Javier Delgado

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Updated: 17 hours 46 min ago

PeopleSoft and Docker's value proposition

Sun, 2014-11-16 12:58
If you haven't heard yet about Docker and/or container technologies, you will soon do. Docker has made one of the biggest impacts in the IT industry in 2014. Since the release of its 1.0 version on past June, it has captured the attention of many big IT vendors, including Google, Microsoft and Amazon. As far as I'm aware, Oracle has not announced any initiative with Docker, except for the Oracle Linux container. Still, Docker can be used with PeopleSoft, and it can actually simplify your PeopleSoft system administration. Let's see how.

What is Container Technology?
Docker is an open platform to build, ship, and run distributed applications. Docker enables apps to be quickly assembled from components and eliminates the friction between development, QA, and production environments. As a result, IT can ship faster and run the same app, unchanged, on laptops, data center VMs, and any cloud.

In a way, it is similar to virtualization technologies like VMWare or Virtualbox where you can get an image of a machine and run it anywhere you have the player installed. Docker is similar except that it just virtualizes the application and its dependencies, not the full machine.

Docker virtual machines are called containers. They run as an isolated process in userspace on the host operating system, sharing the kernel with other containers. Thus, it enjoys the resource isolation and allocation benefits of VMs but is much more portable and efficient.

Docker uses a layered file system for its containers, in a way that they can be updated by just including the changes since the last update. This greatly reduces the volume of information that needs to be shipped to deliver an update.

How can it be used with PeopleSoft?
As we have seen, Docker containers are much easier to deploy than an entire virtual machine. This means that activities such as installations can be greatly simplified. All you need is to have Docker installed and then download the PeopleSoft container. Of course, this requires that you first do an installation within a Docker container, but this is not more complex than doing an usual installation, it just requires some Docker knowledge in order to take advantage of all its features. Under my point of view, if you are doing a new installation, you should seriously consider Docker. At BNB we have prepared containers with the latest PeopleSoft HCM and FSCM installations so we can quickly deploy them to our customers.

Also, when you make a change to a Docker container, just the incremental changes are applied to existing running instances. This poses a great advantage when you apply a patch or run a PeopleTools upgrade. If you want to apply the patches to a new environments, you just need to make sure that you apply the latest container changes in all the servers running the environment.

Isolation between running instances is also a major advantage when you have multiple environments in the same server. Suppose you want to apply the later Tuxedo patch just in the Development environment, which coexists with other environments on the same server. Unless you had one Tuxedo installation for each environment (which is possible but normally unlikely), you would need to go ahead and hope the patch did not break anything (to be honest, this happens very rarely with Tuxedo, but some other product patches are not so reliable). If you have a separate container for the Development environment you can apply the patch just to it and later deploy the changes to the rest of environments.

Last but not least, the reduced size of Docker containers compared to an entire virtual machine greatly simplifies the distribution to and from the cloud. Docker is of great help if you want to move your on premise infrastructure to the cloud (or the other way around). This is even applicable when you want to keep a contingency system in the cloud, as delivering the incremental container changes made to your on premise system requires less time than using other methods.

Not only that, Docker can be hosted in most operating systems. This means that moving a container from one public cloud facility to another is significantly easier than it was with previous technologies. Exporting a virtual machine from Amazon EC2 to Google Cloud was quite complex (and under some circumstances even not possible).


Limitations
But as any other technology, Docker is no panacea. It has some limitations that may restrict its adoption for your PeopleSoft installation. The main ones I can think of are:

  • Currently there is no support for containers using Windows as a guest operating system. This is not surprising, as Docker in intimately linked to Unix/Linux capabilities. Still, Microsoft has announced a partnership with Docker that will hopefully help to overcome this limitation. For the moment, you will not be able to use Docker for certain PeopleSoft components, such as the PSNT Process Scheduler, which is bad news if you are still using Crystal Reports or Winword reports. Also, if you are using Microsoft SQL Server as your database, this may be a major limitation.


  • Docker is most useful when used for applications, but not data. Logs, traces and databases should normally be kept out of the Docker container.


Conclusions
Although container technology is still in its initial steps, significant benefits are evident for maintaining and deploying applications, PeopleSoft included. Surely enough, the innovation coming on this area will have a big impact in the way PeopleSoft systems are administered.

PS: I would like to thank Nicolás Zocco for his invaluable research on this topic, particularly in installing the proof of concept using PeopleSoft and Docker.

Understanding PeopleSoft Global Payroll Identification

Wed, 2014-11-05 08:49
The first stage in PeopleSoft Global Payroll processing is the identification of the employees to be calculated. Several criteria are used to determine which employees should be selected. Understanding why an employee is selected is not always evident to users. In this post I'm sharing how I normally determine the identification reason.

