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In a timeframe of a couple of weeks, SAP independently released 2 products for .NET interoperability: first [December 2010] the next version of the .NET Connector – NCo 3.0; followed a few weeks [Februari 2011] later by the public launch of Duet Enterprise – a combined effort of SAP and Microsoft. These near overlapping release moments may raise questions and uncertainty on the positioning of the 2 .NET interoperability products. Are they competing? Are the successive release moments a symptom of independent products groups within SAP, and will market acceptance determine which one will ‘win’? And what about the SAP ES Explorer? Earlier, SAP spokesman SAP ES Explorer vs. SAP Connector for Microsoft .NET the .NET connector outdated in favor of the ES Explorer.

In my thoughts and analysis, the story is differently. NCo3.0 and ES Explorer on one side, and Duet Enterprise all have a distinct positioning. The 3 products are neither competing nor exclusive for .NET interoperability. Each serves a specific and dedicated purpose.

NCo3.0 and ES Explorer

Both NCo3.0 and ES Explorer are in essence .NET Interoperability technologies. Neither of them is positioned as a product. You can not purchase or license it, but instead can download them from SAP Marketplace if you have a valid S-User ID that acknowledges you as a SAP developer. The release of .NET Connector 3.0 passed rather silently, with only an announcement on SDN. It has not received attention from any of the influencing  IT business magazines, nor IT Research Analysts. There was a Ramp-Up with selected beta-testers, but with minimal noise ahead and attention during.

  • NCO 3.0 is intended as a general purpose technology tool for low level integration plumping. Basically it enables bi-directional interoperability between .NET custom code and SAP RFCs and BAPI Function Modules. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • The role of SAP ES Explorer is in essence the same. In the earlier SAP statement, Rima Rudnik-Sirich characterized it as ‘It succeeds SAP .NET Connector 2.0 for .NET’. The difference is within the interoperability manner. SAP ES Explorer works at the level of SAP Enterprise Services, W3*-compliant. You apply it as Visual Studio Add-In, to search through all the SAP Enterprise Services available in your landscape; standards ones from SAP, from third parties deployed in your landscape, and your customer-build Enterprise Services. Runtime invocation of the selected Enterprise Services occurs via a generated WCF service proxy.

Duet Enterprise

Duet Enterprise is a whole other story. Both SAP and Microsoft position it as a product that will directly provide business value. The Duet Enterprise release was done at large: a Virtual Launch Event, press releases and articles within the important IT business magazines, analysis reports by Forrester and CITO Research. Application of Duet Enterprise requires a license, the product can be purchased via SAP and Microsoft. (Note: at moment of writing there is no information disclosed on pricing and licensing model). Before reaching General Availability, Duet Enterprise is evaluated in a combined Ramp-Up / Rapid Deployment Program hosted by SAP and Microsoft together. Participating in the RDP was given substantial noise ahead, and intensive attention during the program course self. (Note: TopForce participated together with a large Dutch insurance company in this RDP.)

The role of Duet Enterprise is twofold. It comes out of the box with direct usable functionalities, and capabilities to compose customer-specific solutions. Its second face is what distinguished Duet Enterprise from the previous Duet versions: integration Foundation to build integration + interoperability that is specific for your situation. Also, SAP and Microsoft believe and want ISVs (the ecosystem) to deliver add-ons on the Duet Enterprise products, e.g. for specific vertical markets. To stimulate this, SAP and Microsoft also launched a partner program: Unite Partner Connection Program.  

The Duet Enterprise Foundation is also interoperability plumping, but of higher level as NCo 3.0 and ES Explorer. SAP / .NET interoperability occurs via standard W3* services; there is out-of-the-box support for SSO, Authorization, landscape monitoring. All aspects that earlier you typically had to handcraft yourself, and thus also maintain.

Duet Enterprise is bounded to usage from within a SharePoint 2010 context, and via SharePoint 2010 as intermediary layer in Office 2010 clients. Duet Enterprise has no role in other .NET contexts, e.g. SharePoint 2007 or 2003, Silverlight, WinForms or WPF apps, WCF handling, BizTalk.

Implications

The added value of Duet Enterprise [product, foundation] wrt NCo 3.0 and SAP Explorer [basic interoperability technologies] is that it raises the level of SAP – .NET interoperability. In addition to the bi-directional SAP – .NET runtime communication, it also provides interoperability concepts as SSO, Authorization, System Monitoring. And on top, it comes with direct usable functionalities, and capabilities to compose solutions [building blocks].

The limitation is that it only works from a SharePoint 2010 context (and via SharePoint in Office 2010 clients). If you need .NET interoperability from different .NET context, you have to resort to another approach. SAP provides for this both the NCo 3.0 and SAP ES Explorer; which one is usable is dependent on the level of SAP back-end consumption. If SAP Enterprise Services are available;  apply SAP ES Explorer; for RFCs and FMs you can use NCo 3.0.

Note: there are also several technologies and products delivered outside SAP to enable .NET interoperability. For instance Microsoft provides the BizTalk WCF LOB Adapter SDK, BizTalk itself; third parties provide product like Sitrion, Ometa, ERP Connect. For the scope of this article they are however not considered.

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