Journey to the Center of FusionBy David A. Kelly
Discover how the standards, products, and features of Oracle Fusion Middleware support your service-oriented architecture.
"For years, organizations have had to write a lot of 'glue' code to fit all their different systems and applications together," says Ted Farrell, chief architect and vice president, Oracle. "But now Oracle Fusion Middleware provides a comprehensive end-to-end solution. For example, it has integrated security built into the stack. So rather than having engineers write infrastructure code, a company can let Oracle Fusion Middleware take care of the base platform and services. That allows our customers to focus more on their business problems and their business logic and less on the technology."
Oracle Fusion Middleware is a portfolio of standards-based software products and services as well as an important underpinning for many organizations' migration to service-oriented architecture (SOA) and greater business and IT flexibility and agility. "Organizations are pursuing SOA and business process management to obtain better flexibility and better alignment between business requirements and IT infrastructures," says John R. Rymer, vice president of application development and architecture at Forrester Research. "If you're going to pursue the service-oriented architecture approach, you've got to have the appropriate tools and middleware to allow you to do it. In fact, SOA is probably the biggest factor driving new middleware purchases."
For Oracle customers, Oracle Fusion Middleware may not only be the fastest approach to SOA; with all its built-in services, it might also be the most efficient. "Oracle Fusion Middleware is basically an architectural platform for organizations to build and integrate enterprise applications on top of," says Oracle's Farrell. "It's based on open standards. The core application server is based on J2EE. It has a Web services stack to give you all the capabilities to communicate with and publish Web services running on a variety of platforms. It includes an enterprise service bus, which is how you communicate to the different services. These and other enterprise services enable organizations to build scalable, secure, reliable, and high-performing SOA-based applications."
Secure Custom Solutions
Having an integrated, extensible, end-to-end platform like Oracle Fusion Middleware is especially important when you have more than one job to do, as does Eric Marcoux, a senior consultant for Fujitsu Consulting in Quebec City, Canada, and an Oracle Fusion Middleware regional director.
Like most systems integrators and consultants, Marcoux is driven by his customers' needs. "Oracle offers solutions that help us provide security, integration, Web presence, and greater agility for our customers," says Marcoux. "In the past, we have used Oracle products for specific business needs, but today we're also using Oracle Fusion Middleware to integrate all of a customer's existing software and applications and open that customer up to exchange data with outside partners."
"We're seeing more interest in security from our customers, which is why Oracle Fusion Middleware's Identity Management Suite is a great solution," says Marcoux. Particularly helpful is Oracle's support for the heterogeneous environments and complementary technologies. "What's cool about the product is its broad integration with [a customer's] existing products," he says. "It's very popular with many organizations because security is in such demand."
Marcoux, who has worked with Oracle Fusion Middleware technologies for more than six years, is tremendously excited about Oracle's middleware offering. "Oracle Fusion Middleware is a very different product from the one I started using years ago," says Marcoux. "It's very mature, robust, and easy to use, and it offers a huge range of functionality."
"With the Oracle ADF Faces [now Apache MyFaces Trinidad] framework, it's now possible to build and deliver rich internet applications in a fast and easy way. And by using the latest release of Oracle JDeveloper 10g, which transforms Java into a fourth-generation programming language, developers can be up and running faster," says Marcoux. As an example, Marcoux recalls helping a customer build and deliver a rich Web application in 90 days. "This is something I had never done before using any other technology," he says.
Expanding Capacity and Growth
Organizations are also using middleware and SOA to help them manage dynamic growth. Cerner, a leading healthcare information technology provider based in Kansas City, Missouri, has used Oracle technologies to increase capacity and enable rapid growth for its hosted services.
Over the past few years, Cerner has expanded its market by aggressively pursuing opportunities for providing hosted healthcare applications to local, regional, and national agencies and companies. For example, the scheduling of all healthcare appointments in the U.K. is done through Cerner's hosted services, based on more than 300 instances of Oracle Application Server (a key part of Oracle Fusion Middleware that lets enterprises develop, integrate, and deploy applications and Web services), 2,000 Citrix servers, and 600 Oracle databases. Cerner also uses Oracle Internet Directory, part of Oracle Fusion Middleware, for single sign-on.
