Mike Lehmann on #Weblogic, #JEE6 and Open Standards - #OOW09 Followup

Markus Eisele

One of my personal highlights at Oracle OpenWorld 2009 was the OTN techcast series. Livestreaming from the OTN lounge Justin brought up some very interesting guests to talk to. I got the chance to ask some questsions during the session with Mike Lehmann. Mike is the Senior Director of Product Management, Fusion Middleware Oracle Weblogic Server and Java Plattform.
See the complete techcast here. I am asking some live questions during the last five minutes.

The whole session only last a quarter of an hour. Therefore some questions still were unanswered. I asked Mike to kindly answer them by email afterwards. That is, what he did. A big "Thank you for doing that!" goes out to Mike!

AppSrvs have become some kind of comodity these days. What do you believe are the true differentiators for weblogic server?

One of the key benefits of adopting a standard like Java EE is it levels the playing field but there continues even in the core Java server space to be quite a large number of unique differentiators just for the core application server. I will outline examples of these below. We also have seen that the architectural styles and approaches that our community is using to build applications has changed over the years and we have adopted our server infrastructure offering to address these challenges our customers are facing with a new model we call the Application Grid which we think ups the ante on perceived commoditization and potentially redefines what customers expect in an application infrastructure.

On the Java EE side, once one gets beyond the API conformance, you typically see application servers like WebLogic differentating in a number of areas. Ones that are key to WebLogic Server include capabilities like - I have chosen a few representative ones rather than an end to end list:

Development Model

Capabilities like FastSwap which enables customers to replace Java classes (add methods, fields etc) without having to go through a redeployment or bounce of the server. It is an example of a server side capability above and beyond what the JDK proper offers in this space.

- Capabilities like Shared Libraries and Filtering Classloader support that enable developers to include multiple versions of common jars within the infrastructure without impacting the runtime (e.g. xml parsers v1 and v2 or different versions of logging infrastructure or different versions of popular frameworks)

Operations Model

WebLogic Diagnostics Framework - most application servers have some sort of ability to see stack traces or see baseline metrics when executing but the ability to formally set SLA's on the infrastructure and when they are breached dump out sophisticated diagnostics images is not common at all. Certainly it is unknown or limited in open source.

Consistent and deep scripting infrastructure - WLST in WLS - This seems like such a simple requirement but ironically as you probably well know is not a capability that exists in open source or typically in very primitive fashion. WLS's scripting and automation infrastructure is extremely rich and key to what customers achieve remarkably low operational costs on WebLogic compared to writing and invent equivalents on other platforms.

Runtime Model
Capabilities like side by side deployment - the ability to deploy a new version of an application without impacting existing users on a single JVM. Not requiring complex cluster dances to enable customers to transition to the new version of the application.

Thread management with Workload Manager - most other appliccation servers are very primitive here and it is an art versus a more deterministic well understood exercise as it is within WebLogic Server.

Messaging infrastruture - here beyond the basic JMS you see in most servers, WebLogic takes messaging out of the box within a Java EE server to another level not requiring customers to buy separate JMS infrastructure because of the richness we have here. We are remarkably succcessful in the JMS side and frankly it is not only highly differentiated for our standalone messaging customers where we compete against pure play messaging vendors but also to our huge SOA install base who depend on it for capabilities such as the Oracle Service Bus and our BPM solution.

High Availability

Capabilities like Whole Server Migration and Service migration - capabilities that many other servers leave to the imagination of the adminstrator.

These are some very simple examples but represent that even in so called commodity infrastructure there is in fact a long list of features that do result in significant value add to customers choosing application servers and frankly we believe significant operational, development and administrative cost savings that simply can not be achieved by competitive solutions.

Now we have also worked on adapting to how we see our customers deploying our infrastructure. In particular with this concept called the Application Grid. We define the Application Grid as: "The application grid approach to middleware infrastructure allows a set of applications to easily react to peaks and valleys in demand and adjusts capacity to improve overall performance by optimizing shared resources. It also allows for rapid application deployment and automated adjustments—enabling greater efficiency, competitiveness, and simplification in your IT environment.' Product wise in the Java space, the Application Grid consists of three major runtime products - Oracle WebLogic Server for mission critical Java EE applications, Oracle Coherence as an in memory data grid and JRockit for high performance low latency JVM infrastructure and in the management space Oracle Enterprise Manager.

