WebLogic Server

In this article by Adrian Ward, Christian Screen and Haroun Khan, the author of the book Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 12c - Second Edition, will talk a little more in detail about the enterprise application server that is at the core of Oracle Fusion Middleware, WebLogic. Oracle WebLogic Server is a scalable, enterprise-ready Java Platform Enterprise Edition (Java EE) application server. Its infrastructure supports the deployment of many types of distributed applications. It is also an ideal foundation for building service-oriented applications (SOA). You can already see why BEA was a perfect acquisition for Oracle years ago. Or, more to the point, a perfect core for Fusion Middleware.

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The WebLogic Server is a robust application in itself. In Oracle BI 12c, the WebLogic server is crucial to the overall implementation, not just from installation but throughout the Oracle BI 12c lifecycle, which now takes advantage of the WebLogic Management Framework. Learning the management components of WebLogic Server that ultimately control the Oracle BI components is critical to the success of an implementation. These management areas within the WebLogic Server are referred to as the WebLogic Administration Server, WebLogic Manager Server(s), and the WebLogic Node Manager.

A Few WebLogic Server Nuances

Before we move on to a description for each of those areas within WebLogic, it is also important to understand that the WebLogic Server software that is used for the installation of the Oracle BI product suite carries a limited license. Although the software itself is the full enterprise version and carries full functionality, the license that ships with Oracle BI 12c is not a full enterprise license for WebLogic Server for your organization to spin off other siloed JEE deployments on other non-OBIEE servers.:

  • Clustered from the installation:           
    • The WebLogic Server license provided with out-of-the-box Oracle BI 12c does not allow for horizontal scale-out. An enterprise WebLogic Server license needs be obtained for this advanced functionality.
  • Contains an Embedded Web/HTTP Server, not Oracle HTTP Server (OHS):
    • WebLogic Server does not contain a separate HTTP server with the installation. The Oracle BI Enterprise Deployment Guide (available on oracle.com ) discusses separating the Application Tier from the Web/HTTP tier, suggesting Oracle HTTP Server.

These items are simply a few nuances of the product suite in relation to Oracle BI 12c. Most software products contain a short list such as this one. However, once you understand the nuances, the easier it will be to ensure that you have a more successful implementation. It also allows your team to be as prepared in advance as possible. Be sure to consult your Oracle sales representative to assist with licensing concerns.

Despite these nuances, we highly recommended that, in order to learn more about the installation features, configuration options, administration, and maintenance of WebLogic, you not only research it in relation to Oracle BI, but also in relation to its standalone form. That is to say that there is much more information at large on the topic of WebLogic Server itself than WebLogic Server as it relates to Oracle BI. Understanding this approach to self-educating or web searching should provide you with more efficient results.

WebLogic Domain

The highest unit of management for controlling the WebLogic Server Installation is called a domain. A domain is a logically related group of WebLogic Server resources that you manage as a unit. A domain always includes, and is centrally managed by, one Administration Server. Additional WebLogic Server instances, which are controlled by the Administration Server for the domain, are called Managed Servers. The configuration for all the servers in the domain is stored in the configuration repository, the config.xml file, which resides on the machine hosting the Administration Server.

Upon installing and configuring Oracle BI 12c, the domain, bi, is established within the WebLogic Server. This domain is the recommended name for each Oracle BI 12c implementation and should not be modified.

The domain path for the bi domain may appear as ORACLE_HOME/user_projects/domains/bi.

This directory for the bi domain is also referred to as the DOMAIN_HOME or BI_DOMAIN folder

WebLogic Administration Server

The WebLogic Server is an enterprise software suite that manages a myriad of application server components, mainly focusing on Java technology. It is also comprised of many ancillary components, which enables the software to scale well, and also makes it a good choice for distributed environments and high-availability. Clearly, it is good enough to be at the core of Oracle Fusion Middleware. One of the most crucial components of WebLogic Server is WebLogic Administration Server. When installing the WebLogic Server software, the Administration Server is automatically installed with it. It is the Administration Server that not only controls all subsequent WebLogic Server instances, called Managed Servers, but it also controls such aspects as authentication-provider security (for example, LDAP) and other application-server-related configurations.

