April 1993 marked a milestone in the history of SAP and Microsoft. The company founders and then chairmen of the boards, Hasso Plattner and Bill Gates, met for the first time and agreed to a forward-looking cooperative agreement. The decision to port SAP R/3 onto Microsoft’s new Windows NT operating system changed the market for ERP software. SAP R/3 applications that used to run almost exclusively on Unix servers were now available in Windows versions, offering a better price-performance ratio.
One year after the agreement, SAP delivered the first release of SAP R/3 for Windows. This step significantly accelerated the spread of the ERP solution that had first come on the market in 1992. For Microsoft, cooperation with SAP made the Windows NT operating system popular for enterprise applications.
A strong team
Since then the combination of SAP and Microsoft has become a model of success. More than 40,000 SAP installations currently run on Microsoft Windows – more than on all other operating systems combined. More than 60% of new SAP installations are implemented on Windows servers. At the same time, many companies, particularly large ones, concentrate on SAP and Microsoft as strategic partners. They consistently use SAP solutions and run them on Microsoft platforms. This dual vendor strategy marks a retreat from the best-of-breed trend of the 1990s that combined solutions of various vendors for individual ERP tasks. As a series of small suppliers disappeared from the market after the Internet boom, many customers began to think of future security as a decisive criterion.
As market leaders, SAP and Microsoft promise investment protection and guarantee the interoperability of their solutions through their multiyear partnership. At the SAPPHIRE customer conference held in New Orleans in May, the companies announced that they would strengthen their collaboration. They’re fleshing out this statement with new components that link the SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft .NET platforms more closely together and ensure seamless collaboration between the solutions.
The SAP NetWeaver platform has been available since the beginning of 2003. It bridges the incompatible worlds of Java – specifically IBM WebSphere and Sun Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) – and Microsoft .NET because it supports both technologies.
Developing iViews for SAP EP with .NET technology
The new SAP Enterprise Portal Development Kit for Microsoft .NET (PDK .NET) is among the new components that were announced. The toolset simplifies the creation of applications and enhancements for SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP) based upon the .NET programming model. Right now, SAP EP, the central user interface for all SAP applications is largely based upon Java technology. With the PDK for Microsoft .NET, which began its beta program in June, customers and partners can program iViews in the development environment of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET.
SAP .NET Connector is a component of the SAP Enterprise Portal SDK for Microsoft .NET; SAP will soon deliver version 2. With SAP .NET Connector, which will continue to be offered as a stand-alone product, users can access SAP Web Application Server (SAP Web AS) from .NET applications to use SAP business objects and processes, for example. Customers can obtain the tool free of charge from the SAP Service Marketplace extranet and quickly make use of it. Since its introduction, SAP .NET Connector has already been downloaded more than 5,000 times. The new release offers additional security functions and enhanced support for Visual Basic .NET. Users can now generate proxy classes with that language. The comprehensive integration with Visual Studio .NET was also further improved so that SAP Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPIs) and function modules can be inserted into .NET applications using drag and drop.
Open standards for better communication
Web services, the foundation of future enterprise applications, are an important field of cooperation. SAP and Microsoft are working together on standards in bodies like the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) to develop Web services further. In part, the standards will enable authentication and encryption of services. The motto here is “reliable messaging.”
The jointly developed open standards will ensure that SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI) and Microsoft BizTalk Server, the turntables for data transfer, communicate with each other seamlessly. The next version of SAP NetWeaver will support advanced Web services protocols directly.
In addition, Microsoft will introduce its Repository Manager at the beginning of 2005; it enables the knowledge-management functions of SAP NetWeaver to access documents and information stored in Windows SharePoint Services or on Microsoft Exchange Server.
SAP NetWeaver supports smart client technology
In the future, users will be able to access SAP functions directly from Microsoft Office environments via smart clients. Here SAP delivers a smart client user-interface, a developer’s kit, and sample applications for the implementation. Smart clients offer increased productivity, analysis tools, and support for offline and mobile applications.
Integration between SAP and Microsoft solutions isn’t static. To develop and present future integration scenarios to the satisfaction of customers, SAP and Microsoft jointly operate a Collaboration Technology Support Center (CTSC). This cross-company team is probably unique and resides within the SAP Microsoft Competence Centers in Walldorf. It acts as a communications point among sales, consulting, and development groups of both partners.