A Look at SAP Technology
In 2006, SAP released CRM OnDemand as its first Software as a Service solution. However, the CRM product was developed on a single-tenant architecture, included only basic CRM functionality, was never fully embraced by the company, failed to gain market traction and was terminated. While a disappointing experience, the company applied the lessons learned and in combination with a few company acquisitions (Clear Standards, Coghead and Frictionless), sorted through various acquired and internally built technologies to settle on a common PaaS.
Platform as a Service
The company's on-demand Platform as a Service (PaaS) consists of the "Next Generation Core" (based on the Business By Design architecture) and "Next Generation Edge" (a lightweight platform that merges SAP's SaaS technologies including River (a cloud development platform which can be used to connect SAP on-premise systems to cloud apps via a Gateway) and Oxygen (the environment in which SAP StreamWork was developed)). In a more practical sense, Core PaaS services tend to support business processes or transactional processing while Edge PaaS services tend to be lighter-weight and support extensions or specific purpose-based utilities or point solutions. Or from a product perspective, ByDesign and the Line of Business apps leverage the Core while utility programs such as Carbon Impact stem from the Edge.
The core and extension platform capabilities are also built upon NetWeaver—the same technology as SAP's on-premise software—and considered the service-oriented architecture (SOA) and integration platform. NetWeaver provides the platform for runtime custom development and integration with other applications and systems. NetWeaver was built using ABAP (SAP's own programming language) and other tools.
The overarching strategy and underlying technology are intended to support multiple cloud infrastructure options such as the SAP cloud, a private cloud or a public cloud such as Amazon's EC2. However, at this time not all options are available for each on-demand product (i.e. Business ByDesign is only available on the SAP cloud).
The SAP on-demand PaaS provides a unified technology stack for multi-tenancy delivery, standardized UI and integration to SAP Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) components such as the highly touted HANA in-memory computing. The on-demand PaaS empowers partner developers and ISVs to build new on-demand transactional and other SaaS applications as well as lightweight application extensions to existing on premise (e.g. SAP Business Suite, B1) products.
The UI was built with Microsoft's Silverlight technology, but does not leverage some of the feature-rich and interactive presentation capabilities of Silverlight. This may actually turn out to be a positive thing if Microsoft ends up sunsetting Silverlight—a likely event in our opinion. ByDesign Studio-based add-ons use web services to access the ABAP-OO-based ByDesign cloud system and leverage ByDesign's Silverlight UI.
System Integration Capabilities
SAP uses open standards for integration, allowing the use of C, C++, and Java EE, to facilitate system integration to J2E Server, Microsoft .NET, and IBM WebSphere, all of which are compatible for integration purposes. Since ByDesign is also developed in NetWeaver, many of the integration capabilities are similar to the on-premise versions. The NetWeaver SOA acts as the integration point and as the application programming interface (API) to connect other applications.
The web interface, cloud delivery model, web services, and SOAP provide integration methods to ByDesign. SAP also certifies its integration partners to validate their industry as well as technical and functional expertise. However, there are not many certified Business ByDesign partners at this point, and industry add-ons that are compatible with the on-premise version may or may not be compatible with the SaaS products.
Since most organizations already use Microsoft products, including MS SQL, MS Office, and SharePoint, SAP and Microsoft have partnered for two-way integration to leverage the collaboration aspects of SharePoint and Office desktop applications. Duet Enterprise provides interoperability, building blocks, templates, and tools for developers and IT professionals to build solutions for end users. For IBM users who use the DB2 database and Lotus Notes, another integration solution, named Alloy, is available.
Software Customization Capabilities
With ByDesign's newest release, development tools play an important part of system extensibility. The ByDesign SDK (software development kit) is object oriented, Visual Studio-like, based on .NET C#, and uses Silverlight—and ABAP is not a prerequisite.
With Business ByDesign, SAP has made the cultural shift from customizing at will and accommodating nearly every client development request to responding to custom requests with a much needed mix of caution, discipline and tools. Business ByDesign is flexible and product experts can often reconfigure and manipulate the system without the need for custom code. The company believes that about 80 percent of all project adaptations, such as adjusting the user interface, building forms, adjusting business processes and creating new reports can be completed without custom programming.
For the remaining 20 percent, which often includes customers' ability to deliver competitive advantages, SAP reverts to the ByDesign Studio SDK. In addition to the Visual Studio like development environment, the SDK includes two underlying proprietary scripting languages called Business Object Description Language (BODL) and Advanced Business Script. Both scripts are inherently flexible and similar in syntax and semantics to .NET C#. With the Studio SDK, customers and partners can create extensions and add-ons without source code or other modification to the core system, and further contribute to the developer ecosystem if they choose.
Beyond the Business ByDesign Studio SDK, development tools for SAP include the following: 1) ABAP Workbench, 2) NetWeaver Development Studio (NWDS)—an integrated development environment for most of the Java portion of SAP technology, mainly building business web applications but also creating SAP Enterprise Portal projects and SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe, 3) NetWeaver Development Infrastructure (NWDI), 4) Visual Composer—SAP's graphical software modelling tool, a web-based application that enables business process experts and developers to create business application components, without syntax coding, 5) SAP Enterprise Portal Content Studio, and 6) SAP Composite Application Framework—an environment for designing and using composite applications. These tools include SOAP and web services capabilities to ease development woes.
A partner ecosystem is key in SAP's market growth strategy. Similar to Microsoft's Dynamics CRM solution, SAP's Business ByDesign does not delve into many vertical market solutions directly, however, has uses the SDK to empower partners and customers to fill white space and develop specialized and industry-specific applications. The application development platform is flexible, but keeps developers within the SAP constructs in order to ensure system integrity, vendor support and continued upgrades. SAP itself will use the SDK to create Business ByDesign extensions which along with partner additions will be available from the SAP app store. SAP will manage its emerging ecosystem not application by application but as an integrated and virtualized landscape. The company's Landscape Management tools rationalize and certify cloud solutions for compatibility and customer assurance.
While not specific to Business ByDesign, understanding SAP's technology strategy, integration and customization options, and upgrade paths entails understanding NetWeaver.
SAP's NetWeaver technology foundation, a service-oriented integration framework, is the underlying platform for Business ByDesign as well as SAP's flagship Business Suite products. NetWeaver provides the development and runtime environment for SAP applications and can be used for custom development and integration with other applications and systems. NetWeaver is part of SAP's plan to transition to a more open, service-oriented architecture and to deliver the technical foundation of its applications on a single, integrated platform and common release cycle.
NetWeaver has evolved from a core architectural technology to a broad portfolio of tools and services. First released in 2004, NetWeaver has incurred several strategy and technology shifts and will likely continue to do so in the near term. New customer technology demands such as the cloud, social and mobile will require NetWeaver to be supplemented, upgraded or replaced. Whichever approach is ultimately chosen is going to accompany profound technology implications for SAP customers who have incurred, or plan to incur, integration and customization.
Each of NetWeaver's individual components lag best of breed development and integration tools, however, the collective NetWeaver platform delivers efficiencies as it is purpose built for SAP's applications. This mixed situation permits customers choice whereby when performing software projects where SAP's applications are only a small portion of the scope they may opt to leverage third party tools over NetWeaver.
Another key technology important to SaaS customers and partners is SAP River—a cloud-based development environment which supports lightweight extensions to the company's on-premises ERP application. River was acquired from SAP's purchase of Coghead in 2009 and has contributed to SaaS applications such as Sales OnDemand. Understanding River and its product road map would be advisable to ByDesign customers planning integration or customization to legacy systems.
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