Once you run the identification stage, the employees to be processed are stored in the GP_PYE_PRC_STAT table. This table not only shows which employees are going to be calculated, but also indicates which calendars will be considered. This is particularly important when running retroactive calculations, as it allows you understanding the impact of this type of calculations.

In any case, going back to the identification, in this table you will find the SEL_RSN field, which contains a code that translates into the reason behind the employee identification. The valid values that this field may take are:

  • 01: The employee is active during the calendar period and included in the Payee List associated to the calendar.
  • 02: The employee is inactive (but was active before the start of the calendar period) and included in the Payee List associated to the calendar.
  • 03: The employee is active during the calendar period and has a positive input associated to him/her.
  • 04: The employee is active during the calendar period and has a retro trigger associated to him/her.
  • 05: The employee is active during the calendar period and associated to the calendar pay group.
  • 06: The employee is inactive during the calendar period and associated to a positive input in the current calendar.
  • 07: The employee is inactive (but still associated to the calendar pay group) and has a retro trigger associated to him/her.
  • 08: The employee is inactive but has a retroactive calculation delta from a previous calendar which has not been picked yet.
  • 09: The employee is inactive but has a retroactive calculation correction from a previous calendar which has not been picked yet.
  • 0A: The employee is active and linked to the calendar using an override.
  • 0B: The employee is inactive and linked to the calendar using an override.

From a technical standpoint, you can check the SQL used to select each reason by check the stored statement under the name GPPIDNT2_I_PRCnn, when nn is the SEL_RSN value.

Do you use other way to understand why was an employee identified? If so, please feel free to share your method in the comments, as I'm afraid my approach is a little bit too technical. ;)

PeopleSoft's paths to the Cloud - Part II

Tue, 2014-11-04 00:01
In my previous post, I've covered some ways in which cloud computing features could be used with PeopleSoft, particularly around Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and non-Production environments. Now, I'm going to discuss how cloud technologies bring value to PeopleSoft Production environments.

Gain Flexibility



Some of the advantages of hosting PeopleSoft Production environments using an IaaS provider were also mentioned in the my past article as they are also valid for Non Production environments:

  • Ability to adjust processing power (CPU) and memory according to peak usage.
  • Storage may be enlarged at any time to cope with increasing requirements.
  • Possibility of replicating the existing servers for contingency purposes.

In terms of cost, hosting the Production environment in IaaS may not always be cheaper than the on premise alternative (this needs to be analyzed on a case by case basis). However, the possibility to add more CPU, memory and storage on the run gives IaaS solutions an unprecedented flexibility. It is true that you can obtain similar flexibility with in house virtualized environments, but not many in-house data centers have the available horsepower of Amazon, IBM or Oracle data centers, to name a few.

Be Elastic



Adding additional power to the existing servers may not be the best way to scale up. An alternative way is to add a new server to the PeopleSoft architecture. This type of architecture is called elastic (actually, Amazon EC2 stands for Elastic Computing), as the architecture can elastically grow or shrink in order to adapt to the user load.

Many PeopleSoft customers use Production environments with multiple servers for high availability purposes. You may have two web servers, two application servers, two process schedulers, and so on. This architecture guarantees a better system availability in case one of the nodes fails. Using an elastic architecture means that we can add, for instance, a third application server not only to increase redundancy, but also the application performance.

In order to implement an elastic architecture, you need to fulfill two requirements:

  1. You should be able to quickly deploy an additional instance of any part of the architecture. 
  2. Once the instance is created, it should be plugged in the rest of the components, without disrupting the system availability.

The first point is easily covered by creating an Amazon AMI which can be instantiated at any moment. I've discussed the basics about AMIs in my previous post, but there is plenty of information from Amazon.

The second point is a bit trickier. Let's assume we are adding a new application server instance. If you do not declare this application server in the web servers configuration.properties file, it will not be used.

Of course you can do this manually, but my suggestion is that you try to automate these tasks, as it is this automation which will eventually bring elasticity to your architecture. You need to plan the automation not only for enlarging the architecture, but also for potential reduction (in case you covered a usage peak by increasing the instances and then you want to go back to the original situation).

At BNB we have built a generic elastic architecture, covering all layers of a normal PeopleSoft architecture. If you are planning to move to a cloud infrastructure and you need assistance, we would be happy to help.

Coming Next...

In my next post on this topic, I will cover how Database as a Service could be used to host PeopleSoft databases and what value it brings to PeopleSoft customers.