With more than 180 customers, including very large organizations such as the U.K. healthcare system, one of the challenges that Cerner faces is ensuring high availability and fast response times. Dennis Avondet, senior technology architect at Cerner, says that one of the company's benchmarks is to ensure that Cerner's customers have "three nines," or 99.9 percent, availability and that the Oracle Application Server response stays within two seconds. To help meet those challenges, Cerner is using Oracle Enterprise Manager in conjunction with Oracle Fusion Middleware.
The Oracle technology also helps Cerner effectively manage the growth of its server, database, and application costs. "Oracle Enterprise Manager allows us to maintain the same number of systems engineers working on our systems while we continue to add new clients. We can add systems and be proactive without dedicating additional resources," he says.
Greater Agility and Lower Costs
These days, even government agencies are being asked to deliver greater agility while reducing their costs. Take the scenario of the Forestry Commission in the U.K., which is responsible for managing more than 800,000 hectares (approximately 2 million acres) of forests and woodlands throughout Scotland, England, and Wales.
The Forestry Commission has different divisions with separate administrations in the three regions. Although the commission is split across those borders, it still needs to respond and manage its resources in a unified way. Its in-house-developed applications cover everything from online auctions to forestry grant payment systems for private woodland owners to the harvesting and marketing of timber.
An important consideration for the Forestry Commission, however, is making sure it has the flexibility to modify its applications to address changing regulatory requirements or business needs. To do that, the Forestry Commission uses Oracle Portal as the organization migrates toward a more services-based approach to delivering and updating applications.
"Our main migration effort with our custom applications is moving from Oracle Forms and Reports to using Java and JDeveloper to manage our applications," says Steve McKenzie, systems development manager, Forestry Commission. "We're basically following the same route that Oracle is following to migrate its applications to the Oracle Fusion approach."
Oracle's Farrell says that this approach is what Oracle Fusion Middleware is all about. "With Oracle Fusion Middleware, you can extend what you have without throwing anything away. You can take applications and start exposing functionality in them as services and then, using Oracle Fusion Middleware, wire up new business processes that use those services. On top of that, you can build new Web pages with rich internet technology for users to interact with. You can extend business into new areas without affecting the core business. Later you can revisit the legacy code and decide which pieces should be rebuilt on newer technologies and which ones are fine the way they are."
The benefits of such an approach are important to the Forestry Commission, especially since it must interact with three administrations while still having a single interface for customers. The Forestry Commission estimates that its Oracle Portal-based applications have reduced publishing time by 98 percent and ensured more-accurate information delivery.
"We need to be able to change more quickly than we have done in the past—the business moves more rapidly and you need to adapt your systems to take advantage of those changes," says McKenzie. "Oracle Fusion Middleware has the tools we need to enable us to easily integrate systems and deliver increased ease of use and greater extensibility for our partners in government."
Looking to the Future
For most organizations, middleware and service-oriented architectures are an increasingly important component of their IT strategies. Not only can the right SOA middleware increase IT and business agility and flexibility, but it can increase the reliability, security, and performance of most applications.
Oracle Fusion Middleware also supplies the technology that underpins Oracle Fusion Applications. This provides two benefits, according to Oracle's Farrell: improved interoperability in the stack and a shortened learning curve for engineers. "It's a huge advantage to have this standardized technology suite that's also used by Oracle Fusion Applications," he says.
For most IT organizations, SOA is the future. For Oracle customers, Oracle Fusion Middleware and the Oracle technology stack are a great place to build that future. "Oracle's been very aggressive in adding features to the [Oracle] Fusion Middleware stack that support SOA," says Forrester Research's Rymer. "Oracle is investing in technologies that will help people capitalize on SOA. They see this as the future, and they're going after it."
David A. Kelly (email@example.com) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.