Review: Oracle Upgrades Middleware Suite

The recently released WebLogic Suite 11g is billed as a unified application server offering and aims to improve app performance while streamlining management.
A year after Oracle acquired rival BEA, the enterprise-software powerhouse has released WebLogic Suite 11g, a major upgrade to the product line. This release, announced July 1, is the first release of Oracle middleware entirely based on BEA's WebLogic Server.

Customers that have had issues with predictable quality of service and the overall operational costs of running WebLogic will have a keen interest in this release. New features focus on streamlining operations, ensuring high uptime and application availability, and improved application performance.

The core of the suite is the Oracle WebLogic Application Server for building and deploying enterprise applications and services, including complete Java EE 5 and Java SE 6 implementations. This release now includes Rich Internet Application (RIA) support via the new server-side HTTP publish-subscribe engine. 11g release addresses issues of QoS and operational costs those issues with three components: a data grid to enable more efficient and cost-effective scale throughout the enterprise, the JRockit Java Virtual Machine with its deterministic memory management, and automated management for large installations.

The data grid, called Coherence, provides replicated and partitioned data management and caching services in addition to a peer-to-peer clustering protocol. Coherence was designed to have no single points of failure. If a server becomes inoperative or is disconnected from the network, it automatically fails over and redistributes its clustered data management services.

If a new server is added, or when a failed server is restarted, it automatically joins the cluster and Coherence moves services to the server, thus redistributing the cluster load. This is a major plus for applications that require a high degree of availability.

The JRockit Java Virtual Machine is now built into the suite. It adds real-time infrastructure capabilities and JVM diagnostics with the goal of speeding up any Java EE or Java SE application. The tools provided with JRockit can help application teams discover latency and memory leak issues with their applications in a jiffy. This is especially important for applications that require millisecond response times.

Oracle also bundles Enterprise Manager Grid control into the suite, which provides a unified management framework to control the entire line of Oracle products, including the database, applications, and all the middleware components. The Diagnostics Packs for Oracle Middleware and Coherence give operations teams a single pane of glass to manage the entire Oracle suite. If you have non-Oracle products in your environment, you'll still need another tool for consolidated end-to-end management, but at least all of the Oracle data can be consolidated in a single element manager.

The final component of the suite is the Oracle JDeveloper, an integrated development environment for Java-based Java EE, Java SE, SOA applications and user interfaces. JDeveloper includes support for the full development life cycle and includes a number of new capabilities.

Some of the more notable enhanced features include a complete Java IDE for SOA; Java EE and Java SE development; AJAX development support; the ability to manage and monitor multiple Oracle WebLogic Server domains; and simplification of root cause determination between database and application servers using transaction tracing. This release is significant for those who care about overall application performance management. Oracle, in 11g, greatly enhanced its tools to reduce admin overhead through automation of mundane and repetitive tasks. It also includes automatic self-adjusting configuration of complex server subsystems.

Tools include domain configuration templates, unified configuration management across middleware using standard templates, and scripting utilities to rapidly change workloads depending on the capacity needs of the application. With just a bit of work, this ability to change workloads can even be enhanced to let administrators base capacity on defined application or business rules. For ultra-high availability applications, 11g offers enhanced deployment and configuration management. This enables offline preparation for application deployment and hot swapping into a production environment. Say goodbye to those midnight application migrations (you know who you are). Dynamic resource management enables policy-based administration of resources, so applications can be consolidated to fewer servers.

The new diagnostic tools will help determine the root cause of problems (if they are within the Oracle suite) and help operations and application engineers find pesky issues. The Composite Application Performance Management tool is also useful. Performance monitoring and diagnostics for Portlets are included, along with remote services that visually represent Portlets within the context of the Enterprise Portal. This is a nice touch.

Performance Enhancements

The new ActiveCache feature provides quick access to frequently used data, a boon to applications that rely on a continuous availability of data. It also enables applications built with TopLink and BPEL Process Manager to transparently use Coherence for performance acceleration and scalability.

These features are a benefit for service providers that offer applications with service level agreements, because they improve overall performance and add some predictable scalability. ActiveCache also allows you to offload backend data sources. This is helpful if you have data in distributed locations, where data is traversing a WAN. The performance of the application will improve and the traffic over the WAN can be reduced.

The addition of the enhanced enterprise messaging grid provides an integrated messaging infrastructure for existing Advanced Queuing (AQ) and middle-tier JMS users. This messaging grid is used within applications to exchange information when executing inter-application processes and information exchanges. This will eliminate the need for a third party middleware product.

If organizations are using a third-party middleware product, they will need to consider if the performance improvements are worth the migration to Oracle. The built-in transaction manager and multicase-capable publish-subscribe model will also likely boost performance.


The organizations which will be most interested in 11g are those where high availability and performance are job one. When milliseconds count, take a look at this upgrade. Other shops that are trying to get a handle on application performance management and that use other Oracle components will also see value in the enhanced diagnostic tools available in the suite.

While some of the templates and tools will help reduce the operating overhead in very large environments, the suite is still quite complex, so don't even think about getting rid of your administrator.

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