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BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 from BEA Systems

BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 from BEA Systems

Complex Business Process Management (BPM) solutions involving workflow creation, enterprise resource access, and real business tasks can quickly become unmanageable. The workflows can grow into giant, hard-to-follow decision trees, the developers have difficulty transforming the requirements into actual code, and subprocesses intended to be simplistic become overly complex applications. BEA has greatly simplified this effort with the new release of WebLogic Integration 8.1. I recently created several sample processes with the beta release of this product and was very impressed with the results.

WebLogic Integration is incorporated into the WebLogic Workshop framework. This allows a consistent means of development and allows its users to become familiar with only one tool when writing J2EE applications, portals, and/or BPM solutions. The benefits of this "unified platform" approach cannot be overstated. The intuitive user interface provides a one-stop shop for modeling business solutions, analyzing them, and then creating BPM results that access enterprise applications and allow true user collaboration. Using the tool and some examples provided by BEA, in less than one day I created several business processes that performed complex conditional logic, data transformation from XML to Java, e-mail notification based on user role, and asynchronous message communication. I barely scratched the surface of what this tool can do.

Creating a Workflow
My first goal was to create a simple workflow that would provide two separate paths for processing information. The Workshop editor allows graphical creation of workflows (see Figure 1). While the user is adding various components, the source code is written and accessible on a separate tab. Workshop generates source code and annotations to reflect the process logic, using the Process Definition for Java (PD4J) specification that is in the standards process (JSR 207).The Workshop editor keeps the code and graphical representation in synch.

Creating the workflow is easy. The palette on the bottom left-hand side of WebLogic Workshop has a number of clear alternative nodes that can be added to the workflow simply by dragging and dropping. The workflow nodes are plentiful enough that any workflow action I could identify could be performed, and yet are clear enough that it's very easy to identify the necessary node.

The workflow representation is very clean looking, and is presented in a manner that can be followed easily. It's not beyond the realm of software development to envision a situation where the business user could create the initial flows for developer augmentation. Adding conditional operations was very straightforward. I would recommend though that you identify the basis for each conditional statement in the condition name in order to provide the easiest means of workflow readability.

For passing data into my workflow, BEA has focused on providing a real means of easily including XML in application development with their XMLBeans. The concept behind XMLBeans is to separate the complexity of XML creation from its usage. XML objects can be accessed and manipulated easily through the use of a GUI. WebLogic Workshop handles the parsing by having each XMLBean act as a Java interface to the XML Schema. Developers can focus on the business logic and not focus on the drudgery of XML creation and access.

Another key aspect regarding XML and WebLogic Integration is the ability to transform this data. XML Schemas can be converted into other XML Schemas or non-XML Schemas, or XML Schemas can be created from other formats. Complex XML mappings can be constructed without any knowledge of XSL, XQuery, or any XML mapping APIs.

Mapping the data across schemas involves linking the two values together, and necessary mathematical or procedural operations on the data can easily be added. WebLogic Integration 8.1 also allows users to design complex mappings such as many-to-one (e.g., aggregation), one-to-many, or many-to-many. BEA calls this an XQuery Trans-formation Mapper (see Figure 2).

The data transformation mapping could be improved by allowing it to guess some mappings, particularly when they share the same name. It is important to test the mapping and compare the result with what you expected. A successful XQuery Statement execution does not guarantee that everything was actually mapped correctly.

For processing a variety of operations, WebLogic Workshop provides "Java Controls." Think of them as a series of keys into most of the technical doors that must be accessed. Existing data sources, systems, applications, and other workflows can all be accessed. A control for accessing a database can be created. If JMS access is required, a Java Control could be created. I created oneto process e-mail.

As with any tool, some Java Control functionality was not immediately identifiable, and many of the controls should be played with to identify their potential usage. Custom controls can be created as well, so almost all operations could be accessed from WebLogic Workshop through a Java Control.

The fact that workflows themselves could be used as controls also provides flexibility. Other workflows, Web services, or portals could directly access these workflows. Integration with existing functionality becomes an almost no-thought task.

Integration with the application server is seamless. Testing can be performed within the Workshop environment.

My next effort involved creating an asynchronous JMS message. This is a realistic situation, as many workflows do not involve the synchronous communication found in many applications. When your bosses assign you a task, they don't stand over your shoulder while you complete it. Well, at least not all of the time.

This process involved the creation of two workflows: one for sending and one for receiving. A JMS Java Control was created in minutes, and the control was added to the workflow node by dragging and dropping. The mechanism for involving JMS could not be any easier.

My next effort involved more real-world simulation by adding human users to the workflow effort. WebLogic Integration provides a Worklist subsystem that allows tasks to be assigned to users, and to send and receive these tasks via a simple user interface. This involved a Java Control and was intuitive to operate. Users can be specific or part of a group. Role assignment was a little complex, and I think that any developer using that functionality should allow for some additional time to come up to speed in that area.

Combining all of the functionality to add a simple application front end to the workflow and produce an e-mail output was not as complex as one you fear. It is worth noting again that because the WebLogic Workshop interface is used consistently for WebLogic Integration, it is easy to identify how new untried functionality is implemented. Since WebLogic Portal uses the same interface, a developer's learning curve is limited, and most functionality involves a learn-once method of usage. I was surprised at how often my "guesses" at how a feature is implemented were correct.

The administration console was browser-based and seemed to provide all necessary functionality. A repository stores run-time information, which allows for later detailed analysis.

Exception handling was easy to include, and more application-specific means of exception handling appeared to be easy to add.

BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 provides an intuitive and powerful means of developing integrated business processes. Combining these elements is always difficult, and BEA deserves high praise for the consistency with which they have succeeded across WebLogic Platform 8.1. Each component of this platform is remarkable, and the integration across the platform provides functionality that is years ahead of the alternatives.

BEA Systems, Inc.
2315 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95131
800 817-4BEA (U.S. toll free)
408 570-8000


[email protected]

Download information:

BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 comes with a clustered instance of BEA WebLogic Server 8.1 and development licenses of BEA WebLogic Workshop. BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 requires BEA WebLogic Server 8.1.

More Stories By Jason Snyder

Jason Snyder is an architectural expert for CSC Consulting in Boston, and has served as the lead architect for several J2EE development projects. He has over 10 years of experience in software development, OO design, and application architecture.

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