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Loosely Coupled weblog

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Throat to choke

SAP has become the latest vendor to announce support for SOA while in the same breath contradicting one of the foundation principles of a service-oriented architecture. The company's CEO and co-founder, Henning Kagermann, met with journalists last week to preview a three-year development plan to be outlined at its Sapphire conference this month.

CRN's write-up, SAP CEO Previews Architecture Extensions, reports that "SAP plans to set a timetable to re-engineer its suite of enterprise applications around a services-oriented architecture." The company will also "extend the web services architecture it laid out last year to include business-process management and modeling tools that can be used to unify business processes across multiple SAP and third-party applications."

But don't imagine for a second that means that SAP welcomes the notion of customers using software other than its own to run their businesses. "I don't believe we will see customers composing business processes from components provided by four or five companies," Kagermann told the assembled journalists. "There has to be one throat to choke, [a company that] will take it upon their shoulders to compose everything."

SAP thus welcomes SOA not as a mechanism that allows customers to choose the best functionality from a variety of vendors, but as a means of migrating towards consolidation on its own application architecture. Once there, I'm sure that many of them will feel like wringing SAP's neck, but I doubt that's the predicament that Kagermann had in mind. Whereas customers look down the telescope of SOA and see a panorama of vendor choice, Kagermann is looking from the other end and envisioning a narrow monopoly of supply.

There is a logical flaw in Kagermann's line of thinking, since at the same time as arguing for a single throat to choke, he is simultaneously asking customers to embrace SAP even if they are currently standardized on some other vendor. The trouble is that most of SAP's competitors are taking the same point of view, and their combined efforts are going to ensure that customers continue to buy from a variety of sources and end up with a plethora of application architectures. Which is as it should be. Having a single throat to choke is never a comfortable position to be in, as any of us old enough to remember dealing with the old monopoly telecoms carriers can vouch for.

"... [A]s more enterprises become service enabled, the notion of application will apply more to assembled or composite applications that are pulled together from services," writes Jef Newsom in a recently-started blog that is proving to be a stimulating read. Kagermann acknowledges that this is the future but continues to insist on SAP providing the software foundations for that multiplicity of services, even when sourced via third parties. It will be interesting to see how long he, along with his opposite numbers at competing vendors, will remain able to sustain this Canute-like position in the face of all its logical inconsistencies.

posted by Phil Wainewright 4:07 PM (GMT) | comments | link

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