Late last year I watched a Gartner presentation which introduced me to the concept of Pace Layering. Via a little research on the web I learned that this is an architectural design principle which has earlier application in the building industry (also termed ‘shearing layers’). In the context of buildings, the idea is that you architect different layers of change, which each layer evolving at a different pace. So for instance, an underlying building structure may last for decades, whereas the internal walls, ceilings and doors might be changed with renovations, and finally the furniture and appliances will be continuously updated. The strength of a good pace layered architecture is that the layers are loosely coupled enough to allow movement and evolution of the faster layers without compromising the slower ones.
I may be late to this concept, as analysts such as Dennis Howlett were across it years ago it seems. I may not have the smarts to be an analyst, but this doesn’t stop me sharing my opinions on the applicability of this concept to SAP’s current mobility strategy and architecture. Recently I presented my perspectives on mobility via Skype to a small group of people from the Danish IT Group (organised by SAP Mentor Daniel Graverson). One slide that attracted much interest and discussion was this …
If you wish to see the full presentation, you can find it here
In the diagram above I illustrate what I perceive as various relevant layers in SAP’s current mobile architecture (for apps based in Sybase).
Mobile UI technologies, SDKs & Devices
In reality you could break these into separate layers, but for convenience I have combined them. The point being that the pace of evolution in this space is currently FAST. This includes (for instance) the continued evolution of client platforms such as iOS and Android, the introduction this year of Windows 8, etc. We also see continued rapid evolution in HTML5 frameworks such as jQuery Mobile, Sencha and others. And from a device standpoint we all know that new handsets and tablets are continually being released.
Mobile Abstraction and Management Middleware
This is the layer where I would place Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP), and Afaria from a device management perspective. I will focus more specifically here on SUP. In its current form SUP needs to support specific client platforms (and releases for those platforms). This is because it has the ability to generate baseline native code for those platforms (such as iOS). Looking at it that way, it is far from ‘loosely coupled’ from the layer above. But it serves to protect the layers below from the rapid pace of evolution in mobile client technologies. To stay relevant it will need to keep pace with the evolution of the client layer. So for instance as new client platforms such as Windows 8 are released, the Sybase product management team will need to work hard adapting SUP to support it.
REST-based APIs are proliferating on the internet partly because they are simple, and lean. SAP has introduced SAP NetWeaver Gateway as its own REST-enablement layer for the Business Suite. From a pace layering perspective, Gateway offers excellent opportunity to de-couple the Business Suite from the faster paced evolution in UI and mobile technologies. As long as technologies can consume or interact with the OData-based APIs from Gateway, this will protect investments in the Business Suite. To illustrate, even today you can chop and change the UI technology interacting with Gateway (eg. change from a native iOS app to a native Android app to using a web framework such as SAPUI5), with no underlying impact on the Business Suite.
Although the SAP HANA team would disagree, core ERP systems like SAP are no longer evolving at the same rate as they did over a decade ago. They have simply reached a higher level of maturity. As an example, we know that SAP has extended support for ERP 6.0 and Business Suite 7 through to 2020.
In my next blog, I will consider the implications of the mobile abstraction and management layer needing to ‘keep up’ with the fast-paced evolution in mobile client technologies.