TECHNOLOGY: Industry Standard
By Marta Bright
Oracle Fusion standards make applications hot-pluggable.
It wasn't so long ago that the introduction of hot-pluggable hardware made it possible to add and remove devices from a running desktop computer—adjusting capabilities on the fly. Soon hot-pluggable server and network hardware brought power and flexibility to the enterprise, and database clusters such as Oracle Real Application Clusters brought hot-pluggable database power to the data center.
Bringing the same level of interoperability to enterprise applications, however, requires a comprehensive architecture and adherence to multiple industry application standards. Hot-pluggable applications require a hot-pluggable architecture such as Oracle Fusion Architecture.
While there are dozens of standards behind Oracle Fusion Architecture, this article will focus on a handful, discussing five closely linked standards and standards families that include J2EE, Web services, JavaServer Faces (JSF), Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), and portal.
"The architecture we've built for Oracle Fusion is designed to be a comprehensive end-to-end architecture, all built on standard technologies and all with well-defined interfaces," explains Ted Farrell, chief architect and vice president, Oracle Tools and Middleware. "It's a J2EE platform for building the core functionality that an enterprise might want, and it includes JSF. Web services support enables interoperability between applications running on different platforms," he says. "What we have on the back end is the BPEL engine, which wires together business processes. Then we have the outward-facing elements, such as Oracle Portal, which actually expose all of the functionality to the end user."
An application built on J2EE offers flexibility plus well-defined standards and interfaces, such as Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) and Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) that exist throughout its architecture. "One of the key aspects of Oracle Fusion Architecture is that from a variety of levels you can actually get at information and integrate it everywhere, including from your business processes, your business rules, and your user interface [UI]," Farrell says. "J2EE makes the concept of hot-pluggable easy because of these standard interfaces."
With Oracle's J2EE offering, you can not only choose an application from a single vendor and have an end-to-end stack that's robust and performs but also plug in pieces of existing technology, mixing and matching it as necessary to fit your overall solution—ultimately lowering your overall cost of ownership. "Because you have interfaces at the various levels of Oracle Fusion Architecture, you can plug in different application servers, different message buses, different transaction monitors, or even different security providers throughout your architecture and create the environment that's right for you," Farrell adds.
Serving the Web
Farrell describes Web services as key to interoperability in Oracle Fusion Architecture, noting, "Anything a developer can use to build with, from a standard Java class to EJB to legacy information or PL/SQL running in a database, can be wrapped as Web services. Before Web services came along, people were stuck relying upon the owner of the data they wanted to provide it in a format they could consume via an adapter. With Web services, you can build a J2EE application where you can be talking to SAP or Fortran systems. Whatever it might be, through Web services you can get to the information you need."
Serving the User
Within Oracle Fusion Architecture, JSF—the new J2EE standard for building interfaces to Web applications—enables users to separate UI components from the way they're rendered. "JavaServer Faces is a key element in Oracle Fusion Architecture," Farrell points out. "We've been backing it for about three years, and I think it will be a big benefit to our customers."
"With JavaServer Faces and Oracle ADF [Application Developer Framework] Faces, we can build Java UI components that are backed by a variety of render kits for HTML, Ajax, mobile, and Telnet," Farrell explains. "For Web browser targets, we provide HTML and Ajax render kits that will render out the components to a browser. Likewise for mobile device targets, we provide a mobile render kit that takes into account the limitations and characteristics of a small mobile device and then renders pages out to it accordingly."
Render kits greatly ease the burden placed on developers. For instance, if developers wanted to add mobile or Telnet capabilities to an application, traditionally they would have to download a completely new development environment and then program for those technologies. With JSF and Oracle ADF Faces, developers have a single programming interface, regardless of the target device. "A developer simply uses the same standard interfaces, and the render kits take care of all of the complicated technologies required to actually render them out," says Farrell.
Modular Building with BPEL
BPEL is an XML-based language that's used for task sharing across a distributed or grid computing environment. One of the most important things that service-oriented architecture (SOA) standards such as BPEL offer is the ability to take existing systems and partition them into building blocks.
Edwin Khodabakchian, software development vice president, Oracle Server Technologies, puts the BPEL piece of Oracle Fusion Architecture in context, explaining, "If you're a telecom company and you have a system for payment, a system for registering your customers, and a system for provisioning your network, you can take each of those functionalities and expose them using XML, Web services, and Web Services Definition Language [WSDL], as modular building blocks," he says. "Once you have those services in place, you can use standards such as BPEL to easily and rapidly assemble them into end-to-end processes such as a subscription to DSL or cable TV."
Khodabakchian asserts that Oracle Fusion Architecture is not a "big bang" approach wherein Oracle is asking that customers start everything from scratch and rebuild. "Oracle Fusion Architecture employs a lot of technology that is available on the market today," he says. "It's about integrating what you already have. When it comes to service-oriented architecture, within Oracle Fusion Architecture there exists the ability to build modular business processes and change them very easily. I think this is one of the things our customers are excited about."
Portlets are the basic building block in a portal environment. Portlets encapsulate functionality into a Web-based component that can be dropped into a Web page when the application is initially designed or when end users interact with the application at runtime. Regardless of when or how the portlets are consumed, they provide a standard pluggable model to allow users to build pages with the information they need to do their jobs. "From an Oracle Fusion Architecture perspective, we're looking to standards to provide Oracle's portal implementation as a consumer of standards-based portlets, which will provide for what we're calling the 'face of Fusion,'" says Todd Vender, director, Oracle Portal Development. "We envision the integration of all the various UI artifacts that the different Oracle Fusion Architecture applications will bring. Our goal of having business intelligence dashboards and line-of-business dashboards will all be enabled by this standards-based approach for Oracle Portal."
The portal-related standards include WSRP 1.0, the standard for Web Services for Remote Portlets, and JSR 168, a Java interface for portlet development. The JSR 168 standard describes a Java interface for developing local portlets within a J2EE application, while the WSRP 1.0 standard allows for the ability to access these portlets remotely. Various components such as remote and local portlets can integrate easily when built on the same standards. Moreover, these standards allow for customizable end-user dashboards. Vender continues, "In relation to Oracle Fusion Architecture and portal standards, 'hot-pluggable' means that we can consume other standards-based portlets—built by anyone—and have them integrate with our own Oracle Portal environment and our end-user dashboard environment. These components can also be consumed by other standards-based environments in the same way."
Oracle Portal provides an easy and fast solution to customers integrating their existing applications and tools in Oracle Fusion Architecture. "Because the face of Fusion is a standards-based portal, it doesn't have to be the case that all content that you expose through the portal is built using Oracle technology or provided by Oracle," says Vender. "Oracle Portal allows for the ability to integrate external applications in addition to everything Oracle brings to the table with Fusion."
People Know Standards
Farrell concludes, "We see this standards-based approach as so critical to Oracle Fusion Architecture that we're not only adopting it and consuming it in the architecture itself, but in many of these areas, organizations within Oracle are actively involved in shaping and taking these standards to the next level. Through Oracle Fusion Architecture, we're able to offer ease of use in an entirely standard stack. Another big advantage of Oracle Fusion Architecture being standards-based is that it is these same standards that the future developers of the world are learning in school right now."
Marta Bright (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editor and writer specializing in business and technology issues.