WebLogic Server installs on the operating system and ultimately runs as a service on that machine. The WebLogic Server can be managed in several ways. The two main methods are via the Graphical User Interface (GUI) web application called WebLogic Administration Console, or via command line using the WebLogic Scripting Tool (WLST). You access the Administration Console from any networked machine using a web-based client (that is, a web browser) that can communicate with the Administration Server through the network and/or firewall.

The WebLogic Administration Server and the WebLogic Server are basically synonymous. If the WebLogic Server is not running, the WebLogic Administration Console will be unavailable as well.

WebLogic Managed Server

Web applications, Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), and other resources are deployed onto one or more Managed Servers in a WebLogic Domain. A managed server is an instance of a WebLogic Server in a WebLogic Server domain. Each WebLogic Server domain has at least one instance, which acts as the Administration Server just discussed. One administration server per domain must exist, but one or more managed servers may exist in the WebLogic Server domain.

In a production deployment, Oracle BI is deployed into its own managed server. The Oracle BI installer installs two WebLogic server instances, the Admin Server and a managed server, bi_server1. Oracle BI is deployed into the managed server bi_server1, and is configured by default to resolve to port 19502; the Admin Server resolves to port 19500. Historically, this has been port 9704 for the Oracle BI managed server, and port 7001 for the Admin Server.

When administering the WebLogic Server via the Administration Console, the WebLogic Administration Server instance appears in the same list of servers, which also includes any managed servers. As a best practice, the WebLogic Administration Server should be used for configuration and management of the WebLogic Server only, and not contain any additionally deployed applications, EJBs, and so on.

One thing to note is that the Enterprise Manager Fusion Control is actually a JEE application deployed to the Administration Server instance, which is why its web client is accessible under the same port as the Admin Server. It is not necessarily a native application deployment to the core WebLogic Server, but gets deployed and configured during the Oracle BI installation and configuration process automatically. In the deployments page within the Administration Console, you will find a deployment named em.

WebLogic Node Manager

The general idea behind Node Manager is that it takes on somewhat of a middle-man role. That is to say, the Node Manager provides a communication tunnel between the WebLogic Administration Server and any Managed Servers configured within the WebLogic Domain. When the WebLogic Server environment is contained on a single physical server, it may be difficult to recognize the need for a Node Manager. It is very necessary and, as part of any of your ultimate start-up and shutdown scripts for Oracle BI, the Node Manager lifecycle management will have to be a part of that process. Node Manager’s real power comes into play when Oracle BI is scaled out horizontally on one or more physical servers. Each scaled-out deployment of WebLogic Server will contain a Node Manager.

If the Node Manager is not running on the server on which the Managed Server is deployed, then the core Administration Server will not be able to issue start or stop commands to that server. As such, if the Node Manager is down, communication with the overall cluster will be affected. The following figure shows how machines A, B, and C are physically separated, each containing a Node Manager. You can see that the Administration Server communicates to the Node Managers, and not the Managed Servers, directly:

Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 12c - Second Edition

System tools controlled by WebLogic

We briefly discussed the WebLogic Administration Console, which controls the administrative configuration of the WebLogic Server Domain. This includes the components managed within it, such as security, deployed applications, and so on. The other management tool that provides control of the deployed Oracle BI application ancillary deployments, libraries, and several other configurations, is called the Enterprise Manager Fusion Middleware Control.

This seems to be a long name for single web-based tool. As such, the name is often shortened to “Fusion Control” or “Enterprise Manager.” Reference to either abbreviated title in the context of Oracle BI should ensure fellow Oracle BI teammates understand what you mean.

