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Expert: SAP offers speed, but Oracle has more nimble approach to SOA

Interest in the service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach to software deployments continues to grow rapidly, and business applications giants Oracle and SAP AG are each vying for position at the forefront of the movement with two distinctly different SOA philosophies, according to one expert. Anne Thomas Manes, a vice president and research director with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, says that companies looking for a quicker SOA fix can turn to SAP, which focuses its SOA efforts on internal SAP applications. But companies looking for greater flexibility and support for third-party applications over the long haul will likely find that Oracle is the better choice, she said. The increasing adoption of the SOA methodology shows no signs of waning. Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC predicts that the market for SOA-related services will reach $8.6 billion in 2006, a figure more than twice that of last year. Experts attribute the growing interest in SOA to the methodology's promise to save firms' money by eliminating redundancy among enterprise applications. recently spoke with Manes, an SOA expert, about the plusses and minuses of Oracle and SAP's differing approaches to SOA. She also had some advice for companies trying to decide where to turn for their SOA needs.

What do you think of Oracle and SAP's different strategies with regard to SOA?
I think they both have good strategies, but they're different strategies. SAP's strategy is very focused on the SAP applications and how to make the SAP applications more flexible and adaptable. What's the goal behind SOA? It's to make systems more flexible and adaptable. Now if you're not an applications company, you're not necessarily focused only on [SAP's] applications, you're focused on more of the infrastructure-related stuff. But SAP, being SAP, is most concerned with how to make the SAP applications more desirable and less of a challenge for the average company. In what other ways is SAP leveraging SOA to make its applications more attractive?
Not very long ago, you'd expect it to take 18 to 24 months to install SAP and get it up and running. That's just ludicrous. You should be able to install this thing, get it up and running and have it actually customized to your corporate way of business in a reasonable timeframe. That's really where SAP is coming from: How can they use SOA to improve the architecture of their application systems so that people using their application systems can actually get this stuff to work more easily and customize it to match the internal business processes? [SAP has] been focusing more on that business process modeling aspect and the ability to customize that business process. And they're really focused on semantics -- the semantics of that business process. They've got a really rich repository-based and model-based approach to SOA. What is the difference between business process modeling and business process management?
Modeling is really just a representation of the business process. If you have a business process management suite, that management suite might automate that process for you. But the model exists whether you're using an internal business process management suite or you're just writing it in code. But if you really want to be able to rapidly change a business process, you need to model. SAP doesn't have a business process management suite. They don't have [something similar to BEA Systems' Fuego application or Lombardi Software's offering], they just say, "Here are our business processes, here is how they're implemented, here is how they're tied together and here is how you can adapt them." How does Oracle's approach to SOA differ from SAP's strategy?
Oracle has a much more diverse and more open approach. They've got their applications, they've got the Siebel applications and they've got [about] 20 other applications that they've acquired over the last six months, and those systems are not integrated yet. And it's going to be a long time before Oracle manages to get them nicely integrated. They have not gone through the process of actually modeling all of the processes that are within these application systems. They don't have these tools that allow you to very simply go in and say I need to adjust this process in this way. That is one of SAP's strengths right there, but the thing is that it only works with SAP applications. You're basically saying that SAP is currently doing a better job of modeling processes within application systems. Does Oracle make up for this lack of process modeling in other areas?
What Oracle has instead are some modeling tools, the Business Process Execution Language engine that they acquired with Collaxa, and open middleware, open database and open other stuff which you can now use to build new applications, integrate existing applications, model existing applications and make changes to the existing applications. That's not just Oracle applications, but any applications. That is a plus, except that they don't have all of the semantic knowledge predefined, which means that you need to go in and define all of this semantic information and do all of this modeling yourself. Oracle is a database company. Oracle is a middleware company. Oracle is an identity management company. Oracle is an applications company. So they've got a much broader portfolio of products than SAP which is essentially an applications company with a platform that goes with it. Suppose that I'm a brand new company with no major investments in either Oracle or SAP and I want to start down the path to SOA. Which of these two rival companies should I look into?
If you're looking for a more turnkey solution, I think that SAP is going to give you a faster solution. But if you're looking for more flexibility, then Oracle is going to give you a better solution.

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