BPM, BRM, but Web Dynpro enhancements, we need to set a complete new environment, something hard to explain and get approval from management.

    Customers using NW7.0 (Portal + CM + Collaboration), somewhere time, will get an EhP or new NW version, where they can benefit from at least Web Dynpro enhancements, without having to set a CE environment?

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  8. Thorsten Franz Post author
    Hi everybody,
    Thanks to all who commented on the blog. I have seldom seen so many smart and thoughtful, yet diverse responses to a blog. The question about the future of CE does touch a nerve, and even more so after the acquisition of Sun through Oracle.
    I sure don’t want to be in the shoes of the people at Sun and SAP who manage the SAP-Java alliance.
    Even without Oracle, with people like Thomas Jung on the ABAP side, it will be very hard for SAP’s Java development to hold the fort. ABAP is just damn good and getting better every day.
    Still, I am convinced that CE is much too good to be used solely for intergration/composition/holding stuff together. It allows the rapid development of serious business applications with an emphasis on communication with the outside world and should be used where its strengths can shine.
    Best regards,
    Thorsten
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