Security

It would be difficult to discuss the overall architecture of Oracle BI without at least giving some mention to how the basics of security, authentication, and authorization are applied. By default, installing Oracle WebLogic Server provides a default Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server, referred to as the WebLogic Server Embedded LDAP server. This is a standards-compliant LDAP system, which acts as the default authentication method for out-of-the-box Oracle BI. Integration of secondary LDAP providers, such as Oracle Internet Directory (OID) or Microsoft Active Directory (MSAD), is crucial to leveraging most organizations' identity-management systems. The combination of multiple authentication providers is possible; in fact, it is commonplace. For example, a configuration may wish to have users that exist in both the Embedded LDAP server and MSAD to authenticate and have access to Oracle BI. Potentially, users may want another set of users to be stored in a relational database repository, or have a set of relational database tables control the authorization that users have in relation to the Oracle BI system. WebLogic Server provides configuration opportunities for each of these scenarios.

Oracle BI security incorporates the Fusion Middleware Security model, Oracle Platform Security Services (OPSS). This has a positive influence over managing all aspects of Oracle BI, as it provides a very granular level of authorization and a large number of authentication and authorization-integration mechanisms. OPSS also introduces to Oracle BI the concept of managing privileges by application role instead of directly by user or group. It abides by open standards to integrate with security mechanisms that are growing in popularity, such as the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) 2.0. Other well-known single-sign-on mechanisms such as SiteMinder and Oracle Access Manager already have pre-configured integration points within Oracle BI Fusion Control.Oracle BI 12c and Oracle BI 11g security is managed differently than the legacy Oracle BI 10g versions. Oracle BI 12c no longer has backward compatibility for the legacy version of Oracle BI 10g, and focus should be to follow the new security configuration best practices of Oracle BI 12c:

  • An Oracle BI best practice is to manage security by Application Roles.
  • Understanding the differences between the Identity Store, Credential Store, and Policy Store is critical for advanced security configuration and maintenance.
  • As of Oracle BI 12c, the OPSS metadata is now stored in a relational repository, which is installed as part of the RCU-schemas installation process that takes place prior to executing the Oracle BI 12c installation on the application server.

Managing by Application Roles

In Oracle BI 11g, the default security model is the Oracle Fusion Middleware security model, which has a very broad scope. A universal Information Technology security-administration best practice is to set permissions or privileges to a specific point of access on a group, and not individual users. The same idea applies here, except there is another enterprise-level of user, and even group, aggregation, called an Application Role.Application Roles can contain other application roles, groups, or individual users. Access privileges to a certain object, such as a folder, web page, or column should always be assigned to an application role. Application roles for Oracle BI can be managed in the Oracle Enterprise Manager Fusion Middleware Control interface. They can also be scripted using the WLST command-line interface.

Security Providers

Fusion Middleware security can seem complex at first, but knowing the correct terminology and understanding how the most important components communicate with each other and the application at large is extremely important as it relates to security management. Oracle BI uses three main repositories for accessing authentication and authorization information, all of which are explained in the following sections.

Identity Store

Identity Store is the authentication provider, which may also provide authorization metadata. A simple mnemonic here is that this store tells Oracle BI how to “Identify” any users attempting to access the system. An example of creating an Identity Store would be to configure an LDAP system such as Oracle Internet Directory or Microsoft Active Directory to reference users within an organization. These LDAP configurations are referred to as Authentication Providers.

Credential Store

The credential store is ultimately for advanced Oracle configurations. You may touch upon this when establishing an enterprise Oracle BI deployment, but not much thereafter, unless integrating the Oracle BI Action Framework or something equally as complex. Ultimately, the credential store does exactly what its name implies – it stores credentials. Specifically, it is used to store credentials of other applications, which the core application (that is, Oracle BI) may access at a later time without having to re-enter said credentials. An example of this would be integrating Oracle BI with the Oracle Enterprise Management (EPM) suite. In this example, let's pretend there is an internal requirement at Company XYZ for users to access an Oracle BI dashboard. Upon viewing said dashboard, if a report with discrepancies is viewed, the user requires the ability to click on a link, which opens an Oracle EPM Financial Report containing more details about the concern. If not all users accessing the Oracle BI dashboard have credentials to access to the Oracle EPM environment directly, how could they open and view the report without being prompted for credentials? The answer would be that the credential store would be configured with the credentials of a central user having access to the Oracle EPM environment. This central user's credentials (encrypted, of course) are passed along with the dashboard viewer's request and presto, access!

