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Oracle SOA Suite

An integrated and standards-based platform

Service-oriented architecture is an architectural approach to building software applications as a collection of reusable business services. Interest in SOA is growing within the business community. To address the need for an infrastructure to enable the building of service-oriented applications, a new breed of SOA suites is emerging. Vendors such as Oracle, BEA Systems, and IBM now provide platforms specifically focused on SOA applications. In established, complex IT environments with diverse applications - including legacy applications that are tied together with custom adapters, and business scenarios that demand extensive partner interaction - the move to SOA may appear challenging. However, new SOA suites make it easy. We at Sierra Atlantic decided to review one of them - Oracle SOA Suite.

Sierra Atlantic has more than a decade of experience implementing application integration solutions. We've worked with a variety of vendors' products and have seen the integration landscape mature over the past six years.

Building an SOA Solution
Building a typical SOA application involves the following activities:

  1. Building services: This may include service-enabling existing business logic using application or technology adapters, or writing new business logic, in J2EE or another language.
  2. Enabling service communication: Services must be able to reliably communicate with each other and with back-end applications. SOA encourages loose coupling. Capabilities such as messaging, data transformation, and message routing, which are often captured in an Enterprise Service Bus, are key.
  3. Wiring services together into business flows: Implementing business processes as orchestrations of services enables easier change. High-level representations of business processes, such as Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), an XML-based language for expressing service orchestration, provides the basis for agile business processes.
  4. Securing services: Within an SOA environment, you must be able to effectively and consistently secure and manage services, and apply different policies (security, auditing, logging) depending on who or what is interacting with a particular service. You should be able to do this without changes to the services.
  5. Optimizing services: A very important capability within an SOA environment is the ability to effectively monitor services and events, which is captured in a Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) solution. BAM provides users with an event aggregation and correlation platform that allows for building a state model defining relationships between various events that impact the operations business KPIs.
Oracle says it has the most comprehensive and mature SOA platform in the market. At first glance, we were impressed to see that its suite addresses all the requirements we mentioned above:
  • Oracle JDeveloper to build services, to service-enable existing assets
  • Oracle ESB for messaging and routing
  • Oracle BPEL Process Manager to wire services together into business flows
  • Oracle Web Services Manager for security and policy management for services
  • Oracle BAM for business-level monitoring and optimization of business services and processes
  • Oracle Application Server 10g R3/ Oracle Fusion Middleware - the J2EE 1.4 runtime on which all this infrastructure may be deployed
In this review, we focused on three components of the Oracle SOA Suite - Oracle BPEL Process Manager (Oracle BPEL PM), Oracle Web Services Manager and Oracle Business Activity Monitoring (Oracle BAM). We give an overview of each of these components, and show each of their capabilities in light of an order-processing scenario - a problem well suited to the application of SOA. We didn't review the full capabilities of Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF), Oracle ESB and the core J2EE-compliant runtime. This is because you can develop apps for the Oracle SOA Suite with third-party tools such as Eclipse; the Suite's components can be deployed to any J2EE application server; and Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Oracle BAM, and Oracle Web Services Manager can integrate with any standards-based messaging solution.

Oracle BPEL Process Manager
Business processes are at the heart of any business. They touch different applications, persons, and business partners during their execution and evolve according to changing business requirements. Some of them are automated with technology solutions. SOA can make a key contribution to enabling easy-to-develop, maintain, and easy-to-adapt business processes.

BPEL makes it easier for organizations to adapt to changing business needs on the fly. Oracle BPEL Process Manager, which is in its fourth release, has been on the market since 2001 (when it was acquired from Collaxa). It includes a BPEL engine, a management console, and a graphical interface for wiring services, as well as robust messaging and routing capabilities. We like that Oracle BPEL Process Manager is engineered to run on top of all major J2EE-compatible application servers. This helps organizations preserve their existing IT infrastructure and in-house resources.

One of the most important features in any BPM tool is the ability to model business processes graphically. Oracle BPEL Process Designer offers a graphical modeling environment for this task, and its drag-and-drop features make it easy to use. It is targeted at the developer and what Oracle calls Functional Developer/ Business Savvy. To create a more full-featured modeling environment for business analysts, Oracle partners with pure-play BPM modeling vendors including IDS Scheer and Proforma.

Oracle BPEL Process Manager provides native support for standards such as BPEL, XML, XSLT, XPATH, JMS, JCA, and Web services, making it a good solution for enabling SOAs.

