SAP renames developer platform and bundles it with S/4HANA

TechEd Global ERP slinger SAP has relaunched its developer platform with a new name, and bundled it with its S/4HANA, its current generation in-memory application platform.

Speaking at the German software giant's developer conference, TechEd, in Las Vegas Nevada this week, chief technology officer Juergen Mueller announced a replacement for Embedded Steampunk, a tool also known as SAP S/4HANA Cloud ABAP Environment which allows developers to build in the vendor's ABAP language.

Last year, the company launched the platform for selected customers on RISE with SAP, the vendor's lift-shift-and-transform partner plan, along with the S/4HANA Cloud 2108 edition, which hit general availability last August.

Now SAP is bundling this with S/4HANA Cloud and S/4HANA on-premises. "We took all the great experiences of Steampunk and put them into an ABAP Cloud," Mueller said.

"ABAP cloud is designed for state-of-the-art stable and cloud-ready ABAP extensions for S/4HANA directly within the S/4HANA stack. It means using public SAP APIs to access S/4HANA data and functionalities.

"It means [using] public SAP extension points to objects, [but] modifications to SAP objects are no longer allowed. It means [developers] get strong tooling support in the IDE," Mueller said.

While developers could continue to use the ABAP RESTful Application Programming Model, support for Dynpro or Web Dynpro - a web programming tool which launched in 2003 - would end, he added.

"Once you switch you are ABAP objects to ABAP Cloud, the compiler will help you to stick to the rules," he said.

SAP users have been struggling for years to move to S/4HANA because the customisations many spent years building on earlier editions (ECC 6.0 being the most recent) cannot be carried over to the new environment. They must start with a "clean core" as SAP puts it, adding any modifications as "extensions" in the new environment.

ABAP Cloud is "exciting because it enables customers to get to a clean core in a much simpler way," Mueller said.

But developers said that other than bundling the product with S/4HANA, and re-naming it, there was little new in ABAP Cloud.

"Last year, it was already announced that they would deliver Embedded Steampunk so you can develop on S/4HANA Cloud... but nobody cared about it. It was just some nerd stuff. This year they call it ABAP Cloud and now everybody's hyping it," said Sören Schlegel, a development architect at J&S-Soft, a Germany-based software development and consulting firm.

But bundling the product with the S/4HANA iteration is set to bring a new audience to the technology, who could face the same challenges in justifying replicating modifications they have already made in their earlier version of SAP.

SAP has struggled to convince users of the benefits of moving to S/4HANA, because many feel they might be paying huge project costs to get more or less the same functionality they already have.

"I've worked with companies who have invested way too much in SAP [modifications] over the last 40 years. Everything SAP is doing now with ABAP Cloud, customers won't benefit from this immediately as they will most probably do lift and shift. For new applications, once you are on S/4, this is great technology, because you can simply go and migrate to the newest releases without problems. But if you started today, it might be two, or five years before you benefit from this," Schlegel said.

SAP has also launched a new Cloud Application Programming (CAP) model for Java and JavaScript developers. It includes libraries and tools for building enterprise-grade services and applications.

While it was sound technology, it has struggled for recognition outside the SAP world, where developers have options about what tools they use to build services connecting to core applications. Tobias Hofmann, another Germany-based software developer and consultant, compared SAP CAP to SAP Fiori, a design system that enables developers to create business apps.

"The problem is SAP needs to go out of its comfort zone and actually have to fight for gaining the support of the developer community out of the SAP world and this is where the CAP can have a potential, but just take a look at Fiori: it's pretty nice, but outside of the SAP world, no one is adopting it," he said.

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst of Constellation Research, said SAP was moving its core offerings and development tools to the cloud but needs to convince its installed base, which has remained on-premises and which has highly customized systems.

"Moving to the cloud 'standard' of no customization and no custom code is a massive challenge for enterprises and it will be key for SAP to make this a smooth and easy transition," said Mueller.

"SAP will likely have to soften the stance on the custom code to a certain point, as customers have too much know-how and time invested in their many customizations. Effectively, SAP needs to keep the migration effort of existing customers lower than the work they face re-implementing SAP from scratch, or, more challenging for SAP - going to the competition and get[ting] the cloud ERP from them," he said. ®

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