Friday, August 19, 2011

You can teach an old dog new tricks!

I always tell people that if you cut me I bleed pure Microsoft. That is not to say that I am under the illusion that Microsoft products and technologies are the best tools for any problem, they are just the tools that I am most familiar with. I did spend nearly a decade working for Microsoft after all, and had a hand in building some of those very tools, so one would assume that my skill set would be a bit skewed in that direction. So it is not a surprise that I have managed to learn almost nothing about the Oracle Technology Stack (though I did once have to use the Oracle database in a solution).

Until this week that is.

This week I had the opportunity to spend two days with a few technical folks from Oracle and I have to say it was great fun and very enlightening.

In preparation for my meeting I did a little reading on the Oracle Technology Stack (if you can call it a “stack”) and was befuddled by the array of products and technologies that it includes. Oracle is The Borg of the software industry; it has been on an, apparently insane, shopping spree for the last few years, buying up and assimilating company after company, including PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, BEA Systems and Sun Microsystems, all of whom had significant technology stacks in their own right. No doubt Oracle invested a fortune to integrate and unify these stacks but after looking at the Oracle Marchitecture I walked into the meeting with fairly low expectations.

I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed.

The Oracle stack is mature, fully-featured,  highly-integrated, and supported by rich, comprehensive tools. I was highly impressed with JDeveloper, Oracles flagship development environment, and the unified development experience it offers, particularly for applications targeting the Oracle SOA Suite, which is part of the Oracle Fusion Middleware platform. It allows for the creation of SOA Composite Applications that can include web services (in their broadest sense), BEPL and BPMN work flows, Business Rules, POJOs and a bunch of other capabilities, all supported by intuitive visual designers. The entire application can be developed with JDeveloper and then published directly to the Application Server.

The other technology that I was particularly impressed with is the Oracle Policy Automation (OPA) tool suite. It provides tools for modelling and runtime evaluation of complex Business Rules. The capability that is most impressive is that it allows you to take a policy document that was written in Microsoft Word and transform that document in-place into executable rules. It also supports authoring of rules in Excel. You can then host and evaluate those rules on a web-service-accessible server or you can host the evaluation engine directly in your Java or .NET application. Given that Microsoft does not have a technology to rival OPA I will definitely consider using it in future .NET solutions that require a rich stand-alone Business Rules Engine. Yes, I know Microsoft also has rule engines in BizTalk and Workflow Foundation (though not in version 4.0 for some reason!), but the OPA rules authoring experience leaves both of these technologies in the dust.

I have only just begun to scratch the surface but  I am really looking forward to learning more about the Oracle Technology Stack (I never thought I would ever hear myself say those words!). 

Now all I have to do is work out how I can use Scala instead of Java as a development language in JDeveloper.

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