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First Look – Visual Rules 4.5


Yesterday Innovations Software Technology announced the latest release of Visual Rules – 4.5. This is the third in a series of related release and the enterprise components of Visual Rules (Team Server, Execution Server) have been the focus of the last few releases (4.3, 4.4 and now 4.5). I talked about 4.3/4.4 previously and got an update on 4.5 just recently.

First changes to Team Server, which now supports any relational database not just the one it ships with. Team Server – with a repository, support for the collaboration of many modelers, versioning etc. – has been significantly updated in 4.5. In particular, the development environment (Modeler) is very integrated with the Team Server and the new release makes it easy for analysts to interact from the modeler. A simple in-context menu uses more analyst-friendly terms for classic repository capabilities and these can be applied to the whole project or to models or pieces. With this release users can get direct access to Team Server activities and explore the repository. The activities tab shows you edited items, conflicting edits with other users etc. as well as what others are working on. It is a running tally of changes made and models edited etc. The explorer is pretty classic – shows tree structure, information, revisions and audit log. From this tab you can quickly get a nice visual compare (of a version with the current version for instance) to see how things have been changed.

Team Server also offers version-specific dependency management so that rule projects, artifacts and java components can be linked so that the server can generate code for a project. These dependencies as well as a move to execution artifacts allow the QA and deployment tools to add Maven support to their existing support of Ant. Plugins for Maven support QA and deployment tasks (generate code, check project etc) and are in addition to the existing Ant scripts and support integration deployment and testing.

Moving on to the Execution Server, 4.5 has added a number of features. While 4.4 made it easy to deploy rules as web services, decision services I would call them, 4.5 has made this easier. 4.5 also has the concept of various deployment artifacts and stores them in your choice of relational database. In addition, metadata associated with artifacts like effective dates is supported so that, for instance, multiple versions of a service could be deployed with different effective dates.

Execution reporting has also improved with activities and rule stats logged into the database. Users can click on a statistics button from within the Execution Server environment to collect the information on execution and display the statistics on the graphical representation of the rules (just as the test environment does with test data). The execution server can store a complete set of execution data that is used to produce this graphic and that could be used for further analysis.

Modeler has a new editor that allows you to specify dependencies and the tool manages those that can be inferred automatically. This allows artifacts managed in Modeler to have dependencies that allow code generation to pull in the dependent objects.

Test suites have been added to the Modeler. Individual tests are now bundled up into a test suite. Multiple tests can be run with a single click and the overall results are displayed. The visual debugger can also be started from within the test environment, allowing you to jump into the debugger from a test and then walk through the whole sequence of rules.

Service mocking was also added to support testing. This allows you to mock up a service during development to make it easier to develop the rule service independently and then test it even though a required service is either not built yet or not available for testing.

4.5 also allows the import of decision tables from Excel. The user can specify a sheet and a basic decision table is then created. Headers can be mapped to data and the decision table is then loaded ready to edit. This is intended as a one-way import not an Excel-based editing environment but will allow those with existing decision tables to rapidly put them to work in Modeler.

Two final usability features. Copy and Paste of values both individual and structured data has been added e.g. in properties tabs, and this is obviously useful for test development as it allows you to copy standard data structures between tests quickly and easily. Modeler also allows the auto creation of data elements in a way that allows you to change the type easily before creating. This makes the creation of data elements as you go more efficient.


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