NetWeaver PI 7.1 easier to implement than earlier versions, SAP says

NetWeaver executive Sanjay Chikarmane discusses SAP application integration and the improvements in SAP NetWeaver PI 7.1 in this interview.

SAP SOA will be a big focus at this year's TechEd conference, as companies continue to cite SAP application integration as a top concern in managing IT landscapes.

In that light, is taking a look at NetWeaver PI, SAP's SOA middleware. Close to 3,000 customers are using SAP NetWeaver PI, according to SAP, and more continue to adopt it in an effort to reduce the complexity involved in managing multiple integration infrastructures.

But customers complained that earlier versions of PI, formally called SAP Exchange Infrastructure (XI), were difficult to implement, had a lot of undocumented set-up, and couldn't handle large files.

SAP says that in its newest version of the product – SAP NetWeaver PI 7.1 – it has fixed these problems. NetWeaver PI 7.1 is in ramp-up stage, and the company is expecting to release another upgrade, NetWeaver PI 7.2, in the third quarter of next year.

In this interview, SAP's Sanjay Chikarmane, senior vice president of solution management for SAP NetWeaver SOA middleware, discusses some of these improvements, as well as what customers can look forward to in NetWeaver PI 7.2. What does NetWeaver PI do?

Sanjay Chikarmane: NetWeaver PI addresses the integration problem. For instance, a purchase order in one application may be very different from a purchase order in another application. And furthermore, oftentimes it's not just a question of [whether] I take this purchase order from here and end it there, there is what we call orchestration involved – a piece of information may originate in one place, but I need to send part of it here and part of it there. So process integrator solves that problem as well.

PI serves the repository function. [And it addresses] the whole problem of management. So let's say you integrated all these applications, now you want to have visibility into what are these different applications: How many messages are they receiving? Is . . . throughput adequate? Are there any exceptions that got created?

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Getting started with NetWeaver PI Some customers complained that earlier versions of PI were difficult to implement because they required knowledge of both the ABAP and Java programming languages. Has that changed in the most recent version?

Chikarmane: Those are some of the enhancements we addressed in 7.1, enhancement pack 1. We have a sort of unique solution here, because our applications use ABAP. But what happens when you go to integrate these ABAP applications with other applications, those other applications are often in Java, so we sort of have to straddle both worlds.

The problem hasn't gone away, but what we've got now is an architecture that's much more optimal to handle that situation. When you go from Java to ABAP, you can have performance implications because these are very different platform technologies. So, for instance, one of the capabilities of Process Integrator is the enterprise service bus (ESB) function, where you integrate the spread data formats and so forth. What we've done there is taken that ESB function, which, by the way, is also known as Advanced Adapter Engine, and made it purely Java based. That has dramatically increased performance. So today we can handle something on the order of 28 million messages per day. There was also a lot of undocumented set-up, so customers really had to rely on you folks to put it in. Has that changed?

Chikarmane: These are evolutionary improvements that people are making. Our objective is any time we make these enhancements, customers should be able to treat this as an upgrade.

We've also reduced the time for installation, integration and upgrade. We reduced the time for installing and configuring to two to three hours. Similarly, if you want to configure a system, it can now be done in under a half an hour.

We obviously do provide support and hand-holding as needed. Customers also had trouble transferring very large files. Has that been addressed?

Chikarmane: That's another enhancement that we've made. It's not just high volume, but larger message sizes. One of the innovations we've done is what we call in-memory streaming processing. You might have on the one hand a situation where you're trying to feed the entire file into PI and then send it out, and that obviously is not optimal. When you talk about streaming transformation you're simply feeding a part of the file in and sending it out, you're not necessarily waiting for that whole document to be in-memory. That's one of the things we've used to be able to improve the ability to handle very large files. What are some of the enhancements customers can look forward to in NetWeaver PI 7.2?

Chikarmane: The whole focus here is improving the whole user experience and user productivity because the total cost of development, which is part of the total cost of ownership, they've been asking us to make improvements on.

The other key area is on the integration part of this, or the enterprise service bus part of this, and here our focus has been improved heterogeneity. Customers are using this more and more for non-SAP integration, and so we've made a number of enhancements to be able to do that.

And the third bucket of improvements is around SOA management. When you log into SAP Solution Manager . . . what we've done is to integrate PI into that, so now customers have a single console from which they not only monitor their applications, but also they can see PI in that very same context. And there we've got what's known as a "Good Morning page," and essentially what this does is show you, at a glance, the health of the different aspects of PI – in terms of the different touch-points with different applications, in terms of message statistics, expectations. All of these things you can see in one convenient dashboard.

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