SapphireNow 2012 – A Rejuvenating Experience
Like last year, this year also I was lucky to get invited for SappireNow 2012 in Orlando, USA via SAP Mentor program by SAP, and though after going through the hassles of last-minute travel booking and thirty hours of grueling inter-continental flight, I found attending the three-day conference a great rewarding and learning experience as ever.
Though as expected the focus of this year was mainly HANA, being the first SapphireNow after its GA, but it is interesting to see there are some other topics as well along with it, which are slowly and silently coming up and gaining importance. Being an application architect on my day-job and a developer at heart, I tried to find out the interesting aspects of SAP’s strategy and direction from an architect and developer point of view. The following are some of the topics I found to be interesting and shall follow-up for more information in the coming days.
- Social Dimension of Business Suite – Social networking and media though now a commonplace term in today’s world it has been ignored since long in enterprise business products and solutions. With Sameer Patel now heading the social portfolio of SAP solutions it has gained a new dimension altogether as I felt from the exclusive SAP Mentor meeting with him discussing about future strategy and roadmap of social software in SAP. He explained how peer-to-peer networking commonly termed as social networking is important in terms of business. Though traditionally SAP solutions are market leaders and deep into the verticals of industry scenarios but somehow often it lacks the “a-day-in-the-life of” experience for business users and that’s where the social strategy of SAP is getting focused. Sameer pointed out that the solution he is talking about is not SAP Streamwork or an enhancement of it, but a whole new experience on SAP Business Suite which will be slowly coming up as part of the solution experience.
- Cloud Offerings and Roadmap – Though with the acquisition of SuccessFactor definitely the cloud story got a new dimension in SAP, but it is nevertheless a fact that SAP was working on it, though a bit latecomer, for quite some time. SAP announced SAP NetWeaver Cloud (nicknamed NEO) as the PaaS offering mainly targeted for ISV and developers, which will provide a new NetWeaver Java platform on the cloud to create mash-ups and ISV solutions making the ecosystem stronger. SAP NetWeaver Cloud though does not have the standard on-premise NetWever components such as composition environment (BPM, CAF), portal, etc it provides the Java container and runtime with source control and identity management to create Java-based applications. For UI it does not provide the WebDynpro Java runtime and it is expected that the user will use HTML5 or other standard UI technologies for their solutions on Cloud, HTML5 being considered as the future UI technology at SAP to converge multiple UI technologies used by SAP as on today. SAP NetWeaver Cloud does provide a Cloud Connector which can be used to connect on-premise SAP Business Suite systems with NetWeaver Cloud via RFC and REST, thus helping in creating mash-ups and composite applications on the cloud. This has finally opened the road for independent developers and ISV to build their own apps based on SAP Business Suite or other applications as well.
SAP already has shown its commitment to cloud-based offerings via SuccessFactor and another important announcement which came in this SapphireNow is providing BusinessByDesign as componentized and cloud-based offering as smaller apps.
- HANA – Definitely HANA was the biggest show-catcher this year and some important messages from Hasso Plattner and Vishal Sikka in their keynote speech are worth mentioning. Being hyped to a great extent for the last one year as the future database for all SAP applications, Hasso explained that the OLTP systems such as ERP may not be able to derive huge benefit from HANA like a OLAP system such as BI. This is because of the fact the column-store of HANA works best with multi-row select queries typically done in BI reports and not with the typical SELECT SINGLE type of queries used in OLTP systems. Nevertheless SAP will run ERP on HANA before end of this year as already mentioned earlier, at the same time shall support the other database installations of Business Suite. Hasso categorically mentioned that SAP will never come up with a Business Suite release only for HANA and that way it will be more of a choice for the customers to use HANA or any other database which are being used today. Interestingly Vishal showed a demo of BusinessOne running on HANA and performing real-time ATP check thus opening the possibility of predictive marketing for retailers. It is clear that SAP will run some of the performance-heavy scenarios of the Business Suite on HANA such as ATP check, Dunning, etc. as add-on applications over the core, thus supporting the non-disruptive innovation story. Another important message from Hasso for the Architects is the need for the introduction of hot and cold storages in perspective of HANA, where the current data will be stored in-memory i.e. hot storage, and less-used data in disk i.e. cold storage, which will make the systems optimized for performance. SAP is clearly trying to position HANA as a platform to develop new kind of applications which were not possible before due to high performance requirements as well as improving the overall Business Suite experience. One important consideration for architects and developers will be focusing more on HANA-based SQL skill rather than ABAP or Java skills going forward. Apart from adapting to the new data modeling techniques on HANA the solution design should undergo a major change, compared to the traditional SAP applications, where the business logic will be mostly embedded into the HANA (SQL) layer rather than in the business layer.
