This content is part of the Essential Guide: Implementing successful Oracle E-Business Suite applications upgrades

Online patching a game-changer in Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2

Companies often take down their entire ERP system for software patching. That changes with Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2.

Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 hasn't been released yet, but there is enough information available to know that it is going to be a major game changer because of one feature -- Online Patching.

Oracle E-Business Suite has a more than 20-year development history, growing from one General Ledger module to a fully integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) environment with over 200 modules that cover all critical enterprise functionality, including finance, manufacturing and order management to human resources and payroll.

Over the years, Oracle E-Business Suite has grown dramatically in size and complexity. The only thing that hasn't changed significantly is patching. One of the biggest challenges in maintaining a modern Oracle E-Business Suite environment is finding the right opportunity to take a maintenance break that provides enough time to apply patches. Typically, one Oracle E-Business Suite environment is used by many departments within an organization, which means that many critical business processes such as month-end reporting, payroll processing and year-end activities are continuously running.

In recent years, multinational companies started implementing Global Single Instance (GSI) architectures, in which corporate subsidiaries operating in different countries run a single Oracle E-Business Suite instance. This effectively means that there are users in the system at any part of the day and night, which makes it very challenging to find a time to apply patches.

A new feature called Online Patching will allow IT to apply patches online with minimal cut-over time for switching end users to the new version.

Most patches in the current 12.1 release require complete system downtime. It isn't uncommon to see hundreds of patches applied simultaneously. These patches frequently reach several gigabytes and contain thousands of changes. Even with many patch optimization methods available today, it takes a lot of time to apply that many changes. Organizations often have to take their business-critical Oracle E-Business Suite systems down for an entire weekend or longer. This is set to change.

Online Patching in Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2
Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 will revolutionize the business/IT relationship and alter the way we manage changes in Oracle E-Business Suite environments. A new feature called Online Patching will allow IT departments to apply patches online with minimal cut-over time for switching end users to the new version.

There will be two versions of the system during the patch application process. The Run Edition is the version used by end users, and the Patch Edition is the one used by the patch apply processes. While it isn't too difficult to keep two versions on the application server file systems -- it just requires double the disk space -- the real challenge is on the database side. Oracle introduced a completely new database feature designed specifically for this purpose. The feature is called Edition-Based Redefinition. It was introduced in Oracle Database 11g Release 2, which was released in 2009. This feature allows multiple versions of the same database objects to coexist. End users and Oracle E-Business Suite processes use one version of the objects while patching processes use a different version.

I should mention that not all database objects have multiple versions. Objects like tables and indexes still have only one version. To address this limitation, Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 is introducing a new logical model, which provides several versions of the same physical data model to an application code. This logical model is implemented using Editioning Views. A patch apply process modifies the physical data model and creates a new version of an Editioning View. The new version introduces changes to the application layer, while the old version of the Editioning View remains unaffected. For example, if there is a need to adjust an existing column's data type, then the patching process creates a new column, introduces a new version of the Editioning View that points to the new column, transfers data from the original column to the new column, and synchronizes ongoing data changes between the two columns until the patching process is finished. A new version of the Editioning View represents the adjusted data structure to application objects.

There are several rules that the new logical layer imparts on all seeded and custom database objects. For example, from Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 onwards, access to objects should be made through the logical layer. In other words, all custom and seeded application codes must access all Oracle E-Business Suite tables via synonyms located in the APPS schema. A physical data model (tables) can be changed any time, which means the application code that references the physical model directly is at risk of returning inconsistent, out-of-date data.

Several other new rules exist that Oracle E-Business Suite implementation and maintenance teams need to be aware of. The good news is that Oracle will release development guidelines and reports that will help teams assess Oracle E-Business Suite system readiness for the R12.2 upgrade. It's worth mentioning that the upgrade path from the latest R12.1 and 11i versions to Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 will be supported.

Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2 will bring significant innovation in the way we maintain and improve IT systems, elevating business and IT relationships to a completely new level. Instead of having a few long-lasting system outages a year to introduce important improvements, starting with Oracle E-Business Suite 12.2, you can apply patches online while critical business processes are running. This significant improvement allows organizations to implement changes in more agile and flexible ways, bringing immediate business value to Oracle E-Business Suite users.

About the author:
Yury is an Oracle E-Business team technical lead at Pythian, a data management consultancy. He is an Oracle ACE Director in Oracle Applications & Apps Technology and an Oracle Certified Master for Oracle Database versions 9i, 10g and 11g.

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