PeopleSoft's paths to the Cloud - Part I

Tue, 2014-10-28 14:54

Nowadays, all paths seem to lead to cloud computing. In the business applications world, Oracle is pushing hard to position the Oracle Cloud Applications in an increasingly competitive market. The reasons that favor Software as a Service (SaaS) applications over their on premise counterparties are significant, even though there are still a good number of circumstances under which the latter should normally be the preferred option.

Our beloved PeopleSoft (yes, I like PeopleSoft, so what?) is clearly not a SaaS application. Still, my point of view is that we can still benefit of many cloud computing features without migrating to another application.

On this post, and a few more to come, I will focus on the aspects of cloud computing could be incorporated to your PeopleSoft application.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a provision model in which an organization outsources the equipment used to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers and networking components. The service provider owns the equipment and is responsible for housing, running and maintaining it. The client typically pays on a per-use basis.

Probably the best known service in this category is Amazon EC2, but there are many other providers with similar features. We have installed PeopleSoft quite a few times under Amazon EC2, and the advantages are visible immediately:

  • CPU, memory and disk space can be dynamically allocated. This is particularly useful when facing system usage peaks, for instance close to the evaluations submission deadline when using the PeopleSoft ePerformance module.
  • Servers can be seamlessly cloned, which enormously reduces the time needed to set up new environments.
  • The instance cloning can also take place between different geographical areas, providing a perfect solution for contingency environments.
  • As mentioned before, the allocated servers are paid on a per-use basis. The only exception is storage, for which you will get charged even if the server is down (and assuming you still keep the storage space busy for the next time the instance is booted).

Use Case: Development Environments

One of the most typical uses of IaaS with PeopleSoft is for non-production environments. In many cases, these environments do not need to be up and running 24x7, so the solution provided by Infrastructure as a Service is not only more flexible, but also normally more cost effective.

The flexibility of IaaS is major advantage when a sandbox environment is needed. Cloning any existing environment just takes a few minutes allowing the developers to build prototypes on a new and isolated environment that is out of the migration path.

Use Case: Test a New Release

Another functionality of IaaS is the ability to use templates that could be rapidly be used to create a new instance based on it. The Amazon name for these templates is AMI. In the past, Oracle used to provide AMIs for PeopleSoft 9.1, so if you wanted to test that release, it was just a couple of minutes away.

However, currently there are no AMIs provided by Oracle for PeopleSoft 9.2. Luckily, you may still contact consulting companies like BNB to provide you the AMI, as long as you have a valid PeopleSoft license (the Oracle provided AMIs are under a trial license, so even if you are not currently a PeopleSoft customer you can use them).

Note: An alternative way to test a new release is to download the latest PeopleSoft Update Manager image, but it takes considerable time to do it due to the size of the files (over 30 Gb).

Use Case: Training

IaaS can also be used to quickly deploy PeopleSoft instances for internal user training. We actually use this approach at BNB for training our consultants. We have created an AMI for each course, so before the training session starts, we create one instance per student, so they have a completely isolated environment to learn and play with.

Coming Next...

In the next post, I will cover the value that cloud computing brings to PeopleSoft Production environments. But that's not the end of it, so stay tuned.






PeopleTools 8.54 Feature: Application Engine Trace File Enhancements

Mon, 2014-10-27 04:01
In this blog, we have been reviewing the new features of PeopleTools 8.54. Today is the turn of Application Engine, particularly on its troubleshooting. This release of PeopleTools include several enhancements on Application Engine tracing, which are outlined below:


  • The .AET trace file can now include the PeopleCode trace. This removes the need of checking the .AET file for the the non-PeopleCode steps and the .TRC file for the PeopleCode steps. Surely, .TRC files could also contain the SQL executed in non-PeopleCode steps if needed, but it was significantly more difficult to read as the SQL statements were not formatted.


This new feature is enabled by setting the TraceAECombineOutput parameter in the server configuration file for Application Server or Process Scheduler Server.

TraceAECombineOutput=Y


  • You can set the file size of the Application Engine Trace file. This way, if the trace file exceeds the threshold, it splits into a different file. For certain processes, this could be quite handy, as sometimes the trace sizes become unmanageable.

This new feature is enabled by setting the AETFileSize parameter in the server configuration file for Application Server or Process Scheduler Server. The size is measured in Megabytes.

AETFileSize=20

  • You can actually select which sections of an Application Engine program should be traced and which not. This can contribute to reduce unneeded trace information, just focusing on the potential error areas.


This new feature is enabled by setting the TraceAEEnableSection parameter in the server configuration file for Application Server or Process Scheduler Server.


