Working by the rules

Ilog JRules' repository and easy-to-use tools help to better manage rapidly changing business rules across the enterprise

ONE CONSEQUENCE of moving to distributed computing is that business rules end up scattered throughout the mass of applications, Web services, legacy systems, and back-end platforms that make up the enterprise.

Centralizing all of these business rules makes them easier to maintain, thereby reducing overall application costs. This approach also lets companies respond quickly when market conditions, such as competitor pricing, dictate a fast change to business rules.

Ilog's JRules 4.0 provides a solid solution for business rules management through its built-in repository and useful tools. Business analysts and programmers will find using JRules a much easier approach to creating and maintaining business rules compared to managing rules individually.

Compared to other business rules management solutions, such as Blaze Advisor (see " Changing the rules "), JRules is a less costly solution, and its functionality is on par with that of its competitors. As with Blaze Advisor, JRules offers tool interfaces appropriate for both business analysts and software developers.

New in this release, the JRules repository now supports storage of business rules for multiple projects, which increases manageability. This is an improvement over previous releases in which rules were maintained separately in project-based files.

Business analysts will appreciate the browser-based interface, which can be used to easily open a repository to work with existing rules or, if the users is authorized, to create new ones. Developers, on the other hand, will likely prefer the RulesBuilder, JRule's IDE (integrated development environment) because it provides additional tools, such as rules debugging.

Accessing and using the browser-based JRules interface on both Unix and Windows systems is simple. Ilog's browser-based tools are supported by the Tomcat servlet engine, which is well integrated into the product.

The JRules RuleBuilder IDE worked flawlessly on both Unix and Windows systems. We even took it out for a spin on a Mac OS X Server and enjoyed equal success. The IDE interface is typical of that found in many other tools with its navigational, workspace, properties, and output panes. The tabs let us rapidly navigate through rules, and we liked the project and class views.

The IDE offers developers both a graphical editor and built-in text editor for creating and maintaining rules.

In addition, developers will find the built-in debugging facilities useful and on par with rival rules solutions and other IDEs.

Both business analysts and developers will like JRules support for organizing rules. Built-in package support enables enterprises to maintain business rules by whatever structure is meaningful to them. For example, your company might want to store business rules that are organized by business process, product, or service.

JRules also enables the versioning of the business rules, so users can easily see when rules were changed, what changes were made, and who made them.

The solution also includes a historical view of rule changes, although the information it supplies is a bit sparse. More historical data would be helpful, as would the capability of linking directly with previous changes in rules from the historical view.

JRules offers support for user-defined rules templates for companies using multiple business rules that have common elements, such as those that might affect product volume discounts. This helps speed up the creation of business rules.

We also liked the rule-query facility. An included editor is used to define queries in Ilog's proprietary Business Query Language. We were able to quickly search the rules in our various projects on the basis of property values, class members, and class references.

Companies that build and implement Web services will find JRules well prepared to manage business rules for these types of deployments. The solution can access XML objects and define rules on XML data.

We found rules deployment using BEA WebLogic an easy affair. The JRules engine can be integrated into an Enterprise JavaBean. Users can also integrate the JRules engine, a stateless session bean, into one or more J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) applications.

Ilog JRules 4.0 is a solid solution that will help enterprises gain the upper hand on managing business rules in distributed application environments, thereby reducing costs. Its centralized repository, useful tools for business analysts and programmers, and easy insertion into varied application environments make it a good fit and well worth consideration.