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WebLogic Support

WebLogic Support

When I first transitioned to BEA Weblogic support, I had some premonition of what lay ahead, but little did I realize the daunting task of working on third-party code under high-pressure conditions.

Unlike development, where most of the time you wade through your own piece of code, software support becomes more complex as you work on system-down and critical situations, day in and day out.

This article will share some of the experiences I've had with customer cases. It includes some very basic but useful tips that WebLogic developers can utilize to help themselves, before opening a case with support.

  • WebLogic Knowledge Base
  • Proper environment
  • Confirm J2EE specs
  • Beware of third-party software limitations
  • Confirm platform configuration
  • Create a test case
WebLogic Knowledge Base
BEA wants to provide you with the maximum resources and assistance, in the least amount of time. It is for this purpose that we have the AskBEA Web site, where you can post questions and search the database for the nearest newsgroup discussion/solution/documentation results surrounding your search criteria. Using this tool can be very beneficial in the long run, and can save you tremendous time and energy, as you can find the solution to your posting on our Web site rather than going to the trouble of opening cases and later finding that the answer was readily available. Why reinvent the wheel?

Proper Environment
One of the most common scenarios I've come across is, "Our application was working fine in QA but when moved to production, it boomeranged!" Oops! "There's many a slip between the cup and the lip!" The first suspects to look for in these situations are the environment settings, especially the classpath. Check to confirm that you are on the same patch levels in production as in QA. The order of the patches in the classpath does matter, as the system classloader will load the classes in that sequence. If you are running with multiple patches, the contents of the JAR files should not have the same classfile names. If they do, that means the patch that comes later in the classpath would have no effect, as this class won't be loaded. This is one of the important reasons why you should provide the current patch levels to support should the need arise.

Another quick check would be the configuration settings between the config.xml for the QA version and for the production version. For checking performance metrics, make sure that you are talking about the same hardware and approximately the same kind of load as when your application was tested in QA.

Confirm J2EE Specs
Getting Assertion Errors? NullPointer Exceptions? While these errors are rare and might mean that the exception handling was improper at WebLogic's end, it is also very likely that the exception was thrown as something happend that was not expected by the WebLogic server. But was that "happening" allowed by the J2EE specification? Before you grab the phone to call support, if possible check out the specification of the J2EE subcomponent that you're working on. I remember a case in which the client was doing extensive thread manipulation inside the EJB class, and he was running into all kinds of issues. He was pretty frustrated with the way 'WEBLOGIC' would throw exceptions all over the place, and had spent considerable time making sure that he had not done anything wrong syntactically inside his application code. It turns out that he didn't have a bad line of code, he had a flawed design. The EJB specification prohibits spawning user-defined threads inside the bean class. Hence, it saves a lot of joint effort to go through the specification before opening a case.

Third-Party Software Limitations
This is more of a "biting off more than you can chew" situation. Or more practically, placing a 1000W bulb in a 100W socket! I have this example. A customer wanted to create Multipools on top of two connection pool. Each connection pool was created on top of two parallel database servers. The customer wanted to have a Transparent Application Failover (TAF) so if there was an in-flight transaction in progress when a database hardware failure occurred (tested by powering off the database), the transaction would be completed by the other server. Well, after plenty of research, and after opening a case with the database company, we found that TAF wasn't being supported by the drivers used by the parallel servers. Hence, multipools/connection pools, which are wrappers around the actual connection, can't help much in this regard.

As far as third-party utilities are concerned, it's quite possible that you may know more about it than we do. Hence, if you're using third-party tools in conjunction with WebLogic it makes sense to double check that the third-party utility doesn't have a limitation. Furthermore, in the same spirit, it would probably be easier to isolate whether the problem is on WebLogic's end by removing the third-party part and retesting your application.

Confirm Platform Configuration
A lot of problems and issues arise if development is done without heeding the recommendations of supported platforms and configurations. I have often found that customers are on unsupported configurations. If the customer is in development it's easy to remedy the problem. Enter production, and it becomes an uphill task! I remember an instance in which the customer was having tremendous problems in their production environment as managed servers were dropping out of the cluster. We narrowed it down to the fact that garbage collection was running for too long (more than 230 seconds), which resulted in missing the server heartbeats. Guess what? The customer was on an uncertified JDK version. They could not move their JDK version to a supported configuration, as it would result in hundreds of compile-time errors in their application (which was heavily dependent on the new JDK API).

In the same light it would be prudent to add that it pays to check not only the JDK but also the supported OS version, and whether OS-level patches are required on top of everything. You might also want to check the TCP-level settings mentioned for the particular OS.

Create a Test Case
While developing your application it is common to start getting stack traces in the weblogic.log files. Once you are certain that you are doing everything per the J2EE specification and that the code is correct, the next step is to get a reproducible test case. Remove the accessories (we certainly don't want any proprietary stuff passed around), and narrow it down to the problem at hand. This is a vital and key point. You know your application better than anybody else! A narrowed-down version of the problem at hand helps us to focus and debug the problem more easily. In all my experience, I have found test cases to play a major role in the turnaround for a resolution.

Baby Steps
You've encountered a problem and opened up a case with WebLogic support. Now what? The DRE (developer relations engineer) is working with you. Meanwhile, since you are still in development, you encounter another issue. Well, instead of putting this problem in the same case, open another one. This helps the DRE focus on one problem per case with you. The next thing to watch for is the communication. This holds another vital key to the entire process. Watch out for situations in which the DRE thinks he/she is expecting something from you, and you think that he or she should already be working on getting a workaround/fix.

Conclusion
All's well that ends well! In our case, we not only want the end to be better, but also the entire process to be a pleasantly memorable one. The bottom line is that we want to create solid, healthy relationships with our customers - you. At the end of the day what counts is to be a part of the happiness that you gain when your case is resolved.

Reproduced with permission from BEA Systems.

More Stories By Apurb Kumar

Apurb Kumar is a developer relations engineer in Backline WebLogic Support at BEA Systems. He has more than 10 years of experience, starting with real-time programming, moving on to databases, and finally Java development. Before moving to BEA Systems, Apurb consulted for companies such as Charles Schwab, AllAdvantage.com, and Holland Systems.

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