The simple way of thinking about the Application Grid is very much like RAC in the Oracle Database. RAC is all about better quality of service on commodity hardware - improving scalability, reliability and availability on large clusters of commodity hardware. This has clearly been a sensibility in the middle tier for many years but frankly most application server vendors have done little to tackle it square on to make it an out of the box feature. We have done this in several areas within the Application Grid. Two examples that are top of mind are around state management and operational management. In the area of state management as you saw from OpenWorld we talk alot about scaling infrastructure using Coherence but it is not enough simply add Coherence to your infrastructure, it has to be seamlessly integrated with your applications - in our world frequently running on WebLogic Server. In Fusion Middleware 11g we did exactly this - we introduced seamless integration for statement management via Coherence integration with WebLogic Server. We have seen results that frankly extremely compelling and validate our vision of the Application Grid such as customers achieve several fold increase in capacity off of existing hardware and others being able to scale out dramatically further than they were prior to the introduction of Coherence into their infrastructure.

On the management side our investment in Enterprise Manager as an overall strategic management platform for WebLogic and Fusion Middleware has been a great win fairly significantly differentiating us from other vendors. Our ability to not just manage single instances of WebLogic Server, not just single domains of WebLogic Server but manage across multiple datacenters we think plays to where many of our customers are going where issues like Active Passive and Active Active topologies across data centers are actively being used and evaluated by our customers. A management solution that covers that breadth is extremely important to achieve success in these topologies and is a key value proposition that underlies our vision of the Application Grid.

So a long answer to a simple question - yes, there remain a long and compelling list of differentiators for WebLogic Server proper. The evolution of what most customers are now facing in the infrastructure frankly changes the game to not just an application server versus application server but a larger scale application infrastructure problem domain where we think architectural approaches like the Application Grid redefine expectations of customers entirely.

Looking out to GF v3, comming out with a first JEE6 release in the beginning of december. What do you advice erly adopting JEE6 customers to do? Switch? Wait? For how long?

We will have to of course wait to see when Java EE 6 officially released and as you know GlassFish is the reference implementation of it. Currently the public schedules indicate that it will be released before the end of this year and we are optimistic that Sun and the JCP can achieve these goals and thus enable the rest of the industry to also update their products to be Java EE 6 compatible.

As you may know Oracle already has made big strides in WebLogic Server 10g R3 and the recent WebLogic Server 11g to areas that Java EE 6 formalizes - the lighter weight Web profile. In WebLogic Server 10g R3 we introduced the ability to install a lighter weight core WebLogic Server as an option- as low as ~170M - and the ability to turn off containers like JMS and EJB through a single command line option. You may also be aware that Oracle itself is the provider of the JPA reference implementation EclipseLink which we ship in our commercial offering fully supported. Both of these are big areas of Java EE 6 that customers of WebLogic can use today in production environments well ahead of Java EE 6 being available to achieve some of the productivity benefits that many expect to see with Java EE 6.

Of course this approach does not mean WebLogic Server is already Java EE 6 compatible. We are both active participants in the standards community closing down Java EE 6 and actively working on our next major release where we hope to achieve Java EE 6 compatibility assuming the standard comes through the standards process in a time fashion. So what do I recommend to people today? Get involved by looking what is in Java EE 6 and for an understanding of where the experience will be, take a look at what you already get with production products like WebLogic Server 11g today that are remarkably close to some of the key characteristics customers are expecting in Java EE 6.

I saw a GlassFish presentation at Oracle Develop and was impressed by the startup times. What about further reducing development round trip time for WLS developers? Do you plan to optimize this further with the next releases?

We are always very actively engaged in increasing all the performance metrics of WebLogic Server and have strict release criteria that gate our release cycles. We actively engage in both public benchmarks like the SPECjAppServer2004 benchmark - where recently at OpenWorld we once again announced a world record result on single node infrastructure - but also on key metrics like startup time, deployment time, console access time, runtime performance metrics and many more. Already our effort on a lighter weight footprint WebLogic Server does provide significant improvements for developers and our ultimate compatibility with the Java EE 6 Web profile will further improve this. We will continue to heavily invest in as a quick startup time, quick deployment time and overall development cycle is hugely important for us to continue to be credible and adopted within the developer community.

