NetWeaver is a set of technologies—a platform—for integrating disparate business processes across applications, databases, and other information technology (IT), for building new applications, and for reusing applications and existing IT functionality in new applications. NetWeaver has become the platform to run business processes, says Amit Sinha, director of SAP NetWeaver Solution Marketing. “It decouples business processes from underlying IT systems so that users can add, remove, or change steps in a business process—without interrupting daily operations.” It’s the foundation for all future SAP applications. NetWeaver combines its capabilities with application functionality to make up SOA, what SAP calls “enterprise services architecture.”
Service-oriented architecture, explains Ken Amann, director of research for CIMdata (Ann Arbor, MI; www.cimdata.com), “describes a style of multi-tier computing in which resources on a network are made available as independent services that can be accessed without knowing their underlying platform.” SOA is the next battleground for IT vendors to make inroads into existing IT departments.
Yes, there is a variety of relatively independent business applications. Like Application Server, for using existing IT applications and services across a Web-based infrastructure; Master Data Manage-ment (MDM), which consolidates company-wide data and keeps those master data accurate, free of duplicated records, and normalized; Business Intelligence (BI), which not only integrates data across the enterprise, but converts those data into timely information (including data warehousing, workflow capabilities, querying, and broadcasting); Exchange Infrastructure, which supports disparate business applica-tions across supply chains (“collaboration”); Auto-ID Infrastructure, for integrating automated sensing devices (including RFID readers and printers, Bluetooth devices, embedded systems, and bar-code devices); and Composite Application Framework, for designing and using SOA-compliant composite applications.
Behind the scenes. Case in point. A supplier could be working with a number of subsuppliers that do not have EDI. To get around that and to still coordinate demand, customer needs and requirements can be presented through a Web-based portal. And that is what several suppliers are doing with SAP’s Supply Network Collaboration tool. This tool is built on top of SAP’s Inventory Collaboration Hub, which itself is built on several NetWeaver technologies, Enterprise Portal, BI, and Exchange Infrastructure. The hub is essentially a standalone application; that is, it is separate from SAP’s enterprise resource planning system, and yet the hub can integrate, slice-and-dice, and then display demand data from both SAP and non-SAP systems in a single portal.
Isn’t NetWeaver—and SOA—more an IT issue than something for design and manu-facturing engineers? True, admits Kevin McCollom, SAP’s director of business development for the automotive IBU, end users might not ask for NetWeaver by name. “Depends on how much they like to get under the covers.” However, users might see new and useful business applications, process capabilities, or neat little analysis and display tools while visiting other companies, plants, suppliers, or even trade shows. This might cause them to ask for the same capabilities. These days, this may mean asking for the enabling capability: an SOA that, in this case, has the SAP brand name NetWeaver.
In reality, will a company ever rip out its enterprise applications from one vendor so it can install SAP NetWeaver? Nope. Most companies don’t do that, says Sinha. Instead, some SAP customers are using NetWeaver for building composite applications that incorporate both SAP and non-SAP business systems. This is possible because NetWeaver absorbs various web-based company standards, including IBM WebSphere, Microsoft .NET, and Sun Java.
“Service oriented architecture without business content is just a technology tool. But business content and applications that are service-enabled are a tool for competitive advantage,” says McCollom.
NetWeaver combines its capabilities with application functionality to make up SOA, what SAP calls “enterprise services architecture.”