The wisdom of investments in portal applications has been a topic for debate as information and Web services are increasingly accessed from the Internet via new vehicles like mobile devices and rich clients.
Rich-client technology is especially challenging the relevance of Web-based portals, said ZapThink LLC co-founder Ronald Schmelzer. Portals are a Web-based means of aggregating data, whereas rich clients allow users to be more selective in choosing online services.
Nonetheless, portal services are part of many enterprise environments and the need and demand exists to make portal services interoperable across disparate platforms -- especially in the realm of SAP and Microsoft. The two software giants took a step toward answering that demand this week when they announced the availability of the Portal Development Kit for Microsoft .NET (PDK for .NET).
"Portals are indeed still relevant. When you think about the size and scale of a typical enterprise ERP deployment and the sheer number of users involved, portals often are the best option for publishing and maintaining large amounts of interactive information to a broad audience," said Tim O'Brien, senior product manager at Microsoft.
The PDK will allow Visual Studio .NET developers to build, test and deploy applications to SAP Enterprise Portal, the portal component of SAP's NetWeaver integration platform, using languages such as Microsoft's Visual C# and VB.NET.
The integration of NetWeaver and Visual Studio .NET is especially noteworthy with regard to service-oriented architecture. SAP last year announced its Enterprise Services Architecture, which revolves around NetWeaver and enables enterprises to service-enable their IT architectures.
"Think of SAP as Lego blocks and Microsoft as the studio environment for putting those blocks together with other blocks that may or may not necessarily be from SAP," Schmelzer said. "For example, I can use .NET to pull together a SharePoint portal that consumes SAP and Salesforce.com services -- or even MS Office components. Since SAP's services are built in .NET, there is potency in being able to leverage Microsoft's environment to run, secure and manage those services as well.
The two platforms already have an intimate relationship in the huge midmarket space, with more than 40,000 SAP customers using the Windows platform and nearly two-thirds of all new SAP installations being deployed on Windows, Microsoft said.
The PDK aims to further solidify that relationship through greater integration, empowering .NET developers to build applications that can consume SAP services such as user management, SAP Single Sign-On and other services.
The kit represents a great opportunity for the multitude of .NET developers who are already within SAP's customer base, Microsoft said.
"SAP-on-Microsoft customers have always been asking about the interoperability strategy of SAP Enterprise Portal and Microsoft SharePoint Portal server; the PDK is a key component of that response," O'Brien said.
The PDK was born out of an interoperability agreement forged between Microsoft and SAP last May, O'Brien said. Microsoft reportedly approached SAP as early as 2003 about a merger. Schmelzer sees the relationship getting tighter this year, as the companies aim to further integrate their platforms through the Pocket PC, Indigo and Microsoft Exchange.
" We saw an opportunity to expand our existing partnership and work together to redefine enterprise applications in a Web services world, delivering more compelling solutions to customers," O'Brien said.