TraceAEEnableSection=Y


Then, using Application Designed, you should mark the sections you want to trace. Keep in mind that by default all sections are unmarked:

In order to enable the flag in Application Designer, the Enable Section Trace(g) setting has to be enabled in Configuration Manager:


Note: As far as I can tell, you can only set this flag when you create a new section. If you need to modify an existing one, you would need to copy and paste, and then remove the original one. Have any of you found a more efficient way of setting the flag?


  • The Application Engine Trace file name now includes the Date/Time stamp.


These enhancements should simplify troubleshooting of Application Engine program issues, particularly those ones containing a significant amount of PeopleCode processing or generating very large trace files.

PeopleTools 8.54 Feature: ExcelToCI Errors and Warnings Worksheet

Fri, 2014-10-24 03:58
Some years ago, I wrote this post on ExcelToCI limitations. One of the limitations I've found annoying in the past was the need to move the mouse over each Warning or Error result cell. It was not just annoying, it actually didn't allow the users to easily work on the different error types and analyze useful information such as the most common error messages, how many rows would go through if they solved a particular issue, etc.



PeopleTools 8.54 has introduced a new worksheet showing all the warning and error messages. The following screenshot provides a clear view on how the information is presented:



From that point on, the users may analyze the messages using Excel dynamic tables, filters, etc. Yet, there is some room for improvement. The most obvious one is to put each particular error in a different Excel row. That would make error analysis much richer.

Let's see how this evolves with the next releases of PeopleTools.

The new %SelectDummyTable MetaSQL

Fri, 2014-10-24 03:57
Does anyone know a PeopleSoft developer who didn't ever use a SQL statement like the following one?

select %CurrentDateOut
from PS_INSTALLATION;

Where PS_INSTALLATION could be any single-row table in the PeopleSoft data model.

If you look at the previous statement, the SELECT clause is not retrieving any field from the PS_INSTALLATION table, but just using it to comply with ANSI SQL. The same statement could be written in Microsoft SQL Server like this:

select %CurrentDateOut;

In Oracle Database, as:

select %CurrentDateOut
from dual;

In both cases, the sentences are a better performing option. Both solutions do not require accessing any physical table.

The problem with these solutions is that they are platform specific, and we want to avoid platform specific syntax. Believe me, when you perform a platform migration you suddenly have very present in your mind the ancestors of the programmers who used this type of syntax. So, up to now, we had to stick with the SELECT ... FROM PS_INSTALLATION solution.








Until now. PeopleTools 8.54 introduces a new MetaSQL name %SelectDummyTable, which automatically translates into a platform specific sentences. Our previous sample would be written as:

select %CurrentDateOut
from %SelectDummyTable

We now have a platform independent and well performing solution. What else can we ask for? ;-)

Note: I've checked the online PeopleBooks from Oracle and at this point there is no documentation on this Meta SQL. Still, I've conducted some tests and it seems to be working correctly.

New Integration Network Utilities in PeopleTools 8.54

Fri, 2014-10-24 03:57
The new integration features available in PeopleTools 8.54 include better support for REST services and the new Integration Network WorkCenter. There are plenty of things to test and eventually use that may be of interest of anyone upgrading to this PeopleTools release. However, today I will focus on two simple but quite handy utilities:

Saving Gateway Metadata

There is a new functionality that saves the integrationgateway.properties configuration file in the database for future use or deployment on other gateway instances.



It has happened to me a couple of times that I did redeploy of PIA that reset the configuration file to the default version. Ok, it wasn't very clever of me, as I could easily take a backup of the file before doing the redeploy, but this save to database button seems easier to use than navigating through the endless PIA directory structure.

Node Lockdown

Another handy feature that allows us to block certain attributes of Nodes, so they are not overwritten when performing an Application Designer project copy.

The page used to lock the attributes is the following:



You just need to pick which attributes should be locked and for which nodes.

Both seem nice and useful utilities delivered by PeopleTools 8.54. I hope you also find them of interest.

PeopleSoft's PS_HOME evolution

Fri, 2014-10-24 03:56
One of the new features of PeopleTools 8.54 is the portability of the PS_HOME directory. Before going into the analysis of its benefits, let's have a look back to how  PS_HOME has evolved.

One Directory for Everything

PS_HOME is the name of the environment variable holding the PeopleSoft installation directory. Before PeopleTools 8.50, the full PeopleSoft installation was done on a single directory, including PeopleTools binaries, application external files, customized files, logs, etc. Also, in those installations using WebLogic and WebSphere, the J2EE deployment was normally located at PS_HOME/webserv (this was not the case for Oracle Application Server, which its their own directories for that purpose).

