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If you work at one of the approximately 12,000 companies that run SAP applications on Windows servers, SAP and Microsoft's joint release of a portal development kit (PDK) for Visual Studio .Net 2003 presents a new possibility for agile application integration -- assuming the SAP Enterprise Portal is an interface you want to invest in.
If you work at one of the approximately 12,000 companies that run SAP applications on Windows servers, SAP and Microsoft's joint release of a portal development kit (PDK) for Visual Studio .Net 2003 presents a new possibility for agile application integration-assuming the SAP Enterprise Portal is an interface you want to invest in. How much you'd need to invest is a mystery, as always, because SAP never publicly releases its pricing guidelines. Plus, you must keep your eyes open for potential compatability problems.
SAP Enterprise Portal is a product component in the SAP NetWeaver architecture and provides features such as integrated access to various SAP and non-SAP applications through a single portal, role-based user screens (which SAP calls iViews), single sign-on, drag and relate (for transactions and documents) and, most significantly, the ability to access supplier and customer applications. While you could argue that features such as single sign-on and customized user screens are merely nice to have, you can increase your company's efficiency and productivity by using a portal to integrate self-service applications and form dedicated communities with suppliers and customers in your supply chain.
The PDK (free to download now) is a presentation-layer tool that gives ASP.Net programmers access to SAP enterprise applications through the SAP Enterprise Portal. Developing a portal application with this PDK in Visual Studio .Net 2003 boils down to a set of configuration steps and writing a few lines of code in C# and Visual Basic .Net.
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As a simple example, an application for retrieving bank customer statements from the SAP back-end applications and presenting them in the portal iView would entail configuring certain environmental variables such as proxy, choosing the templates and user-interface elements (including buttons, grids and so forth), selecting the appropriate SAP Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPIs) and writing approximately 200 lines of code in C# and VB.Net that invoke APIs and handle user events and exceptions. Just this exercise would enable the .Net environment to operate the millions of lines of code in SAP applications and make available to the business user a uniform, ergonomic browser interface. ASP.Net developers should note that while this PDK reduces the complexity of interoperability, it requires them to be SAP savvy and understand SAP APIs, NetWeaver Java libraries (classes) and SAP communication protocols such as RFC.
The developer community is generally excited about the possibilities even while fighting through the inevitable bugs found in any version 1 release.
But here's a cautionary note about compatibility for those planning to migrate to Indigo, Microsoft's next-generation .Net architecture and programming system for service-oriented application integration. The PDK's Interoperability Framework, which allows calls between the Java (Enterprise Portal) and .Net (.Net Runtime Engine) stacks, uses a technology called .Net Remoting. Guess what: With Indigo looming, Microsoft discourages use of .Net Remoting.
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