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Don Burleson Blog 







Web Services, BPEL And Oracle Data Warehousing

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
Don Burleson

By Mark Rittman

Web Services, BPEL And Oracle Data Warehousing

One of the news items I picked up on earlier this week was around the release of Oracle's Business Activity Monitoring ('BAM') feature for Application Server 10g. From the amount of articles written about BAM this is obviously a key product for Oracle, so I decided to take a further look.

According to Ephraim Schwartz and James Niccolai for Infoworld,

"In response to market demand for more real-time business information, Oracle announced today it will offer a BAM (business activity monitoring) tool, Business Activity Manager, as part of an upgrade to its application server software due out in the middle of the year.

The BAM component will run on the existing Oracle10g Application server, released at the start of the year, and on Application Server 10.1.2, due out this summer. It will not run on earlier releases such as Application Server , according to Thomas Kurian, senior vice president of Oracle Server Technologies.

Included in Business Activity Manager are the ability to detect, correlate, and analyze separate events such as RFID scans, bar code readings, or events out of an enterprise application or a supply-chain process event.

Kurian said the the BAM application is unique in that it can correlate both traditional historical events out of a data warehouse with real-time events."

So Business Activity Monitoring will be an add-on feature for Application Server 10g, and looks like it uses the B2B-connectivity that comes with AS10g. This would seem logical as a big part of AS10g's appeal as a middleware platform is through it's ability to get different ERP and CRM systems talking together, using technologies such as XML, SOAP, web services and so on. Note the RFID scans mention (current flavour of the month with Oracle) and the nod towards integrating current activity with historical data warehouses, which concurs with the current Oracle vision of integrated, real-time data warehousing.

Martin Lamonica for CNET Asia notes that the introduction of Business Activity Monitoring is part of a general Oracle strategy to make money out of integrating software:

"The introduction of the new data-gathering software is part of Oracle's strategy to bring in more revenue from the business of stitching together incompatible software. Oracle in January introduced Customer Data Hub, integration software sold as a stand-alone product that uses XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based protocols called Web services to centralize information about customers. The company earlier this year introduced an update to its suite of server-based transactional software, called Oracle 10g Application Server.

Making disparate systems share information cost-effectively is a perennial problem for companies and represents billions of dollars in technology spending. Kurian said many companies have already automated several individual business processes, such as manufacturing or human resources, by investing in packaged applications or writing custom applications. Now, companies are looking to automate "cross-functional business processes" that span a number of computer systems, he said."

Customer Data Hub was originally mentioned by Oracle back in February this year and is a way of bringing together data on all trading entities into a single data store - which is of course an Oracle database. Customer Data Hub raised a few eyebrows at the time as it was seen as a bit of an about-face by Oracle, who up until then had advocated 'Oracle-only' solutions as the only way to deliver a successful ERP project. When you looked at Customer Data Hub in more detail though, what you actually saw was infact quite a consistent approach - keep your third-party ERP applications (Siebel, Peoplesoft and so on) but use the Oracle database (via the Customer Data Hub) as your single store of trading entity data. Business Activity Monitoring looks to be building on this approach and directly taking on integration specialists such as WebMethods, Tibco and SeeBeyond, in the process positioning Application Server 10g as the centre of your ERP framework. In addition, if you read the CNET Asia article you'll also see references to something called Business Process Execution Language, a web services protocol being championed by Oracle, IBM and BEA as a standards-based way to integrate ERP data.

Duncan Lamb mentions BAM and BPEL in an article in his (always excellent) blog:

"CRN : Daily Archives : Oracle To Update App Server With Business Activity Monitoring : 2:53 PM EST Thurs., May 13, 2004: "The BAM data feeds into a central management console, where it can be correlated, filtered and subjected to analytics, according to Oracle. The results can be viewed on a portal dashboard. "

According to the article, the BAM capabilities include support for BPEL, which is coming out the winner in the standards wars for the "Process Execution" slice of the alphabet soup of the SOA. Oracle has not settled on a standard itself however, announcing it will support both BPEL (initially proposed by MS and IBM) and WS-Choreagraphy. Thank goodness for both of them, for as the article says, "Oracle's move brings clarity to the respective focus of each group."

So what's all this about BPEL? Well, BPEL is a bit of a hot topic in the application server and web services world at the moment, and in this article it is defined as

"BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) for Web services is an XML-based language designed to enable task-sharing for a distributed computing or grid computing environment - even across multiple organizations - using a combination of Web services. Written by developers from BEA Systems, IBM, and Microsoft, BPEL combines and replaces IBM's WebServices Flow Language (WSFL) and Microsoft's XLANG specification. (BPEL is also sometimes identified as BPELWS or BPEL4WS.)

Using BPEL, a programmer formally describes a business process that will take place across the Web in such a way that any cooperating entity can perform one or more steps in the process the same way. In a supply chain process, for example, a BPEL program might describe a business protocol that formalizes what pieces of information a product order consists of, and what exceptions may have to be handled. The BPEL program would not, however, specify how a given Web service should process a given order internally."

From an Oracle point of view, one of the best places to start learning about BPEL is Mike Lehmann's Web services, BPEL4WS, J2EE blog. Mike is the Product Manager for Oracle's BPEL engine and has put together a number of articles on web services and BPEL that you might want to take a look at to get a heads-up on the technology. As a starter, Mike's put together a couple of good articles, "Who Needs Web Services Transactions?" and "Oracle Backs BPEL4WS and WS-Choreography", together with a powerpoint presentation, "BPEL: Business Processes with Web Services" which you might want to take a look at.

So, how does this affect us? In terms of data warehousing and BI, probably not much at the moment, and it's probably only going to be relevant to organisations using Application Server 10g as a kind of 'central customer data hub' in conjunction with the latest release of Oracle Applications. In the long term though, it's another pointer towards Oracle's vision of pervasive, real-time business intelligence, that merges current activity with historical data, and you can see the Oracle Application Server being a more central part of this process, using all the interconnect functionality within the application server platform to bring the disparate data together. What this probably means to someone like me (who's probably more comfortable using the RDBMS as the integration engine) is that to stay ahead of the game, you're going to need to gain a familiarity with web services, BPEL, XML, SOAP and so on, as increasingly data warehouse sources are going to be in this form rather than just flat files and database links.




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