Oracle has ever been an active member of the JCP. What do you expect other companies (e.g. IBM) to do, expecting that the sun deal closes? Will they further contribute to Java or does the whole setup needs to be changed?

Oracle has a long and actively engaged relationship with the Java Community Process and plans to continue this active involvement and participation in the community. It is not possible for me to comment beyond this due to the position we are in with the acquisition of Sun.

The WLS development team is about four times bigger than the Sun GlassFish team is. From a developers point of view I do not understand, why the adoption of new specifications take that long. What about doing more technical previews with weblogic server?

It is difficult for me to comment on development team size as neither company publicly states development numbers on the core application server so this would be speculation. Clearly the Fusion Middleware development team is tackling a broader set of middleware than Sun and thus is sized to deal with that problem domain but that is much different than solving the Java EE problem domain. And correspondingly the Sun middleware team has investments beyond GlassFish proper and would have an equally difficult time with such a comparison.

I can comment on the technical previews. Oracle has historically been very active in providing technical previews probably the most notable in the recent past was with the Oracle Application Server where we actively released ahead of production and every competitor on the market support of JPA and EJB 3.0 in J2EE 1.4 conforming to the final specification. Correspondingly BEA prior to the acquisition was also aggressive in this space being one of the first commercial vendors to come to market with a preview of Java EE 5.0 support. We would like to continue this going forward and our investment in developing EclipseLink in open source where daily snapshots of the software are available by the very nature of the development process are a great example of this. Bottom line: both Oracle pre-BEA and BEA pre-Oracle actively engaged the developer community with technical previews, we hope to continue that going forward.

How do you see the future of WLS within Fusion Middleware? Will it continue to be the fondation, but still be available as a solid standalone product? Or will the integration into the stack finally lead to a highly optimized Oracle Applicationserver (again)? And what would be your wish about the future?

We see WebLogic Server as both a compelling standalone product as it is today and also as the foundation of Fusion Middleware as it is today with Fusion Middleware 11g. Generally we see the roadmap of WebLogic Server in three dimensions:

1. Just Enough Application Server - this is aimed at the light weight, agile Java EE profile nature we see developers evolving to today and is represented nicely by the Java EE 6 Web profile and Oracle long investment in OSGi as a key modularization technology for application servers. Areas here include not only the runtime but deep integration into build, test, and continuous integration and qa environments - aimed at the full development lifecycle not just the core server infrastructure. This has applicability for the general standalone WebLogic Server market as well as customers adopting Fusion Middleware who want fast, lightweight development and deployment environments.

2. Large Scale Shared Services Infrastructure - this is aimed at customers who are deploying WebLogic Server in large deployments both large clusters and across multiple datacenters with an cost of operations that is significantly less than any other competitor on the market. A different mind set around extremely efficient and automated administration, operations and management has to be built into the product than that of working in smaller clusters like other more simply API compliant servers. Again this has huge applicability to our general standalone WebLogic Server market where this is a hard requirement but also our customers who are adopting Fusion Middleware across their enterprise.

3. Fusion Middleware and Fusion Applications - Clearly as you note, we have a clear business incentive to make WebLogic Server the best application server for Fusion Middleware and Fusion Applications. Ironically while some folks think this could be seen as a bad thing for standalone WebLogic Server customers, I tend to look at it as the opposite: Fusion Middleware and Fusion Applications represent some of the most challenging and functionally rich software infrastructure on the planet and an application server that is capable of running these sets of applications and infrastructure has unique and differentiated capabilities for our customers who also need a rock solid, proven infrastructure for their equivalently challenging and feature rich application infrastructures.

I think this is a challenging mission so when you ask for my wish for the future, it is to deliver on this mission. Oracle WebLogic combined with the Oracle organization that continues to have a world class engineering team that is uniquely positioned to change the industry's view of what application server infrastructure by executing against this set of goals.

Some customers complain about "vendor lock in" things and sometimes they switch to open source appservers. What would you tell those customers? why should they further invest into Weblogic?

Oracle has long had the mantra that there is a difference between open source and open standard. Open standards are one that are developed in conjunction with participants from the entire industry - commercial and open source vendors/participants. Java EE is a great example of this. Open source is a different approach - effectively making the source code available and in a number of cases, like with commercial offerings, can and do step up to being compatible with open standards.

