TechEd 2006 – Day 2

Session: Creating Visual Composer Applications

I went into this hands-on session hoping to learn how to quickly create new transactional applications in the portal, and also to see a bit of the new Flex-based interface. I discovered that Visual Composer (VC) has a fairly powerful expression language for assigning and displaying data values, and also has “data storage nodes”, which are the graphical equivalent of local variables. However, it seems that the focus of VC for the time being is on analytic apps rather than transactional – in other words, presenting forms where the user can enter query or filter values, and then producing tables or graphs as a result.
Unfortunately, there is no real debugging or troubleshooting support at the moment, which is one of the main reasons that it would be inappropriate (though not impossible) to develop transactional applications. Web services can now be consumed as models (as well as SAP functions, OLAP data sources, BI and JDBC databases), which gives a very powerful reporting platform. Layout element visibility can be controlled by logical expressions. User interface can be Adobe Flex or Web Dynpro. Oddly enough, the SAP-specific Web Dynpro UI can only be used with Web Service models, but the SAP agnostic Flex can call SAP models. For further integration there are iWay provided connectors for Siebel, Peoplesoft, etc.
SAP’s recommendation is to keep using BI Web Designer for BI-only apps, but to use Visual Composer for analytical apps which use BI as well as ERP, etc.

Session: SAP Roadmap to Java EE 5

As Shai mentioned in his keynote speech, SAP are one of the first vendors to achieve Java EE5 certification – although the product will not be released as GA until mid-2007, which is slightly less useful. Even so, kudos to them – there are only three Java EE5 certified products right now, and the other two are Sun (who wrote the tests) and TmaxSoft (a Korean company who seem to deal almost entirely with the Korean public sector). So anyway, this session looks interesting, especially since I’ve been playing with a bunch of Java EE5 technologies on the side – annotations, persistence API and JSF in particular.
The development platform has been upgraded to Eclipse 3.2 with WTP 1.5 (again, leading the field), and the philosophy is less one of modifying Eclipse for SAP (as was the case with the 2.x version) and more one of supplying SAP plugins for Eclipse 3.2 which can coexist with those from other vendors. SAP extended WTP 1.5 (which was based on J2EE 1.4 standards) for Java EE 5, but it is not yet clear whether they will give these extensions back to the community from which they got WTP 1.5.
Development tool support is impressive – a live demo produced an auto-generated class O/R mapped to an existing DB schema (using a tool called Dali), a Session bean to do things with it and web services access to this bean all in about 15 minutes. The session also gave a good overview of the capabilities of Java 1.5 and how they have enabled many of the features in Java EE 5 – Annotations, Dependency Injection, and Configuration by Exception (i.e. no code = sensible defaults).
A beta copy of the SAP Java EE 5 app server and the Robust Java JVM was handed out – this is a bare Java EE app server – no Web Dynpro, no Portal, etc, but nevertheless it’s a great accelerator for developing & debugging Java EE 5 apps.
JSF was compared with Java Web Dynpro – basically, there is no compelling reason to use JSF if Web Dynpro is available – but it’s there if needed. JSF pages can be called from Web Dynpro and vice-versa.
If only SAP could give the WTP extensions back to the community, it would make them much better known in the Java space and would help to accelerate adoption of NetWeaver as a platform.

Session: Duet Developer’s Guide to building Duet Applications

This “Advanced” session should have been an in-depth look at how new services might be created for Duet, possibly with a link to some developer tools or tutorials. What it actually turned out to be was a15 minutes of marketing, followed by 30 minutes of architecture copied from yesterday’s “Beginners” session, followed by a little bit about delivering reports by email (which, at a high level, sounds a bit like BI information broadcasting) and 3 slides covering how Duet app development might look if you ever got hold of the tools, which is unlikely for some time yet. This could have been the technical highlight of Tech Ed, but turned out to be a complete waste of time for someone who’d already been to the beginners’ overview session yesterday.

Session: UI Design Roadmap for SAP NetWeaver Tools

This was a useful overview of how SAP usability design is done – fairly conceptual and a little bit lightweight (forgiven, for this is a beginners’ session), coupled with the long overdue admission the SAP need to make all of their product lines a lot more consistent. This work is being done – but it’s a tough job.

Session: Identity Management in Heterogeneous System Landscapes, the SAP solution

Apart from discussing the Siemens directory server and identity management solution in the later stages, this lecture turned out to be a 1.5 hour tutorial on how to set up CUA and LDAP synchronisation. Since I’ve just spent several months doing this at Vodafone, I left early.

Session: SAML Authentication

I dived into this session near to the end, having left the ID management session. Essentially, SAML is an alternative to X.509 certificates for single sign-on into SAP WebAS (Java and/or ABAP). Although SAP do not support the creation of SAML assertions, they can happily consume them, and third party access management systems (including RSA ClearTrust) can produce them, so this promises to be a nice way of doing standards-compliant SSO into a portal if you’re not on a LAN. If you are on a Windows LAN, then SPNego (Kerberos) is probably your best bet.

Session: Service Orientation Made by SAP

This was one of the SDN-voted sessions, i.e. one of the few not presented by a SAP staffer, but in this case by someone from a German SAP consultancy with about 2,000 people – in other words, not so different in size from Axon. I must admit, I’m finally starting to get the point of SOA, having been a bit of a sceptic (to say the least) before coming to TechEd. Although, as the man said, the term SOA means different things to different people, the important thing is that it’s not just “web services”, although they are a necessary component. It’s a similar kind of paradigm shift to Object Orientation (and just as over-hyped), but essentially it’s about agile orchestration of business processes using web services which themselves are from a solid core. Granularity is a key thing here – it’s not appropriate (and certainly not performant) just to make all objects and functions available as web services. The key is to look at it from the business process point of view and look at what services are needed to make business processes work (e.g. “approve shopping cart”) and make the web services available at this level. This seems to be where the SAP Enterprise Service Repository is coming from, although I’ve not seen it yet.
The other key realisation is that SOA is not a technology-bound thing. The technology is all there, ready waitng and mature. It needs top-level management buy-in to get people to start adopting it and using it. Take interfaces as an example – we really shouldn’t be talking about FTPing files around to be picked up by a batch process any more. Frankly, that sort of thing is embarassing. Interfaces are a prime candidate for service orientation – in fact, across system boundaries is where this sort of thing makes a lot of sense, and this is of course where XI is targeted.

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