As recently as 2002, Oracle's applications pitch was all about the suite: an integrated set of applications with a single, consistent data model. By contrast, the message at Oracle OpenWorld 2004 was all about integration. Oracle announced enhancements to E-Business Suite 11i and Application Server 10g that together create an end-to-end integration infrastructure.
Oracle still believes the suite approach is best for those companies that can get there. But these announcements indicate that it realizes not all businesses can migrate their current systems to a single, integrated suite; and those that can may require years of effort to do so.
"There are very few companies that can be running just a single application suite," said Ron Wohl, former Executive Vice President for Applications Development, in his keynote address. "We have to be as open as possible to running alongside everybody else in your environment."
Wohl identified four main integration challenges facing businesses:
- Integration of applications within an enterprise
- Business to business integration
- Managing complex business processes that affect multiple systems
- Monitoring business processes, whether in-house or involving trading partners.
Oracle's integration toolset includes components that address the above challenges. These components include Oracle Integration InterConnect, Oracle Integration B2B, Oracle BPEL Process Manager, and Oracle Business Activity Monitor.
Oracle Interconnect: Enterprise application integration
Oracle InterConnect acts as an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), connecting applications to each other using industry standards for technology and transport. It uses Oracle Application Server 10g plus over 250 adapters, each of which provides either connectivity or data transformation.
Integrating applications from different vendors has been costly in the past, for two main reasons:
- The connectivity and data transformation rules were hard-coded in applications, which were highly customized and required rewriting (and re-testing) when applications were upgraded; and
- The interfaces were point-to-point, requiring redundant coding.
Oracle's model reduces cost and complexity by going to a "hub and spoke" design. Just as airlines reduce route complexity by having hub airports, Oracle has created a standard data view. Oracle maps each application view to the standard view. Changes in one application require only remapping that one "spoke"; other mappings are unaffected. Oracle calls these mappings, "integration points."
Further, these mappings are implemented in a metadata repository, not in code. Updates to the mappings can be made at the metadata level, instead of time-consuming and error-prone code rewrites. The repository is searchable interactively and can be discovered by third-party integration tools.
The adapters fall into several categories:
Transport Adapters—are low-level, Internet standard protocols such as FTP, HTTP/S, and email (SMTP).
Messaging Systems Adapters—connect to message queuing and delivery systems such as Oracle Advanced Queuing, IBM's WebSphere MQ (formerly MQ Series), and Java Message Service (JMS).
Database Adapters—enable connections to relational databases like Oracle, Sybase, Informix, IBM DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server.
Mainframe Adapters—connect to legacy systems such as IBM CICS and IMS.
Application Adapters—map and transform data between the common data view and specific application views. Among the vendors whose products are supported are Peoplesoft, SAP, Siebel, JD Edwards and Oracle's own E-Business Suite.
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Oracle Integration B2B: Business-to-Business tools
Oracle Integration B2B uses Oracle InterConnect for connectivity and data transformation, then adds industry-standard protocols for exchanging data between trading partners. B2B adapters implement message formats that are widely used in specific industries. Adapters for UCCnet and AS/2 are built in, and others can be purchased separately, such as:
- Healthcare: Health Level 7 (HL7) and HIPAA.
- Government: ebXML, EDI X.12 and EDIFACT
- Manufacturing: RosettaNet
- Financial Services: Accord, SWIFT
In addition, Oracle Integration B2B includes wizards for easily provisioning and maintaining B2B relationships with trading partners. The adapter also includes secure communication features such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), security certificates, and digital signatures.
Business Process Execution Language: Orchestrating complex processes
Business Process Execution Language (BPEL, pronounced "bipple") is an emerging standard for orchestrating Web services both within a company and among multiple companies. Originated as a merger of Microsoft's XLANG (used in its BizTalk Server) and IBM's Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), it has since been turned over to the industry group Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and has broad vendor support.
Oracle's implementation is called BPEL Process Manager, or BPEL-PM. In Application Server 10gR2, it is integrated with the JDeveloper 10g development environment. Using BPEL Designer, BPEL Process Manager's GUI tool, you can create process flows that are synchronous or asynchronous, and which include conditional logic.
One unusual feature of BPEL Process Manager is that it uses native BPEL as its storage format; it doesn't translate the BPEL into another "internal" format. As a result, process flows created with BPEL Designer can be edited with any other BPEL-compliant tool, or even manually with a text editor. Once edited, the changes will be reflected in BPEL Designer as well.
Oracle's BPEL engine is designed to work with Oracle Application Server 10g, but due to its standards-based implementation, other J2EE application servers can be used as well. Release 10gR2 includes support for JBOSS, IBM WebSphere, and BEA WebLogic.
Business activity monitor: Tying it all together
Oracle's E-Business Suite has a business event driven architecture, and the number of events exposed increases in 11i.10 to over 900. An event is a change in the state of the business, such as the creation, update or deletion of a document in the system.
Exposing business events is especially significant because it allows companies to customize their business processes without customizing the software itself. A typical trap in the past has been customizing a purchased application, only to have to make those changes again when upgrading to the next release of the package.
However, in an event driven architecture, the applications can be extended rather than customized. External code that responds to defined events can achieve the same results as previously, but the vendor-supplied software remains "off the shelf" and straightforward to upgrade.
Business Activity Monitor (BAM) receives events from any of the Integration pieces—Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle InterConnect, Oracle B2B or BPEL Process Manager. BAM can then aggregate these isolated events into decision-making information.
BAM can capture simple events, or combine them into composite events. Various calculations can be performed on composite events to create metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). For example, simple events may be correlated to each other to create a composite event. Those simple events that have not yet been matched can be reported as exceptions for investigation and action.
Events and metrics can be turned into charts using the built-in visualization engine. The results can be displayed to users in configurable, role-based dashboards that track the KPIs most interesting to each job role. The bar, pie and radar charts defined in the dashboard always contain the latest picture of the business activity.
For alerting, two levels of threshold can be defined for each metric. When thresholds are crossed, alerts can be sent via any of the Application server's delivery methods, such as email, fax and mobile (SMS).
The bottom line
Organizations have three routes to take to integrate their applications, according to Wohl. "If you're a medium-sized company, the most practical and best way to get there might be simply to deploy the various parts of our E-Business Suite that are appropriate," he said. For larger companies, the new integration features in 11i.10 and Application Server 10gR2 enable EAI via InterConnect, data exchange via B2B, orchestration via BPEL-PM, and monitoring via BAM. And a new product line, the Oracle Data Hub, enables companies to integrate at the data level, without using any of Oracle's process integration at all.