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SAP Intros Integrated NetWeaver

Enterprise software giant SAP has closed the gaps in its NetWeaver integration/application platform and expects customers to reap the benefits of an all-in-one network architecture.

Scheduled for general release at month's end, NetWeaver 2004 is a conglomeration of back-office applications: Mobile Infrastructure, Enterprise Portal, Business Intelligence, Master Data Management, Exchange Infrastructure, Web Application Server, Composite Application Framework and Solution Manager.

Previously, the products were sold individually. It wasn't until last year, however, that company developers rolled them into one platform suite, called NetWeaver. But even at the time, officials acknowledged the applications weren't completely integrated. In June, NetWeaver developers introduced NetWeaver product updates to advance their integration goal.

Kathy Quirk, an analyst with Nucleus Research, said that traditionally it's been difficult for software developers to provide an integrated platform.

"Time will tell," she said. "There are a lot of vendors on the market who are trying to appeal to customers to standardize their integration platform and the decision comes down to cost and the benefits of doing so."

Likely because of its unfinished state, the company sold 14,000 component pieces, Ori Inbar, SAP vice president of marketing for NetWeaver, told internetnews.com. But it did garner 300 NetWeaver partners and 30 companies building applications on top of the platform in 2003. Developer and partner support helped convince SAP to open some code to developers in September.

Officials say NetWeaver will be an all-in-one, homogenous, foundation for its vertical software products, depending on the buyers' need: customer relationship management (CRM), supplier relationship management (SRM) and/or enterprise resource planning (ERP).

"The benefits (of a homogenous platform) are obvious, it basically gives them a head start because they have already integrated these pieces," Inbar said. "In the past, we had what we sometimes called a Chinese menu approach, where you could pick and choose the pieces you want (at different prices). This time there's one coherent price across the board."

Taken as a whole, NetWeaver and the applications running on it comprise the mySAP Business Suite, which will in turn deliver on a popular buzz word these days: service-oriented architecture (SOA), which is the loose-knit grouping of different software programs on one network. Data and process are separated, connecting to each other when requested through a common interface protocol.

SOA is gaining popularity as companies like IBM and BEA Systems , build their own SOA platforms in conjunction with utility computing. It's also intended to drastically reduce the time needed to integrate new components into the infrastructure.

With technology innovations, comes change. Being able to plug-and-play new technology into the network is a lot easier, when you have an integrated platform from one vendor, Inbar said.

"I don't think any customer is happy with their heterogeneous environment," he said. "They're all struggling with it and trying to minimize the number of suppliers."