Policy Store

The policy store is quite unique to Fusion Middleware security and leverages a security standard referred to as XACML, which ultimately provides granular access and privilege control for an enterprise application. This is one of the reasons why managing by Application Roles becomes so important. It is the individual Application Roles that are assigned policies defining access to information within Oracle BI. Stated another way, the application privileges, such as the ability to administer the Oracle BI RPD, are assigned to a particular application role, and these associations are defined in the policy store. The following figure shows how each area of security management is controlled:

Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 12c - Second Edition

These three types of security providers within Oracle Fusion Middleware are integral to Oracle BI architecture. Further recommended research on this topic would be to look at Oracle Fusion Middleware Security, OPSS, and the Application Development Framework (ADF).

System Requirements

The first thing to recognize with infrastructure requirements prior to deploying Oracle BI 12c is that its memory and processor requirements have increased since previous versions. The Java Application server, WebLogic Server, installs with the full version of its software (though under a limited/restricted license, as already discussed). A multitude of additional Java libraries and applications are also deployed. Be prepared for a recommended minimum 8 to16 GB Read Access Memory (RAM) requirement for an Enterprise deployment, and a 6 to 8 GB RAM minimum requirement for a workstation deployment.

Client tools

Oracle BI 12c has a separate client tools installation that requires Microsoft Windows XP or a more recent version of the Windows Operating System (OS). The Oracle BI 12c client tools provide the majority of client-to-server management capabilities required for normal day-to-day maintenance of the Oracle BI repository and related artefacts. The client-tools installation is usually reserved for Oracle BI developers who architect and maintain the Oracle BI metadata repository, better known as the RPD, which stems from its binary file extension (.rpd).

The Oracle BI 12c client-tools installation provides each workstation with the Administration tool, Job Manager, and all command-line Application Programming Interface (API) executables.

In Oracle BI 12c, a 64-bit Windows OS is a requirement for installing the Oracle BI Development Client tools.

It has been observed that, with some initial releases of Oracle BI 12c client tools, the ODBC DSN connectivity does not work in Windows Server 2012. Therefore, utilizing Windows Server 2012 as a development environment will be ineffective if attempting to open the Administration Tool and connecting to the OBIEE Server in online mode.

Multi-User Development Environment

One of the key features when developing with Oracle BI is the ability for multiple metadata developers to develop simultaneously. Although the use of the term “simultaneously” can vary among the technical communities, the use of concurrent development within the Oracle BI suite requires Oracle BI's Multi-User Development Environment (MUD) configuration, or some other process developed by third-party Oracle partners. The MUD configuration itself is fairly straightforward and ultimately relies on the Oracle BI administrator’s ability to divide metadata modeling responsibilities into projects. Projects – which are usually defined and delineated by logical fact table definitions – can be assigned to one or more metadata developers. In previous versions of Oracle BI, a metadata developer could install the entire Oracle BI product suite on an up-to-date laptop or commodity desktop workstation and successfully develop, test, and deploy an Oracle BI metadata model. The system requirements of Oracle BI 12c require a significant amount of processor and RAM capacity in order to perform development efforts on a standard-issue workstation or laptop.

If an organization currently leverages the Oracle BI multi-user development environment, or plans to with the current release, this raises a couple of questions:

  • How do we get our developers the best environment suitable for developing our metadata?
  • Do we need to procure new hardware?

Microsoft Windows is a requirement for Oracle BI client tools. However, the Oracle BI client tool does not include the server component of the Oracle BI environment. It only allows for connecting from the developer's workstation to the Oracle BI server instance. In a multi-user development environment, this poses a serious problem as only one metadata repository (RPD) can exist on any one Oracle BI server instance at any given time. If two developers are working from their respective workstations at the same time and wish to see their latest modifications published in a rapid application development (RAD) cycle, this type of iterative effort fails, as one developer's published changes will overwrite the other’s in real-time.

