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BEA WebLogic Integration

BEA WebLogic Integration

Enterprise application integration, now the centerpiece of corporate IT strategy, remains unacceptably high in cost and effort for one reason. Today's typical IT organization has separate environments for application development and integration.

BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 bridges this gap - converging application development and integration technologies into a unified platform. It leverages the BEA WebLogic Server as the underlying deployment environment, uses Web services to integrate distributed systems inside and outside the organization, and utilizes BEA WebLogic Workshop to simplify services-oriented development of applications (SODA).

SODA requires IT staffs to design for application integration while the applications are being built, minimizing the burden of after-the fact integration. According to Gartner, SODA has the potential to reduce integration costs by 30% or more. Using service-oriented architecture (SOA) and SODA together, IT staffs can build a foundation that catalyzes a movement from monolithic to more flexible systems. BEA believes that "building to integrate" represents a significant innovation that will help to reduce the cost, and increase the effectiveness, of integration projects in the Global 2000.

Based on a services-oriented design, WebLogic Integration 8.1 will bridge the "gaps" in today's integration picture (see Figures 1a and 1b). A close look at the integration and application gap clearly indicates that these environments need to be unified for two reasons. First, all integration projects require IT departments to write code to fill the inevitable gaps in the proprietary integration solution, or to implement business logic that is unique to a core business. Second, most applications require integration, even if only with a database. If people don't perceive accessing a database as an integration challenge, it's because over the last 10 years SQL and JDBC-type standards and off-the-shelf technology have made database integration a natural part of the development process.

The second gap, between integration modeling tools and the integration deployment environment, calls for a communication solution. Traditional business process management (BPM) tools target business analysts, helping them paint a high-level picture of integration. But implementing that picture requires staff with expensive, specialized knowledge of proprietary integration and deployment environments. To optimize the use of these resources, our research has shown that an integration environment must:

  • Let the business analyst speak to an IT group's application developers and integration specialists communicate in terms of business process model requirements
  • Equip IT staff with the tools to implement and bind business processes without requiring low-level coding and details

    The third gap consists of the spaces between varied layers of integration technologies that have accumulated over IT's fast-evolving history. Early EAI projects focused on connectivity and data transformation, adapters, message brokering, and binary transformations. The proprietary nature of back-end systems propagated throughout the enterprise resulted in solutions that were hard to maintain and evolve. More recently, EAI products have layered BPM on top of proprietary solutions to capture and automate the semantic of the transactions being executed via the exchange and transformation binary messages. With B2B came a shift toward standards-based integration, using XML as business process modeling. Automation became the focus, with the public processes being exposed and shared with business partners. Again, additional layers drove the integration chasm wider.

    To optimize enterprise integration, BEA has concluded that loosely coupled integrations are easier to maintain than traditional tight and rigid integrations; asynchronous communication is critical to conduct and protect business operations; coarse-grained communications maximize the efficiency of typically high-cost communication between loosely coupled systems; and the enterprise's need to know "who can access what" makes security services, and user and trading partner management, essential requirements for any integration project.

    A Unified Integration Framework
    The new version of BEA WebLogic Integration is designed to bridge all the existing chasms. BEA WebLogic Integration's unified framework unites common activities across the whole spectrum of application development and integration based on three development and integration scenarios:

  • At the bottom, object-oriented J2EE enterprise developers create business objects and write the necessary system-level code.
  • At the next level, business application developers - closer to the line of business - take objects and components from the J2EE developers and assemble them into business applications, adding application logic and user interfaces.
  • At the top, business analysts model business processes where the primary activity is the routing and transformation of XML business documents across loosely coupled systems.

    In order to create a development continuum across these layers, BEA believes that each user needs the right level of abstraction. An abstraction is needed on top of J2EE to allow application developers and integration specialists -- WebLogic Integration's target users -- to implement business processes without requiring object-oriented and J2EE knowledge. Another layer of abstraction, based on business process logic, is required at the higher level to enable business analysts to communicate the requirements, validate the IT implementation, and monitor the behavior of the overall systems at run time in business terms.