Vishal also demonstrated the high-availability capability of HANA live in his keynote, by asking the data center engineer to switch-off couple of nodes directly and showing how the load-balancing feature handles the failure. I think it would have been more interesting to show this demo from the aspect of data and application performance, ensuring that nothing is lost on node failure. Interestingly the HANA machine on which the demo was shown was the biggest HANA system built ever, which has been developed by IBM.
- So what was there for the developers?
Though SapphireNow is mostly a sales event targeted for the CxO population, I found this year it had loads to offer and cheer-up the developers and geeks. First of all the announcement on free HANA development license for 30 days in Amazon Web Services and pay-per-use thereafter is the much-awaited and right step to engage the eco-system and quickly showcase the value of HANA. Any developer anywhere in the world can now request for a free HANA license from SAP HANA Development Center (http://scn.sap.com/community/developer-center/hana) and get access by single click. This is a very significant step towards opening up the SAP platform to the world and shows SAP is definitely changing to introduce and embrace the huge community of independent developers and ISVs out there like other successful software platform/technology companies. In this line SAP has also announced the HANA startup program to fund startups with exciting ideas on HANA and showcased some of them in the Vishal’s keynote how the ball has already started rolling. Also Vishal mentioned that starting with HANA, SAP will provide developer license for Mobile and Cloud-based application development as well very soon. I think this will not only help to create the newSAP skills in the market required for the future, but shall also enrich the SAP ecosystem with more industry or scenario specific apps which SAP cannot provide easily.
SAP has already launched a developer program (http://scn.sap.com/community/developer-center) which focuses on four different dimensions to attract and enable developers around SAP ecosystem. Those are HANA, Mobile, Cloud Platform and APIs. The first three though much discussed and known to almost everyone in SAP community, the fourth category i.e. APIs is one of the most interesting ways to open the huge black box of SAP to the non-SAP world. As mentioned by the developer program management team, SAP is working on to provide simple REST APIs of SAP Business Suite to be consumed by anyone and anywhere. That means now a non-SAP developer can also use the REST APIs to create mobile apps or composites/mash-ups easily without knowing much about what is going on inside the box. The API library will be the next generation enterprise services workplace to provide more simpler and easy access to SAP applications. The REST APIs will be provided via Gateway and shall include all major functionalities of Business Suite applications which can be used to build mash-ups and composites on top of it. In the forthcoming release, Gateway will also provide the connector for HANA to expose the applications developed on it as REST APIs thus making almost all SAP applications open for developers to build on top of it. The best thing of all these are that all the systems for developer program will be available as cloud-based services hosted by SAP or third-party cloud providers such as AWS and developers can simply hook into them from anywhere without any local footprint.
As Jim Snabe, co-CEO of SAP mentioned in his keynote that down the line five years from now everything will be on-mobile and on the cloud, it is indeed a very right time to engage the developer community to build on top of the core products and solutions.
Last but not the least Vishal mentioned and showed a demo on River Definition Language (RDL) in his keynote which is aimed to collate multiple programming languages in simple english terminologies. But I was little bit disappointed not seeing any modeling platform integrated with it. Though Hasso rightly pointed out in his exclusive meeting with the SAP Mentors that modeling does not mean much for developers, I personally feel it definitely has significance for business analysts and architects. SAP itself having more than one programming language used in its products and solutions, and now aiming to take the non-SAP developers into its fold, I think it requires a common platform-independent modeling to define the business processes and data models. This is required for defining and managing platform-interoperability and composite applications based on multiple platforms and products underlying them. Though NetWeaver BPM does provide the standard-based (BPMN) modeling capability for business processes, I think it needs to be extended to complete the story and provide an end-to-end solution management experience for architects and developers.
Those who missed the event live or in-person can view some of the sessions and keynotes in SapphireNow Online (http://www.sapvirtualevents.com/sapphirenow/live.aspx).