SAP has used its Sapphire conference in New Orleans to reiterate the loving relationships it has to the two big men in IT - Microsoft and IBM.

Talking of a "significant expansion of its long-standing relationship" with Microsoft, as well as their "shared commitment", SAP explained that the two companies would work together to make their NetWeaver and .Net platforms for Web services get along better.

There has been some friction between the two, admitted SAP board member Shai Agassi but they were told by their customers that were stronger together than apart. "Both SAP and Microsoft are betting heavily on Web services, and now they've been able to find common ground," said Eric Rudder, Microsoft VP of servers and tools.

SAP will have a beta version of SAP Enterprise Portal SDK for .Net within the next four months, so ASP.Net developers will be able to work with SAP applications. A new version of SAP.Net Connector Version 2.0 will also appear in August, with better support for Visual Basic.Net and better integration with Visual Studio.Net. The next version of SAP NetWeaver will provide native support for advanced Web services protocols, including Microsoft BizTalk Server.

In addition, Microsoft and SAP have agreed to move in together at the Collaboration Technology Support Center in Walldorf, Germany, where they will "identify and present integration scenarios" to keep their relationship alive.

The other man
Meanwhile, SAP promised IBM that it remains close to its heart but nevertheless gave Big Blue only a non-exclusive alliance.

The two companies have grown close having been through the same problems with the rising complexity of their hardware and software systems, executives said. "On the one hand, retailers are battling a commoditisation of their products and need to find ways to operate more cost efficiently," said silver-tongued Christian Nivoix, general manager of IBM's global distribution sector. "On the other, they're having to connect more systems in their stores. We can help them reduce the complexity and increase the efficiency of their IT retail systems by offering end-to-end integration. We're putting all our hardware and software on the table."

Despite getting on so well though, there are challenges to overcome said Robert Hafker, global retail solutions manager at IBM - mostly in connecting multiple devices with their software systems. "Retailers, for instance, may want to take advantage of wireless PDAs to provide real-time sales support but have difficulty integrating these devices with their ERP system," he said. "Under our new alliance, IBM and SAP will work closely together to help them integrate all this technology."

SAP and IBM are going to set up business, rather than home, together. Although their retail partnership service has not yet got a name, according to Peter Kabuth, VP of retail business systems at SAP. Or any pricing. "Pricing will be done on a case-by-case basis," he said. Quite right, best to take things one step at a time.