    The Components of the Unified Integration Platform
    BEA WebLogic Integration is built on WebLogic Server and utilizes a single architecture that leverages the WebLogic Workshop framework, as well to supply a high level of abstraction to simplify application development and integration on the J2EE platform. The WebLogic Workshop framework supplies all the components needed to build and integrate applications - from business processes to application integration - within a unified development and integration environment.

    WebLogic Workshop Controls
    WebLogic Integration leverages the WebLogic Workshop runtime framework to provide access to resources via high-level controls to enhance developer productivity. This architecture also supplies a unified programming model based on procedural logic development and event-driven programming. The platform abstracts the low-level technical details of the J2EE APIs and back-end resources for application developers and integration specialists. For example, consider sending a JMS message. At the J2EE coding level, sending a JMS message requires 50 to 80 lines of code because the J2EE API provides the user with access to all the JMS parameters and knobs.

    Within the WebLogic Workshop framework, you can use a JMS control that prepackages the 80 lines of code into one high-level component. This component lets you send a JMS message by writing a simple line of Java within some application logic, or by entering a single step in a business process model. While this approach trades flexibility for ease of use, BEA believes that this approach is suitable for 80% of applications. And even when an out-of-the-box implementation doesn't fit, the enterprise developer can still access the J2EE APIs (see Figure 2).

    BEA WebLogic Integration will provide a large number of out-of-the-box controls, starting with an extensive portfolio of resources ranging from back-end packaged applications and J2EE resources to B2B networks and users.

    WebLogic Workshop IDE
    The new WebLogic Workshop IDE breaks new ground by targeting application developers rather than J2EE experts. BEA realizes that application developers need a high-level tool that allows them to be productive without requiring J2EE expertise. This sets the WebLogic Workshop IDE apart from other attempts to implement a unified IDE, which typically boast IDE components but still require J2EE expert support behind the scenes.

    With a high-level interface to J2EE and the WebLogic Integration components in place, you have an integrated development and integration environment within one tool. This lets you model business processes, define transformations, build Web services, write application logic, define Web-based interfaces and Web Pageflows, and build process portals.

    The WebLogic Workshop IDE eases the building of custom controls, enabling application developers, integration specialists, and ISVs to build their own controls and extend the platform. In fact, any artifact built within the WebLogic Workshop IDE automatically becomes a control that can be reused across the board and included in business processes.

    Application Integration Architecture
    Now that we've defined the architecture, let's look at how this release supports the traditional components of integration: connectivity, message brokering, BPM, data transformation.

    Connectivity
    BEA's connectivity strategy is based on open standards wherever possible. Even where access to proprietary interfaces is required, the architecture is designed so that the low-level proprietary characteristics of the legacy systems are not propagated throughout the architecture. Rather, they are confined to back-end systems and wrapped with a standard interface like J2EE CA or Web services. In this way, all resources look like business services to the consumer.

    WebLogic Integration can connect to three types of main resources:

  • Legacy Systems and Packaged Applications: A set of J2EE CA-based adapters is provided to integrate with back-end systems, including all the major packaged business applications. The platform supports vertical networks and formats such as FIX, SWIFT, HIPAA, and HL7. In addition, it supports the development of J2EE CA-based custom adapters using an Adapter Development Kit. These adapters are exposed to the WebLogic Workshop IDE via the application view control. To configure an application view control, the application expert uses the WebLogic configuration tool to configure the adapter and define relevant high-level business operations and events.
  • J2EE Resources: Includes a set of controls to access any J2EE resources such as JMS, EJB, databases (JDBC), and J2EE CA.
  • B2B and EDI: Uses controls to provide access to resources outside the firewall via Web services, RosettaNet, and ebXML as well as some of the more basic protocols like e-mail, HTTP, and FTP.

