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SAP defers key SOA decisions

by Keith Rodgers
December 21st, 2004

SAP customers who roll out SOA projects in 2005 face going ahead without a clear view of the vendor's strategy in key areas.

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Enterprise application vendors including SAP have delayed finalizing their strategies for the finer aspects of SOA, such as web services management:
  • SAP won't complete a decision on SOA management strategy until later in 2005
  • Product plans will go to the back of a three-year development queue
  • Customers are trying out specialist vendors for tactical deployments
  • SAP says it will respond to market demand
  • Meanwhile, early adopters have to find their own way

Glossary terms: services management, SOA, composite application, API, interoperability, lookup tool

The lack of clarity from SAP, combined with uncertainty over the outcome of Oracle's $10.3 billion takeover of PeopleSoft, is set to delay web services adoption during the year. Many customers will prefer to wait and see how the top enterprise application vendors are going to tackle important aspects of interoperability and management before they risk pressing ahead with major projects.

The German software giant has confirmed to Loosely Coupled that it is still debating the scope of its SOA strategy in areas including web services management capabilities and support for third-party management tools. The decision-making process is likely to take most of the year to complete, and conflicting development priorities may push actual development work towards the latter part of a three-year SOA roadmap that SAP is currently defining.

"Right now, we're defining a three-year strategy in this space, based on what customers are looking for and what we need," SAP NetWeaver product manager Anders Ranum told Loosely Coupled. Management is a long way down the list of development priorities: "We have other more urgent requirements."

Yet management — which includes monitoring, analysis and event handling as well as more esoteric functions such as the definition and enforcement of runtime policies and the maintenance of a service registry — is a key element in an effective SOA strategy because of the role it plays in controlling the impact of systems performance on business outcomes. For example, it can assess an event like a network failure in the context of the likely effect on business processes and the flow of business data, and help to initiate and prioritize corrective action. Production implementations of such capabilities are few and far between, even among early adopters of web services, but there is widespread agreement on the importance of architecting for management right from the start.

Tactical solutions
SAP admits that customers who are moving ahead with web services projects have turned to smaller specialist vendors to fulfill their SOA management needs. "We have a lot of customers who use SAP's applications and Netweaver [SAP's application and integration infrastructure], and use some other form of web services management tool," said Kaj van der Loo, director of product strategy for SAP NetWeaver, in an interview with Loosely Coupled. He said that while the company is currently looking at the ‘bigger picture' of the overall SOA landscape, it isn't yet focusing on how it will manage services. "We're working on defining how much of the management of the services layer we want to do for the overall systems landscape, and when we hand over to other management tools."

He maintains that customers will fall into line once the vendor has made up its mind about management: "Most customers say they have taken something from a small vendor just to try out — a tactical solution. They want to see what their big partners will do — it could be HP and SAP. They'll wait to see what we're doing before they make any strategic decision." If Loo is correct in his analysis, then the outlook for those smaller vendors once the established names bring their solutions to market may quickly turn sour.

SAP has long had built-in monitoring capability within its core Applications Server and can handle many SAP-specific management tasks, such as tackling breaches of service level agreements. Outside the SAP environment, it relies on other systems management products such as HP OpenView. In the short term, its partnership options include exposing SAP monitoring to a third party product through an API or as a web service, or consuming other web service monitoring tools.

"I think we will be able to cover at least any service developed around our application at a granular, low level," says Ranum, who works on NetWeaver's relationship to SAP's broader Enterprise Service Architecture definition. "In the non-SAP world, we need to look at the functionality some other companies are providing."

No clear leaders
Meanwhile, SAP is pushing ahead with service-enabling business processes, the development of composite applications, and its ongoing efforts to seize control of deeper components of the technology stack through NetWeaver. As disclosed in last month's Loosely Coupled Monthly Digest, SAP will expose the first wave of service-enabled processes in the spring, homing in on mundane but important pain points, such as order-to-delivery, and deployment flexibility.

SAP argues that its approach to web services management will remain both system agnostic — allowing customers to make their own choice of management — and driven by demand. If one vendor emerges as a clear leader in the management space, says Ranum, SAP is "not opposed to engaging with them" to define an interoperability strategy.

But there are no signs of a leader emerging in the current state of the management market, said Van der Loo, adding that lack of standards definition presents an additional problem. "It's a terribly immature market, there are not well-defined layers. It will probably play out over the next year or two, what kinds of management exist and who plays where."

Once more clarity emerges, SAP will be ready to show its hand. But that could yet be a year or more in the future. Customers who have been expecting the vendor to come out with a fully-formed strategy this spring so that they can safely embark on SOA projects in the coming year may find they have to either postpone their plans or settle instead for a more tactical outlook.

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