What happens next with SAP Business Connector?
Objective of this blog is to give some background information about SAP Business Connector and some guidance for replacing it with a more contemporary platform.
What is SAP Business Connector?
SAP Business Connector (SBC) is a middleware or integration platform offered by SAP to connect SAP-systems to non-SAP partner systems.
SAP Business Connector was released in 1999 when an SAP-system was an ERP-system running on an ABAP-stack. There was none of the integration tools that later became essential part of the SAP Netweaver stack. SBC was released as the solution from SAP for integrating SAP-systems to 3rd-party-systems using the technologies that were considered state of the art for business-to-business communication at that time, such as XML, HTTP(S) or WebServices.
However, with introducing SAP Web Application Server and SAP Exchange Infrastructure (shortly later renamed to SAP Process Integration, SAP PI, and better known under that name) a few years later, SAP Business Connector was no longer the recommended integration tool. Since that time SAP has stopped developing SBC any further but still supports it and offers it to customers for download.
Apart from customer-specific integration scenarios a typical use case for SAP Business Connector are SAP customers who are not using the integration solutions like Cloud Integration Suite or SAP PI and run ELSTER scenarios. ELSTER is a joint project of the German Federal Tax Administration and the tax administrations of the German Federal States that has made the electronic transmission of tax return data possible. Customers need a middleware to transfer their data to the financial authorities as part of these scenarios.
As technology and common design patterns have been constantly developing over the time, SAP Business Connector and its underlying architecture seems more and more outdated. As a result, many customers are looking for recommendations how to cope with that situation. End of maintenance for the current and final release 4.8 of SBC will be 2027. Customers still running SAP Business Connector will have to come up with a strategy how to continue thereafter.
SAP Business Connector Architecture
SAP Business Connector is a Java application that uses SAP Java Connector (JCO) to connect with SAP-systems. Hence the communication between SBC and SAP ERP is based on the RFC protocol in the first place. SAP Business Connector supports various types of RFC-communication (synchronous, asynchronous, transactional) and comes with built-in support for IDoc-communication. For the communication towards the non-SAP partner systems SBC supports HTTP(S), FTP, Email (SMTP, IMAP, POP3), JDBC and WebService.
Apart from the transportation layer SAP Business Connector can also perform data processing, such as conversions and mappings. That can be done using a graphical mapping engine, with XSLT or by deploying own coding (Java or C++). The graphical mapping engine comes with a dedicated development environment called SAP Business Connector Developer.
At first glance mappings in SAP Business Connector may look similar to data mappings in SAP PI, but in fact they are based on a different technology and cannot be exported or easily migrated to SAP PI, Cloud Integration Suite or any other SAP NetWeaver component.
SAP Business Connector is a pure Java application running on a JRE (Java Runtime Environment). The current version is shipped with the SAP own Java runtime, previous versions were shipped with Java runtimes from other vendors. SAP Business Connector is not part of the NetWeaver stack but uses proprietary technology. It has no ABAP stack and, despite being a Java server, is of completely different nature than SAP WebApplication server. It neither complies to any common standard such as J2EE or similar, it is rather a proprietary solution.
Because of its different nature, some common tools that are widely used in a typical SAP landscape are not available for SAP Business Connector. For example, it cannot be integrated in the SAP Central User Administration, it cannot be integrated in solutions like Change Request Management (ChaRM) or Focused Build to control development and transport processes throughout the landscape. There is no transport management system compatible with that for other SAP solutions.
Sound knowledge in SAP administration, maintenance, development, or error investigation won’t help much when it comes to SAP Business Connector. Customers often depend on service providers for these activities because they don’t have the required know-how and typically it is not worthwhile for them to build it up in their own team.
Due to the low level of standardization and market penetration there are not so many add-ons or other content available. For SAP Cloud Integration Suite or SAP PI for example there are a lot of adapters (for example for SFTP or different EDI standards) available and many out-of-the-box integration scenarios that can be used to easily set up a system integration. This is not true for SBC.
As SAP Business Connector has not been developed any further for many years, it does not or only poorly support technologies or architectural approaches that have become relevant over the last almost two decades. For example, it doesn’t offer any tools or specific support for ODATA or REST, which is the integration backbone of many applications nowadays. Even WebService support is based on the standards from about 20 years ago.
SAP Business Connector may work well as technical connector for point-to-point connections but against the background of its limitations and the approaching end of support, it is not the integration platform customers should plan to stay on. It is recommendable to use the time left to plan and execute the migration to an up-to-date platform. SAP Cloud Integration Suite on the Business Technology Platform (BTP formerly called SCP) is certainly the choice that is most future proof. Depending on a customer’s architecture SAP Process Integration (or SAP Process Orchestration) may also be an option that should be taken into account.
When planning the migration to a new platform these aspects should be considered:
- Is SAP Business Connector used for standard scenario ELSTER only?
This is true for many customers, and it makes decommissioning SBC very easy. SAP provides standard solutions for SAP Cloud Integration Suite and SAP PI for ELSTER.
No code needs to be migrated from SBC to switch to one of these platforms.
- Is SAP Business Connector only used for routing IDocs without any mapping or conversion?
A typical use-case for SBC is to convert IDocs (or RFC-calls) to XML and transfer them to a partner-system that does not support RFC-communication, e.g. via HTTP post. Or the other way around.
This type of scenarios can be moved to SAP Cloud Integration Suite or SAP PI easily. Typically, nothing needs to be migrated from SBC in this case.
It is rather a configuration task and won’t require real development.
- Is SAP Business Connector used to do mapping or conversions?
Customer-specific scenarios often have been developed to do a conversion e.g. between an IDoc- and some other format, hence contain mapping steps.
For these scenarios usually a re-implementation needs to be done on the target integration platform. That requires a precise analysis of what has been implemented on SBC.
The effort is as individual as the scenarios that have been set up.
- Have additional adapters been deployed on SAP Business Connector?
Most customers use SBC for the type of communication that is supported out-of-the-box only (RFC, HTTP(S), FTP).
As SAP Cloud Integration Suite and SAP PI support these as well, there is no general issue regarding that. But if customers have deployed additional adapters on SBC, they have to double-check if the new platform supports the corresponding protocol, too. Or if there are matching adapters available for purchase.
- Additional products or packages
An indefinite number of vendors have offered solutions based on SAP Business Connector for various purposes. If customers are using such third-party products, they should get in contact with the vendor and check for a solution.
Most vendors offer their solutions for up-to-date platforms, too.
Most components of interface scenarios, like system connections and mappings are persisted in proprietary formats on SAP Business Connector and there is no viable tool available to migrate them from SBC to SAP Cloud Integration Suite or SAP PI automatically. If Java coding or XSL-transformations are used as part of mappings, there is a slight chance that fragments of them can be taken over to the target platform. But a typical migration from SAP Business Connector to another platform means re-implementing things on the target system.
Like for any other migration project the key to success is proper planning, preparation and execution of the necessary steps. Customers should make sure to have experts for both, SAP Business Connector and target platform on board and plan enough time for testing.
Given a good preparation, a migration from SAP Business Connector to an up-to-date platform is a feasible task.
Relevant Links and Notes