    Business Process Management (BPM)
    WebLogic Integration BPM allows users to model and execute business processes that span multiple internal systems, external resources, and users. From the BPM perspective, the enterprise is a set of business services that are accessed via controls and can be orchestrated to model a business process. WebLogic Integration supports synchronous and asynchronous communications, and stateless and stateful processes.

    The WebLogic business process engine offers flexibility by keeping the ability to write Java code constantly available (see Figure 3). Writing a few lines of procedural Java logic is often the most expedient way to accomplish a task, such as determining the lowest price across a set of XML documents that contain pricing information. WebLogic's solution is to make one coarse-grained step in the business process called 'find lowest price', and let the application developer develop the best implementation.

    Message Brokering
    The WebLogic Integration message broker provides business processes with a channels-based "publish & subscribe" communication mechanism. This enables business processes to communicate in a loosely coupled, anonymous manner using a business-naming paradigm. For example, a purchase order routing process that subscribes to the "New Order Entered" channel is activated each time a new order message is published to that channel.

    Using the IDE, developers can define the channel naming hierarchy and specify the channels that it will publish and subscribe to for each business process. Filters - defined using XQuery - allow the subscription to be refined based on message content. Using the previous example, a business process can use a filter to subscribe only to purchase orders over $10,000 that are published to the "New Order Entered" channel.

    The Message Broker supports event generators that publish events from external sources to channels. WebLogic Integration will provide event generators for JMS, file, e-mail, and timed events. Adapters publish events from packaged applications to channels.

    Data Transformation
    WebLogic Integration provides components and tools to support the three main categories of transformation: binary to XML, XML to XML, and XML to binary.

    The platform packages transformation components as controls, treating them as resources that can be reused across multiple processes and integration solutions, such as a set of transformations from RosettaNet to OAG (Open Application Group) formats. The new data transformation feature uses XQuery for XML-to-XML transformation. XQuery is an XML standard in the final stage of W3C standard process.

    Traditionally, XML-to-XML transformation has used XSLT, a task XSLT was never designed to do. XSLT was intended to handle semi-structured data and document-based transformation: taking XML, applying XSLT, and converting the XML into content that can be presented to an end user or device. XSLT is recursive, pattern-matching based, and declarative - three of the most difficult concepts to learn. Moreover, an XSLT transformation defines how to perform a transformation, not what to perform, limiting the XSLT processor's optimization because it is bound to user code.

    While WebLogic Integration fully supports XSLT, the new release introduces a new XQuery processor and tools to make transformation easier and faster. XQuery looks much like SQL for XML, making it familiar to application developers who already understand SQL. Further, BEA preliminary performance tests show that because XQuery defines what to do, not how to do it, an XQuery transformation can be optimized much more than XSLT transformations (see Figure 4).

    System Management
    WebLogic integration provides a unified, Web-based administration console that addresses:

  • Workflow management and monitoring
  • Task or work list administration
  • Trading partner administration
  • Message routing management
  • Event and adapter configuration
  • Security and archiving administration

    While the system assumes that the integration environment will be managed primarily from the WebLogic Integration administration console, it also provides JMX interfaces to support third-party administration tools.

    WebLogic Integration separates runtime administration from offline analytics by maintaining two logical database stores. The online administration database contains runtime data about the integration engine, business process states, and message history. This repository is designed for performance. To scale and to retrieve information as quickly as possible, its data is maintained in an optimized format. According to configurable archiving policies, this online repository is periodically archived to an offline data store.

    Conclusion
    BEA WebLogic Integration closes the gaps between development and integration, it staff and business user, and EAI and B2B by providing a unified architecture. It reduces the learning curve by unifying the development skill sets needed by all users. In bridging integration environments that were previously isolated technology islands, WebLogic Integration is itself a bridge to reduced development costs, better use of organizational talent and knowledge, and increased productivity.

  • More Stories By Vittorio Viarengo

    Vittorio Viarengo is senior director of product management with BEA Systems, a leading application infrastructure company, with more than 13,000
    customers around the world. Viarengo is responsible for the direction of BEA WebLogic Integration, business process management, and Web Services development framework. [email protected]

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