Oracle Fusion 11g Middleware: Executed According to Plan

Today’s announcement by Oracle of the rollouts of Fusion Middleware 11g is a bit anticlimactic in that the details are pretty much according to the plan that came out exactly a year ago today. Although the Fusion stack is comprised of multiple parts, internally developed and acquired, the highlight is that it represents the fruition of the BEA acquisition. Oracle had Fusion middleware prior to acquiring BEA, but there’s little question that BEA was the main event. WebLogic filled the donut hole in the middle of the Fusion stack with a server that was far more popular than Oracle Containers for Java EE (OC4J). Singlehandedly, BEA catapulted Oracle Fusion into becoming a major player in middleware.

Oracle largely stuck to the previously announced roadmap for convergence of BEA products, with the only major surprises being in the details. As planned, Oracle incorporated WebLogic as the strategic Java platform, JDeveloper as the primary development environment, dual business process modeling paths, with master data management, data integration, and identity management driven largely by Oracle offerings with some added BEA content.

Although the Oracle Fusion product portfolio came from far more diverse sources than BEA (as Oracle was obviously a more aggressive acquirer), the result is far more unified than anything that BEA ever fielded. Before getting swallowed by Oracle, BEA had multiple portal, development, and integration technologies lacking a common framework. By comparison, Oracle has emphasized a common framework for mashing the pieces together.

That’s rooted in Oracle’s heritage for developing native tools and utilities, dating back to the Oracle Forms 4GL and the various utilities for managing the Oracle database; the tools were sufficiently native that they typically were confined to Oracle shops. But that approach to native tooling morphed with development of a broader framework that is optimized for Oracle platforms. It’s an outgrowth of the mentality at Oracle that good is the enemy of best, and that what Oracle is building is a platform rather than discrete products.

It’s an approach that also makes Oracle’s tagline of Fusion being standards-based as being more nuanced. Yes, the Fusion products are designed to support Oracle’s “hot pluggable” best of breed strategy to work with other vendors products, but for designing and managing the Fusion environment, Oracle has you surrounded with native tooling if you want them. Call it a subtle pull for encouraging customers to add more Oracle content.

That explains how, 6 – 7 years ago, Oracle began developing what has become the Application Development Framework (ADF) as its own model-view-controller alternative to the Apache Struts framework that it previously used in early versions of the JDeveloper Java tool. That approach has carried through to this day with JDeveloper, which provides a higher level, declarative approach to development that would not fit with traditional Eclipse IDEs. And that approach applies to Oracle Enterprise Manager (EM), which does not necessarily compete with BMC, CA, HP, or IBM Tivoli in application management, but provides the last mile of declarative deployment, monitoring, and performance testing capabilities for the Fusion platform.

Bringing together the Oracle and BEA technologies resulted in some synergies where the value was greater than the sum of its parts. A good example is the pairing of BA’s quasi-real time JRockit JVM with Oracle Coherence data grid, a distributed caching layer for Java objects. In essence, JRockit juices up performance of Coherence, which is used whenever you need higher performance with frequently used objects; conversely, Coherence provides a high end enterprise clustered platform that provides an excellent use case for JRockit.

As noted, while the broad outlines of Fusion 11g are hardly any mystery, there are some interesting departures that occurred along the way. One of the more notable was in BPM where Oracle added another option to its runtime strategy for Oracle BPM Suite. Originally, Oracle BPEL Process Manager was to be the runtime, requiring BPM users to map their process models to BPEL, essentially an XML-based sequential programming language that lacks process semantics. A year later, OMG is putting finishing touches to BPMN 2.0, a process modeling notation that has added support for executable models. And so with release of 11g, Oracle BPM Suite users will gain the option of bypassing BPEL as long as their processes are not that transactionally complex.

Make no doubt about it, the Fusion 11g migration was a huge reengineering project, involving nearly 2000 development projects and over 5000 product enhancements. So it’s a shame that Oracle did not take the opportunity of re-architecting its middleware stack by migrating it to microkernel architecture, with OSGi being the most prominent example. Oracle WebLogic Server is OSGi-based, but the BPM/SOA stack is not. Oracle remains mum as to whether it plans to adopt a microkernel architecture throughout the rest of the Fusion stack.

So why are we all hot and bothered about this? OSGi, or the principle of dynamic, modular microkernels in general, offer the potential to vastly reduce Java’s footprint through deployment of highly compact, servers that contain only the Java modules that are necessary to run. The good news is that this is potentially a highly economic, energy-efficient, space efficient green strategy. The bad news is that it’s not enough for the vendor to adopt a microkernel, as the user has to learn how to selectively and dynamically deploy them.

But as we noted last week, OSGi seems to have lost its momentum of late. In our Ovum research last year, we believed that OSGi was going to become the de facto standard for Java platforms as IBM and SpringSource fully migrated their stacks, and as rivals were providing at least tacit support. A year later, Oracle’s silence is deafening. We believe that Oracle’s pending acquisition of Sun adds some interesting dynamics to the plot, as Sun has continued to speak on both sides of its mouth on the topic: supporting OSGi for its open source Glassfish Java platform, while putting its weight behind Project Jigsaw that aims to redefine Java modularity as JSR 294. Unfortunately, announcement of Fusion 11g has not cleared up matters.