Why Jython for FDMEE

In the release of the EPM stack, Oracle introduced Financial Data Quality Management, Enterprise Edition, or FDMEE. FDMEE was entirely a new product but rather a rebranding of ERP Integrator (ERPi), which was released in FDMEE actually represents the convergence of two products – FDM (now known as FDM Classic) and ERPi – and represents the best of both products. Besides the obvious changes – a new user interface (UI) that is integrated into Workspace, leveraging Oracle Data Integrator (ODI) as its data engine and direct integration to many Oracle and SAP ERP source systems – FDMEE introduced one rather significant change: Jython as its scripting language.

For organizations that have a significant investment in FDM Classic, a new scripting language likely represents one of the most daunting changes in the new data management tool known as FDMEE. Before we continue, let’s briefly talk about scripting in FDMEE. Customers face a choice with FDMEE scripting – VBScript or Jython. I have spoken with a number of customers that have asked, “Can’t I just stick with VBScript because it’s very similar to the FDM scripting, which was basically VBScript.” The technical answer is, in most cases, yes, you likely could. The more thought-out answer is, “Have you considered what you are giving up by sticking with VBScript?” Well, that really isn’t an answer, is it?

Let’s take a moment to understand why I ask that question. Let’s consider at a high level the differences in these two languages. For Wikipedia: VBScript (Visual Basic Scripting Edition) is an Active Scripting language developed by Microsoft that is modeled on Visual Basic. It is designed as a "lightweight" language with a fast interpreter for use in a wide variety of Microsoft environments. Jython, successor of JPython, is an implementation of the Python programming language written in Java.

Take a moment to consider the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) stack at Oracle. Have you noticed any trends over the past two to three years? In, Oracle rewrote the UI for HFM using the Oracle ADF framework. In, Oracle removed all but the most basic functionality from the HFM Win32 client. In, HFM is planned to be platform agnostic meaning it can run on virtually any operating system including Linux and UNIX. Have you heard about this nifty new appliance called Exalytics? My point in this trip down memory lane is that Oracle is clearly moving away from any reliance on Microsoft technology in its product stack. Any time I have said this, the question inevitably is asked: “Do you think we’ll still be able to run EPM on Windows servers?” My answer is a resounding YES. Oracle may not be the biggest fan of integrating Microsoft technology into its software solutions, but they are smart enough to understand that failing to support Windows as a server platform would lock them out of too large of a share of the market. So breathe easily; I don’t see Oracle producing EPM software that won’t be able to be deployed on Windows servers.

The EPM stack is moving toward becoming fully platform agnostic. Exalytics is, for those of you who are not familiar, an in-memory Linux or Solaris machine that delivers extreme performance for Business Intelligence and Enterprise Performance Management applications. At a very high level, these machines have an extraordinary amount of memory (RAM) that allows the entire database to be brought into memory. The result is incredible performance gains particularly for large applications.

There are at least two constants with technology. First, data continues to grow. The demand for more data to support business decisions is no exception. The other constant is that hardware continually improves while the cost always drops. I can’t envision Exalytics being an exception this. Today’s Exalytics machines often cost six figures, and that may not be an expense your organization can justify. However, in two to five years, your organization may require an Exalytics machine, and it may well be an expense you can justify.

Given this bit of background, let’s talk about why I firmly believe Jython is the better choice for your FDMEE application. As the EPM stack moves toward being platform agnostic, I believe that support for supporting Microsoft technologies such as VBScript will slowly diminish. The application programming interface (API) will continue to be enriched for the Jython language set, while the API for VBScript will be less robust. Please keep in mind that this is just my prediction at this point. But Oracle is no different than any other organization that undertakes technology projects. They employ the same three levers that every project does – scope, time, and budget. As a customer of EPM, you have noticed the speed at which new releases have been deployed. To continue to support two sets of APIs within these accelerated development timelines will require one of the remaining levers to be “pulled.”

That leaves us the scope and budget levers. To maintain complete parity (scope) with a fixed timeline, the remaining lever is budget. Budget for any technology project is heavily correlated to people/projects. Add more people to the project, and the cost goes up. As I said before, Oracle is no different than any other organization. Project costs must be justified. So the development head of FDMEE would need to justify to his senior management the need to add additional resources to support having two sets of APIs – one of which is specifically for Microsoft technologies. One can imagine how that conversation might go.

So we’re left with the scope lever. There are two APIs – one to support Jython (JAVA on Python) and a second to support VBScript (a Microsoft technology). Let’s not forget that Oracle owns JAVA. Which do you think wins? I hope that I have built a case to support my previous conjecture about the expected richness of the Jython API vs. the VBScript API.

Let’s say you believe my above predication is wrong. That’s OK. Let’s focus on one key difference in these technologies – error handling. Throughout my years of developing scripts for FDM Classic, the reoccurring theme I heard from customers was when a process fails, can the system alert me? The technical answer is, most likely. The practical answer is no. While in a VBScript routine I can leverage the On Error Resume Next in conjunction with If Err.Number = 0, I would need to do this after every line of code and that is simply not realistic. The best solution I have found is writing scripting operations to a log file that can then be reviewed to identify the point at which a script fails. While this approach has helped, it’s not nearly as elegant as true error handling like what is available in Jython.

Jython provides error handling through the use of the Except keyword. If you have ever written (not recorded) Excel VBA macros, you may be familiar with this functionality. In VBA, you would code On Error Goto ErrHandler and then have code within an ErrHandler section of the script that performs some operation in the event of an error. Within Jython, there is a similar, albeit more robust, concept with the Try – except keywords. For example:

def divide_numbers(x, y):
    return x/y
  except ZeroDivisionError:
    return 'You cannot divide by zero, try again'

In the above example, the Except clause is used to handle division by zero. With Jython, you can have multiple Except clauses to handle different anticipated failures in a process. Likewise you can have a catch-all (finally) clause to handle any unexpected failures. A key functionality with the Except clause is the ability to capture the line in the script that caused the failure. This is a key improvement over VBScript.

We could continue to delve further into the technical details of why Jython is a more robust language, but when I think about this conversation in context of, “Why do I want to use Jython instead of VBScript for my application?” I think the above arguments are compelling on their own. If you are interested in learning more about Jython scripting for FDMEE, please attend my session at Kscope14: Jython Scripting in FDMEE: It’s Not that Scary on Tuesday, June 24, at 11:15 AM.

http://kscope14.com/component/seminar/seminarslist#Jython Scripting in FDMEE: It's Not That Scary

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