An Inside Look at SAP’s Release Strategy for the ABAP Stack

In September 2018, SAP released version 1809 of the on-premise ABAP platform. ABAP platform 1809 is the technological foundation for SAP S/4HANA 1809, and includes an ABAP programming layer that is fully optimized for SAP HANA and for the development and enhancement of modern applications, including support for Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. This full optimization for SAP HANA has resulted in some changes to SAP’s release strategy for the ABAP stack, and it’s important to understand these changes, so that you can properly plan for the adaptations that are necessary when moving from traditional SAP NetWeaver and SAP Business Suite deployments to SAP S/4HANA and SAP HANA.

Up to version 1809, innovations for the ABAP stack have been developed based on one common codeline that has served all existing ABAP-based products. These products include the SAP Business Suite applications (such as SAP ERP) and SAP NetWeaver hubs (such as SAP Gateway) that run on SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS) ABAP 7.5, which includes the traditional ABAP programming model and software component SAP_ABA. SAP S/4HANA on premise and SAP S/4HANA Cloud are also based on this common codeline, with SAP S/4HANA on premise running on SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP 7.5x (that is, 7.5, 7.51, and 7.52) and its new version of the SAP_ABA software component, and SAP S/4HANA Cloud running on a cloud-based version of the platform.

As of ABAP platform 1809, SAP plans to focus all innovation on SAP S/4HANA. Since SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP must be able to run on all officially supported database platforms, it takes a least-common-denominator approach to database functionality and cannot benefit from the latest innovations and advantages that are specific to SAP HANA. SAP S/4HANA on premise and SAP S/4HANA Cloud, on the other hand, support SAP HANA only and are fully optimized for that database and its features. With the focus on SAP S/4HANA — and with SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP 7.51 and 7.52 adopted only by SAP S/4HANA 1610 and 1709, respectively — the latest enhancement package for SAP Business Suite (enhancement package 8) is based on SAP NetWeaver 7.5.1

So, how does SAP plan to deliver innovations to SAP S/4HANA on premise and SAP S/4HANA Cloud while delivering continuous improvements to the existing installed base of SAP Business Suite customers without disrupting their business? Figure 1 provides an overview of the planned path forward. As you can see, the SAP S/4HANA and SAP Business Suite codelines are separated. On the left is the SAP Business Suite and SAP NetWeaver codeline, which is based on SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP 7.5x. It is intended to deliver improvements for the ongoing operation of SAP Business Suite and SAP NetWeaver deployments — including the SAP NetWeaver hubs, SAP NetWeaver add-ons, and custom code developed by SAP customers and partners — and will include all maintenance efforts, security fixes, and selective downports (of version 4.0 of the OData protocol to older SAP NetWeaver releases, for example). As a result, there is no standalone 7.53 version of SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP.

Figure 1 — The release strategy for the ABAP platform going forward

In parallel, all innovations for the ABAP stack are placed into a common innovation codeline, shown on the right, that serves SAP S/4HANA on premise, SAP S/4HANA Cloud, and the recently released SAP Cloud Platform ABAP environment. This innovation codeline takes full advantage of the underlying SAP HANA database and data platform, with its capabilities fully exposed on the ABAP platform layer. In each case — SAP S/4HANA, SAP S/4HANA Cloud, and SAP Cloud Platform ABAP environment — the new SAP_ABA layer is used, which contains the extended material code field (which is now 40 characters instead of the 18 characters supported by the classical SAP_ABA layer used by SAP Business Suite).

The platform naming follows the nomenclature used by SAP S/4HANA, meaning that ABAP platform 1809 is the foundation for SAP S/4HANA 1809 on premise, while ABAP platform 1808 is the foundation for the cloud solutions SAP S/4HANA Cloud 1808 and SAP Cloud Platform ABAP environment 1808. New cloud versions (for example, 1811 in November 2018, 1902 in February 2019, 1905 in May 2019, and 1908 in August 2019) are shipped every quarter and are consolidated in the yearly on-premise delivery in September, which will be the 1909 version in September 2019. This new release strategy opens up a completely new way to quickly deliver SAP HANA innovations together with the ABAP stack. In traditional deployments, the back-end version determines the speed of innovations — now ABAP innovations can be deployed in the cloud much faster.

It is important to note that unlike SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP, ABAP platform 1809 is not shipped independently but only indirectly (embedded) with the shipment of SAP S/4HANA, although it can be patched separately. The development capabilities delivered by this platform are compelling reasons to move to this SAP S/4HANA release, which is an easy upgrade from previous on-premise SAP S/4HANA releases (1511, 1610, and 1709). Existing SAP Business Suite implementations can be migrated with the support of SAP tools and methodologies2 — and with maintenance and support for SAP Business Suite set to end in 2025, it is a good idea to consider making this move sooner rather than later.

What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?
  • Going forward, new ABAP development features will be delivered to the ABAP platform that is delivered with SAP S/4HANA, not through SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP, which will receive updates to support the operation of SAP Business Suite, but not new ABAP innovations. This is an important consideration as you evaluate if and when to move to SAP S/4HANA and is a compelling argument to get serious about SAP S/4HANA.
  • Do not underestimate the importance of carefully addressing your custom code when you migrate from SAP Business Suite to SAP S/4HANA. The data model included with SAP S/4HANA is dramatically simplified, which means that custom code that worked in SAP Business Suite may no longer work in SAP S/4HANA without adaptation. You can learn more about how to do this successfully in the SAPinsider articles “Making the Move to SAP S/4HANA” and “A Simplified Way to Bring Your Custom Code to SAP S/4HANA.”
  • To help customers transition from SAP Business Suite to SAP S/4HANA at their own pace, SAP is fully supporting SAP Business Suite until 2025. However, in SAP’s experience, customers typically migrate 10%-15% of their productive landscape per year – which means that now is the time to get started to fully migrate a complete traditional SAP Business Suite landscape to SAP S/4HANA by the end of maintenance for SAP Business Suite.

1 For a detailed examination of the SAP NetWeaver release strategy, see the SAPinsider article “Planning Your SAP NetWeaver Upgrade Strategy” (Issue 1 2018) available at [back]

2 Learn more about converting from SAP Business Suite to SAP S/4HANA in the SAPinsider articles “Making the Move to SAP S/4HANA” (Issue 1 2017) and “A Simplified Way to Bring Your Custom Code to SAP S/4HANA” (Issue 2 2018) available at [back]