WebLogic Server is a Java EE compatible server and as such applications developed on it that are conformant to Java EE standards have the optional choice and risk reduction strategy of being able to deploy on other Java EE compatible application servers. If customer decides to develop on an open source server and adopt a non-open standards framework (e.g. not Java EE) then they are taking on a risk that they may be locked into that server and unable to migrate unless they re-write their application. Some customers take this risk and face the challenge of those vendors - as you have seen in the open source market - being acquired and the resulting lack of certainty over the future of these non-open standard approaches. With Oracle because of corporate wide mandate and commitment to open standards as long as customers are building to standards like Java EE they have a strong certainty that they can mitigate any risk of vendor lockin by looking to alternative application servers.

Oracle also understands the attraction of open source - particularly since some areas of open source evolve faster due to lack of overhead associated with reaching a consensus across all major industry players and that can be sometimes advantageous to bring to market some technologies. This was particularly apparent in the web framework space with Apache Struts many years ago and Spring more recently. This is why in conjunction with a strong adherence to open standards you have seen Oracle actively participate and support open source projects be it contributions such as Apache Trinidad, EclipseLink (both standards and open source - ) or Spring (our contribution of WebLogic transaction integration to the project and Spring Pitchfork) or finally our Ecliplse Plug ins for Java EE (Oracle Enterprise Eclipse Pack [OEPE]). Our contributions in open source are actually fairly unique and are exemplified by EclipseLink. You will see that EclipseLink is not a fork from our commercial offering - it is one and the same. This is the same with OEPE where we develop in open source and ship it/support it as the commercial offering within our software packaging.

Bottom line: We believe we have the best open standards server implementation on the planet and agressively are standards compliant. We are also strong believers in open source and actively participate in numerous communities supporting open source development. Our efforts are backed by a development organization, support organization and sales organization who strongly believe in this mission, so we believe investing further in WebLogic Server is frankly in customers best interest and gives them the benefit of world class, standards based infrastructure with maximum risk mitigation while leveraging the best open source has to offer.

What would be your personal favorite feature of Weblogic 11g if you could make a wish?

I have been quite fond, as you have heard me speak at OpenWorld, of a feature we call ActiveCache which is the direct integration of Oracle WebLogic Server and Oracle Coherence to manage state in a separate tier from WebLogic Server. We see this giving pretty substantial benefits to our customers - reported benefits of doubling capacity on the same hardware as an example - for a remarkable simple and declarative change to ones application infrastructure. Coherence seriously changes how one can write applications when one takes the leap that you have a completely reliable and redundant in memory data grid available to your applications like you do with ActiveCache. We have seen customers using WebLogic and Coherence go from using it for basic state management to simple caching to using it for architectures where data is lazily written to back end databases to enable even more capacity into processor bound backend infrastructures and finally to complex computational risk analysis on that same in memory data. A truly exciting an unique technology that I think we are just seeing a small taste of what we will be able to do with it in coming releases.

What does the OTN Community mean to you? And how do you try to integrate or take advantage of their feedback?

OTN is of huge value to my team as product managers planning releases of WebLogic Server and our engineering team as they work on individual features. There are literally millions of developers who participate in OTN in numerous ways - forums, contributing articles, wikis, contributing code samples and directly feeding back to product teams. We as the product teams use it constantly as vehicle to developers with podcasts, blogs and participation in forums. We frankly have a lot of difficulty keeping up because it has grown so large - I think because of the quality of material and the quality of the community - but fortunately we have not only ourselves within Oracle to scale it we also have programs such Oracle ACE Directors where our top users also become very active and well known within the community and contribute and guide discussions.

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  1. "WebLogic Server is a Java EE compatible"


    It's not even JSE compatible!

    Try using Generics or Reflection on your EJBs...

    Try looking up a @Local EJB on JNDI...
    Try writing a swing app that uses remote interfaces...
    Try integrating new technologies on the server...
    Try migrating JEE apps to another server...

    Man I feel sory, but You are really DOOMED when trying this...

  2. @junico:
    Thanks for your comment. But your are only partly right. Your points are true for almost any commercial appserver offering. Not only the weblogic. With websphere for example it was hardly impossible to upgrade the internal jsf impl with a slightly newer one.
    If you look at the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_Platform,_Enterprise_Edition) you, see that the WLS is of course JEE 5 certified.

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