To resolve the issue there are two recommended solutions. The first is an obvious localized solution. This solution merely upgrades the Oracle BI developers’ workstations or laptops to comply with the minimum requirements for installing the full Oracle BI environment on said machines. This upgrade should be both memory- (RAM) and processor- (MHz) centric. 16GB+ RAM and a dual-core processor are recommended. A 64-bit operating system kernel is required. Without an upgraded workstation from which to work, Oracle BI metadata developers will sit at a disadvantage for general iterative metadata development, and will especially be disenfranchised if interfacing within a multi-user development environment.

The second solution is one that takes advantage of virtual machines’ (VM) capacity within the organization. Virtual machines have become a staple within most Information Technology departments, as they are versatile and allow for speedy proposition of server environments. For this scenario, it is recommended to create a virtual-machine template of an Oracle BI environment from which to duplicate and “stand up” individual virtual machine images for each metadata developer on the Oracle BI development team. This effectively provides each metadata developer with their own Oracle BI development environment server, which contains the fully deployed Oracle BI server environment. Each developer then has the ability to develop and test iteratively by connecting to their assigned virtual server, without fear that their efforts will conflict with another developer's. The following figure illustrates how an Oracle BI MUD environment can leverage either upgraded developer-workstation hardware or VM images, to facilitate development:

Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 12c - Second Edition

This article does not cover the installation, configuration, or best practices for developing in a MUD environment. However, the Oracle BI development team deserves a lot of credit for documenting these processes in unprecedented detail. The Oracle BI 11g MUD documentation provides a case study, which conveys best practices for managing a complex Oracle BI development lifecycle. When ready to deploy a MUD environment, it is highly recommended to peruse this documentation first. The information in this section merely seeks to convey best practice in facilitating a developer’s workstation when using MUD.

Certifications matrix

Oracle BI 12c largely complies with the overall Fusion Middleware infrastructure. This common foundation allows for a centralized model to communicate with operating systems, web servers, and other ancillary components that are compliant. Oracle does a good job of updating a certification matrix for each Fusion Middleware application suite per respective product release.

The certification matrix for Oracle BI 12c can be found on the Oracle website at the following locations: http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/middleware/fusion-middleware/documentation/fmw-1221certmatrix-2739738.xlsx and

http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/middleware/ias/downloads/fusion-certification-100350.html.

The certification matrix document is usually provided in Microsoft Excel format and should be referenced before any project or deployment of Oracle BI begins. This will ensure that infrastructure components such as the selected operating system, web server, web browsers, LDAP server, and so on, will actually work when integrated with the product suite.

Scaling out Oracle BI 12c

There are several reasons why an organization may wish to expand their Oracle BI footprint. This can range anywhere from requiring a highly available environment to achieving high levels of concurrent usage over time. The number of total end users, the number of total concurrent end users, the volume of queries, the size of the underlying data warehouse, and cross-network latency are even more factors to consider. Scaling out an environment has the potential to solve performance issues and stabilize the environment. When scoping out the infrastructure for an Oracle BI deployment, there are several crucial decisions to be made. These decisions can be greatly assisted by preparing properly, using Oracle's recommended guides for clustering and deploying Oracle BI on an enterprise scale.

Pre-Configuration Run-Down

Configuring the Oracle BI product suite, specifically when involving scaling out or setting up high-availability (HA), takes preparation. Proactively taking steps to understand what it takes to correctly establish or pre-configure the infrastructure required to support any level of fault tolerance and high-availability is critical. Even if the decision to scale-out from the initial Oracle BI deployment hasn't been made, if the potential exists, proper planning is recommended.

Shared Storage

We would be remiss not to highlight one of the most important concepts of scaling out Oracle BI, specifically for High-Availability: shared storage. The idea of shared storage is that, in a fault-tolerance environment, there are binary files and other configuration metadata that needs to be shared across the nodes. If these common elements were not shared, then, if one node were to fail, there is a potential loss of data. Most importantly is that, in a highly available Oracle BI environment, there can be only one WebLogic Administration Server running for that environment at any one time. A HA configuration makes one Administration Server active while the other is passive. If the appropriate pre-configuration steps for shared storage (as well as other items in the high-availability guide) are not properly completed, one should not expect accurate results from their environment.

