SAP unveils Java-based Web app server

SAP AG plans to offer a Web application server that’s compliant with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), a move it claims will help users tie their software to other e-business applications across heterogeneous systems, divisions and enterprises.

Company officials made the announcement on Tuesday at the TechEd ’01 technical education conference in Los Angeles, saying the product change would allow companies to tie their SAP applications to Web applications using the Java programming language.

Executives said that users will be able to dynamically write business process rules and share them not only within a company or division but with partners and customers outside the enterprise as well.

The Web server is designed to simultaneously support SAP’s own Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP) language, which SAP said would boost the server’s reliability and scalability beyond that now allowed by J2EE technology. SAP also said developers can tie applications built around any industry standard, such as Microsoft Corp.’s .Net specifications .

The server will be the centerpiece of SAP’s e-business infrastructure, which also relies on SAP’s role-based Web portals and exchange products. Those are also being enhanced.

Analysts said the offerings will most likely appeal to large companies that are already part of SAP’s installed base.

“If you are an SAP user, this is a good way to extend what you have got into Web services and applications while protecting existing investments,” said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif. “It puts you on the path to adopting new technology. For the rest of the world, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Before now, users who wanted to integrate SAP software with the Web had to cobble together a variety of third-party applications from vendors such as Fairfax, Va.-based WebMethods Inc. SAP’s moves reflects a growing trend among users who want to buy from as few vendors as possible. “[Users] are looking to simplify the buying process,” said Greenbaum.

Users have a chance to consolidate their business networks around SAP applications and even save on server hardware costs, according to David Dobrin, an analyst at B2B Analysts, a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy. He noted that “it looks like SAP is going to become more open.”

While the changes may save users money and ultimately make their lives easier, they will nevertheless require potentially difficult system upgrades, Dobrin said.

Some users were enthusiastic about SAP’s move to Java. Dawn Genian, director of information systems at sound system maker Harman International Industries Inc. in Northridge, Calif., said her company could more easily tie back-end systems to front-end graphical user interfaces (GUI) and deliver data to executives in an easy-to-navigate format. Currently, executives have to navigate through multiple screens to access SAP data.

“We’re looking for ease of use and … one front end,” Genian said. “This will make it easier. One challenge with SAP is the GUI – just making it friendly enough for executives to use.”

Harman currently runs SAP R/3 and is negotiating to upgrade to the suite of Web-enabled collaborative applications, Genian said. SAP may allow Harman to upgrade its systems without having to add extra servers, a move would “allow me to keep up with new technology and implement it in a cost-effective manner,” Genian said.