A Look Back
Oracle IPM 11g is the latest version of the venerable Image and Process Management product but the product has a long history. IPM was developed by Optika in the late 90s with the name eMedia as a workflow enabled replacement for an imaging solution named FilePower. The eMedia brand was phased out at version 2.0 and replaced with the Acorde name. We still have some clients who are successfully running Acorde installations to this day.
Optika was bought out by a company called Stellent and the product went through another rebranding phase this time as Imaging and Business Process Management (IBPM). It was at this time the version was bumped up from Acorde 4.0 to Stellent IBPM 7.5 to bring the product in line with Stellent’s overall product versioning.
Finally Oracle buys Stellent and brings the Stellent Content Server and IBPM products under their umbrella. Content Server turns into Universal Content Management and IBPM turns into Oracle Image and Process Management 10gR3.
So we’ve finally arrived at IPM. A key thing to remember that during this period of development and rebranding is that the product remained essentially the same. It operated on the same principles and was architected in the same manner. Not to say there weren’t improvements between eMedia 1.0 and IPM 10gR3 but these improvements embodied natural evolution of the product.
This is true no longer; IPM 11g has changed the game.
The first and foremost thing to consider when evaluating the 11g platform is that it is for all intents and purposes an entirely new application. Other than some general concepts which can be easily mapped across there remains very little of the venerable 10g branch. This has both benefits and disadvantages. An engineer looking to architect an 11g based solution must carefully weigh these factors when designing the final project. Let’s cover some of the disadvantages first and then we’ll take a look at what 11g brings to the table.
- Entirely new architecture.
- Missing several potentially important features.
- Increased resource usage.
Let’s break these down point by point. One of the biggest shockers when it comes to first looking into IPM 11g is how foreign everything is. Long loved (or at least tolerated!) components of IPM like Process Broker and Info Broker are nowhere to be found. In their place is a somewhat inscrutable system based off the Oracle Weblogic Server platform. Any and all redundancy or performance clustering must now be done at this new WLS layer. Another surprise happens when the system engineer decides to look at how workflow is now done in IPM and comes to the shocking realization that there is no built-in workflow in IPM 11g. The system engineer notices there is something to set up a workflow connection and upon further research finds out that the entirety of IPM workflow is now handled by the Oracle SOA suite. The days of Process Builder are finished.
After the workflow surprise we dig a bit deeper and see if we can find any other features that have gone MIA. We find almost immediately that there is absolutely no way to do linked servers using IPM 11g. No COLD support either. These can be critical challenges to overcome in any upgrade scenario and frankly IPM 11g simply does not handle either case natively. Looking further we see that while there does seem to be a part of IPM that functions like the old Filer it seems to have shed the vast majority of it’s features. Other than very basic file importing and maybe tacking on an XML document for supporting content the new Filer, called simply Input, frankly just doesn’t do much.
After working with the system for a bit we decide to look at the server’s resource usage and nearly fall out of our desk chair. A basic out of the box installation of IPM 11g will include Weblogic Server, Universal Content Management (more on this in a bit), and IPM itself. With these components running at the same time in production configuration we find that they take up roughly 4 gigabytes of RAM to themselves on a completely idle system. But wait! Why can’t we install each component on a separate server? While we can easily do this the most common licensing scenarios in the field translate to needing to have all these components installed on a single, physical server.
- Entirely new architecture.
- Modern web-based user experience.
- Simplified development options.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some very compelling features that help to offset some of the issues we’ve discussed so let’s dive in and take a look. The fact that the architecture bullet point has appeared twice is quite intentional, the new architecture is not different just for the sake of being different. One of the biggest things it brings to the table is unification of system administration tasks. Want to create a cluster? Want to configure Active Directory configuration? Want to configure runtime server settings? All these things are now done the same way for the majority of the 11g suite of products. Weblogic Server is the new strategic application deployment platform for Oracle middleware products. If a feeling of panic is arising within you at this thought allow me to paraphrase Bex Huff and say that Weblogic Server isn’t any more difficult than IIS or Apache or whatever you may be used to, it is simply different. And in this difference lies a lot of power. Having a unified interface for all those listed tasks dramatically simplifies administration and maintenance of a production 11g system. Additionally, WLS is fully cross platform and is certified for use on a wide variety of Microsoft Windows products as well as a large range of Unix products. IPM is no longer tied to a single platform.
Because of this cross-platform nature of 11g the old IPM thick client has been replaced with an entirely web based approach. This existed in 10g (in two flavors nonetheless) but now it is the only option. Luckily for us the web interface is much better than it used to be. Modern web development technologies like Oracle’s ADF have been extensively utilized throughout the product allowing for a quick to load and more desktop application like interface experience. The biggest win in my view is we can finally kiss DSMS goodbye (and good riddance). We no longer have to worry about deploying anything to our client workstations and we can rest easy knowing that our Mac users, our Linux users, and our Windows users have equal access to our business content.
I’m a bit of a developer so indulge me this last point. All development in 11g can be done through web services using a well-defined (and industry standard) WSDL interface. The API is powerful enough where one could effective code a user-end replacement for the old thick client using it. Because it’s exposed through web services we can consume the IPM service using whatever language we want to use. This is huge. We’re no longer tied to Windows with our DLLs, we can interface directly with IPM using PHP running on a LAMP server if wanted to. Hugely flexible, hugely powerful.
So why bother. That’s what it comes down to in the end. IPM 10g is going away. It’s going to receive updates for quite some time but the end is in sight for that platform. Next year Oracle is planning on releasing a 12g version of it’s middleware platform. Know what it’ll look like? Well if you think it’s the triumphant return of Info Broker I’m going to have to sadly disappoint you. 11g is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Oracle’s new middleware platform for years to come. Further development is going to be built on the foundation that 11g provides. Another factor to consider is that the older systems get the harder it is upgrade them. Typically a truly ancient system will only be able to be migrated by highly experienced professionals or possibly unable to be migrated at all. By keeping up with the pace of ECM technology you are saving you and your business a lot of expensive headache down the road.
I’ve been doing or assisting in production installations of 11g for a while now and each one is different. In the end I really enjoy the platform in a way I’ve never enjoyed the 10g platform, warts and all.