OBIEE 12c requires you to modify the Singleton Data Directory (SDD) for your Oracle BI configuration found at ORACLE_HOME/user_projects/domains/bi/data, so that the files within that path are moved to a shared storage location that would be mounted to the scaled-out servers on which a HA configuration would be implemented. To change this, one would need to modify the ORACLE_HOME/user_projects/domains/bi/config/fmwconfig/bienv/core/bi-environment.xml file to set the path of the bi:singleton-data-directory element to the full path of the shared mounted file location that contains a copy of the bidata folder, which will be referenced by one ore more scaled-out HA Oracle 12c servers.

For example, change the XML file element:

<bi:singleton-data-directory>/oraclehome/user_projects/domains/bi/bidata/</bi:singleton-data-directory>

To reflect a shared NAS or SAN mount whose folder names and structure are inline with the IT team’s standard naming conventions, where the /bidata folder is the folder from the main Oracle BI 12c instance that gets copied to the shared directory:

<bi:singleton-data-directory>/mount02/obiee_shared_settings/bidata/</bi:singleton-data-directory>

Clustering

A major benefit of Oracle BI's ability to leverage WebLogic Server as the Java application server tier is that, per the default installation, Oracle BI gets established in a clustered architecture. There is no additional configuration necessary to set this architecture in motion. Clearly, installing Oracle BI on a single server only provides a single server with which to interface; however, upon doing so, Oracle BI is installed into a single-node clustered-application-server environment. Additional clustered nodes of Oracle BI can then be configured to establish and expand the server, either horizontally or vertically.

Vertical vs Horizontal

In respect to the enterprise architecture and infrastructure of the Oracle BI environment, a clustered environment can be expanded in one of two ways: horizontally (scale-out) and vertically (scale-up). A horizontal expansion is the typical expansion type when clustering. It is represented by installing and configuring the application on a separate physical server, with reference to the main server application. A vertical expansion is usually represented by expanding the application on the same physical server under which the main server application resides. A horizontally expanded system can then, additionally, be vertically expanded.

There are benefits to both scaling options. The decision to scale the system one way or the other is usually predicated on the cost of additional physical servers, server limitations, peripherals such as memory or processors, or an increase in usage activity by end users. Some considerations that may be used to assess which approach is the best for your specific implementation might be as follows:

  • Load-balancing capabilities and need for an Active-Active versus Active-Passive architecture
  • Need for failover or high availability
  • Costs for processor and memory enhancements versus the cost of new servers
  • Anticipated increase in concurrent user queries
  • Realized decrease in performance due to increase in user activity

Oracle BI Server (System Component) Cluster Controller

When discussing scaling out the Oracle BI Server cluster, it is a common mistake to confuse the WebLogic Server application clustering with the Oracle BI Server Cluster Controller. Currently, Oracle BI can only have a single metadata repository (RPD) reference associated with an Oracle BI Server deployment instance at any single point in time. Because of this, the Oracle BI Server engine leverages a failover concept, to ensure some level of high-availability exists when the environment is scaled. In an Oracle BI scaled-out clustered environment, a secondary node, which has an instance of Oracle BI installed, will contain a secondary Oracle BI Server engine. From the main Oracle BI Managed Server containing the primary Oracle BI Server instance, the secondary Oracle BI Server instance gets established as the failover server engine using the Oracle BI Server Cluster Controller. This configuration takes place in the Enterprise Manager Fusion Control console. Based on this configuration, the scaled-out Oracle BI Server engine acts in an active-passive mode. That is to say that, when the main Oracle BI server engine instance fails, the secondary, or passive, Oracle BI Server engine then becomes active to route requests and field queries.

Summary

This article proves very beneficial as an introductory document for the beginner about what WebLogic Server is.

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