The main issue with this approach is that the Ops team would normally go nuts when they saw how the directories were structured in PeopleSoft. Very often, keeping read-only binary files and always changing log files on the same directory structure would not comply with the internal policies in many organizations. With some degree of manual configuration and symbolic linking, this issue could be tackled, but the solution increased the maintenance costs, particularly when a PeopleTools or application upgrade came into the scene.

Splitting Logic and Data

PeopleTools 8.50 provided the ability to split the PS_HOME directory contents into three different places:
  • PIA_HOME: contained the J2EE deployment, equivalent to the former PS_HOME/webserv directory.
  • PS_CFG_HOME: contained logs, traces and search indexes. Basically, any file created, modified or deleted at run time.
  • PS_HOME: contained the binaries and external programs such as Crystal Reports. Cobols and SQRs.
This was a major improvement. Now the binaries could be kept as read-only except when an external program was migrated. Moreover, the monitoring of disk space could now be restricted to PIA_HOME and PS_CFG_HOME.

PeopleTools and Applications in Different Rooms

PeopleTools 8.52, together with the PeopleSoft 9.1 applications, introduced a new directory: PS_APP_HOME. This directory contained exclusively the application binaries and external program files, leaving PS_HOME just for the specific PeopleTools files.

This approach allowed a simpler maintenance of the product. For instance, you could use the same PS_HOME for both PeopleSoft HCM and FSCM, keeping the specific application files in their own PS_APP_HOME directories. This way, when you applied a PeopleTools patch on PS_HOME, it would be available for all applications.

Clearly Identify your Customizations

The natural evolution of PS_APP_HOME was PS_CUST_HOME, which was introduced by PeopleTools 8.53. This new directory was meant to hold all the customized external files. This helped not only in maintaining PS_HOME and PS_APP_HOME almost readonly (they would be updated only by PeopleTools or application upgrades), but also to clearly identify the customizations, which is a tremendous gain when performing an application upgrade.

And now... Portable PS_HOME

PeopleTools 8.54 has gone a step further in simplifying the maintenance of the PeopleSoft installation. One of the issues we still faced with PS_HOME is that we could not move it to a different directory without facing issues, as there were some symbolic links and files containing absolute directory references within it.

This could be solved by adjusting the symbolic links and directory references, but it was a time consuming process. The alternative was to reinstall PS_HOME from the delivered install images, but in the best scenario, this could take a couple of hours.

In the latest PeopleTools release, all symbolic links were removed, and all the directory references are relative, not absolute. This allows the system administrator to easily move the directory to another location, or even to another server. Actually, you may not even need to move it. Just mounting the PS_HOME directory installed in one server into all the different PeopleSoft servers would make the trick, so you only need to apply changes in a single place.

I'm sure System Administrators and Installers will love this new feature. At BNB we are also analyzing other potential uses for it, but let me keep the secret for the moment ;).

Tip: One of the symbolic links removed in UNIX/Linux platforms was the PS_HOME/appserv/psadmin link. If you have any maintenance script to boot or shutdown services using this path, you will need to adjust it to the source location: PS_HOME/bin/psadmin, or just call psadmin after executing psconfig.sh.

My global view on Oracle OpenWorld 2014

Thu, 2014-10-16 07:41
For those who can read Spanish, I just posted in our company blog an entry describing a general overview of Oracle OpenWorld announcements. A couple of weeks ago I made a post on this blog describing the most important outcomes from a PeopleSoft point of view. This new post gives a broader view. 

PeopleTools 8.54 will be the last release to certify Crystal Reports

Mon, 2014-10-13 16:49
It was just a question of time. In July 2011, Oracle announced that newly acquired PeopleSoft applications would not include a Crystal Reports license. Some years before, in October 2007, Business Objects was acquired by SAP. You don't need to read Machiavelli's Il Principe to understand why the license was now not included.

In order to keep customer's investment on custom reports safe, Oracle kept updating Crystal Reports certifications for those customers who purchased PeopleSoft applications before that date. In parallel, BI Publisher was improved release after release, providing a viable replacement to Crystal Reports, and in many areas surpassing its features.

Now, as announced in My Oracle Support's document 1927865.1, PeopleTools 8.54 will be the last release for which Crystal Reports will be certified, and support for report issues will end together with the expiration of PeopleSoft 9.1 applications support.








PeopleTools 8.54 was just released a couple of months ago, so there is no need to panic, but PeopleSoft applications managers would do well if they start coming up with an strategy to convert their existing Crystal Reports into BI Publisher reports.

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