Oracle Fusion platform coming into focus

Government program managers are finally starting to get a glimpse of the next-generation enterprise resource planning platform from Oracle Corp. At the Oracle Government Users Conference, held last week in Washington, the database giant revealed some details about its forthcoming Fusion platform.

Fusion will use a standards-based modular design, said Jim Wakefield, an enterprise solution architect for the database company. For this architecture, Oracle will use the Java platform to build the different components and deploy the emerging Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) to glue these components together.

What won't customers see? Oracle Forms, used to build database-driven applications, will not be offered in Fusion, Wakefield said. Java Server Faces will take its place. Oracle's current workflow software will also be axed in favor of BPEL. PeopleSoft's own application server will be replaced with Oracle's.

Roughly speaking, expect a PeopleSoft-like look and feel, but with Oracle plumbing underneath, Wakefield said. Users can also expect smaller, though more frequent, upgrades.

When Oracle bought PeopleSoft last December, managers overseeing PeopleSoft deployments speculated how Oracle might rework that software to fit its own product line. They worried that a radical reworking might necessitate arduous upgrades.

At first, Oracle did not provide much in the way of specifics, as its programmers were still hammering out the details of the "Project Fusion" task of joining all the applications into a next-generation platform.

The Oracle Government Users Conference, managed by Herndon, Va.-based Oracle reseller DLT Solutions Inc., started to shed some light about the progress Oracle is making.

Like many enterprise software vendors, Oracle speakers stressed how company software can support a service-oriented architecture. The modular services Oracle is planning will be a lot more fine-grained than what most people now think of as modular, Wakefield said. A typical ERP implementation might have modules for accounts receivable or accounts payable. The Oracle modules will be specific services, breaking an entity such as accounts payable into even smaller standalone processes.

"That will make the ability to string these components together very easy, so you can pick and choose the components that will make up a particular business flow," Wakefield said. "That will not be considered a customization. That is an ability to tailor the product to meet your organization's needs."

This modular approach will also radically alter Oracle's upgrade cycle, Wakefield said. Instead of releasing large upgrade packages every two years or so, as is the norm with ERP vendors, the company will have smaller, more frequent updates, allowing users to update their packages without taking the application offline.

The technical details of both Java and BPEL were discussed at the conference. Under the Fusion architecture, the Oracle services will all run under the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition, said Mike Yeganeh, Fusion middleware specialist for Oracle's public-sector unit. Java has matured considerably over the past decade when it comes to offering rich Web-based applications, he added. J2EE's Java Server Faces allows the creation of dynamic Web pages that don't have the sluggishness associated with downloading Web-based Java applications. Likewise, the latest version of Enterprise JavaBeans, a way to deliver Java-based services over a network, is also improved.

BPEL can be used to set up the workflow incorporating multiple services. BPEL is an extension of the Extensible Markup Language that defines ways to tie together different components. Yeganeh sketched how a developer could define a specific agency workflow, using Oracle JDeveloper or a BPEL plug-in for the Eclipse integrated developer environment. Then the workflow, coded in BPEL, could be run with the Oracle's BPEL execution engine.

"Once your architecture is there, and once you expose more of your enterprise functionality through Web services, you can put composite applications together very quickly," Yeganeh said.

In order to migrate to the Fusion platform, which Oracle plans to start rolling out next year, customers should upgrade their existing software to the latest editions, Wakefield said. PeopleSoft 8.9, Oracle's E-Business Suite Version 11i.10 or JD Edwards Enterprise One 8.11 all will be easily upgradeable to Fusion.

Also, over the next 12 to 18 months, Oracle plans to offer one more version of each standalone application. The upcoming PeopleSoft 9, JD Edwards Enterprise One 8.12 and E-Business Suite 12.0 will contain Fusion components, allowing them to be tied into a Fusion deployment, Wakefield said.

Joab Jackson is an associate writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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