Processes interact with heterogeneous applications and, in many cases, require human intervention. These applications speak different languages. In order to connect to various systems, Oracle BPEL Process Manager ships with a set of technology and application adapters to let you connect with endpoints that are not exposed as services. These include file, file transfer protocol (FTP), advance queues (AQs), database (DBs), Oracle applications, and other ERP application adapters.

Graphical tooling is also included within JDeveloper for performing data transformations to reconcile different data formats within XML documents being transmitted between services.

Many industry experts are concerned about BPEL's lack of workflow support. Oracle has simply built an application on top of their product that implements workflow capabilities - in theory, workflow built on top of Oracle BPEL Process Manager should be portable across BPEL engines. These built-in, standards-based workflow services are linked to a BPEL process through a WSDL contract. A BPEL process assigns a task to a user or role by making a service call, and waits for a response.

Designing business processes is only one piece of the puzzle. How do you secure these services to prevent unauthorized access? How do you apply security, audit and logging policies to services? First, you need a cohesive security policy infrastructure that governs access to these services. Oracle Web Services Manager, part of Oracle's Identity Management solution, is Oracle's solution.

Oracle Web Services Manager
Security is important for any kind of distributed computing environment. Oracle Web Services Manager, which Oracle obtained last year through its acquisition of Oblix, Inc., lets you define and implement security and operational policies for services. As a developer, you don't want to worry about applying security policies - authentication, encryption and digital signatures. Web Services Manager enables these policies to be enforced from outside the service.

As with Oracle BPEL Process Manager, we like that Oracle Web Services Manager supports multiple Web services platforms and providers including BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Netegrity, TIBCO, and Verisign. It also provides out-of-the-box support for multiple transports such as HTTP, HTTPS, JMS, and IBM Websphere MQ, and multiple messaging models including synchronous and asynchronous messaging.

Oracle Web Services Manager includes two enforcement components that ensure maximum deployment flexibility: policy gateways, which are deployed before a group of applications or services and intercept inbound requests to services, and policy agents, which run in-process with the service that is being secured.

Oracle Web Services Manager policies are a set of operational tasks that are performed when service requests are processed, and the responses between a service client and a service provider at specified policy-enforcement points. Each task is implemented as a policy step that addresses a specific operation (such as authentication, authorization, encryption, decryption, security signature, token or credential verification, transformation, auditing, logging) that's performed on either a Web services request or a response message.

We like the management console, which also monitors each Web services' performance. The graphical dashboard shows overall statistics, including security metrics such as unauthorized access attempts, and service figures including the average service failure rate and average registered service latency. You can drill down into the dashboard by service to see statistics on individual operations. You can also define and monitor individual service levels.

Oracle BPEL Process Manager and Oracle Web Services Manager let you design, orchestrate, and secure services. But how do you gain real-time visibility into business entities and their interactions?

Oracle Business Activity Monitoring
The promise of BAM is to push information to users via visual dashboards and alerts, helping them improve operational effectiveness and make informed decisions. As it relates to SOA, services and events, which provide real-time visibility into business processes, people, and systems need to be monitored. The ability to aggregate service metrics and deliver actionable information on critical business service parameters to business users is also key.

The Oracle BAM architecture uses functions including messaging, data integration, data caching, analytics monitoring, alerting, and reporting to collect, analyze and deliver critical information. We like that these functions support integration with different industry-standard business applications such as JMS, JCA, Web services, file system, MQs (IBM, MS, Sonic), TIBCO, Webmethods, and BEA WebLogic. This means that Oracle BAM can collect real-time information from heterogeneous environments.

In fact, Oracle BAM is generally targeted at business users. However, before they can start creating and viewing reports, someone (the developer/ architect) must create the underlying data model and populate it. Oracle BAM segregates the two tasks. While developers can use Oracle BAM Architect to create the data objects and rules, business users can use Oracle BAM Active Studio's simple interface to create reports. This means that you as the developer just plug-in the data sources - the business users can build their own dashboards.

After reviewing the capabilities of the product suite, we wanted to model a real-world scenario to more completely assess its capabilities. For this, we built a use case that captures a typical order-processing business process.


More Stories By Feroze Mohammed

Feroze Mohammed is the senior vice president, product engineering, custom development and integrations, Sierra Atlantic, Inc. He is also responsible for Sierra Atlantic's own R&D and product development initiatives. Feroze holds an master's degree in computer
applications from the University of Hyderabad.

More Stories By Lawrence Pravin

Lawrence Pravin is the product manager, Process Integration Packs, Sierra Atlantic, Inc. He has over 10 years of experience in packaged applications, and has deep integration expertise with Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel and SAP applications. Lawrence holds a computer science and engineering degree from the University of Madras.

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