First Look – Wolf Frameworks PaaS

January 25, 2010

in Business Rules, Decision Management, Product News

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Wolf Frameworks is a USA/India PaaS company started in 2006 as a pure play cloud computing platform. They have a front end (AJAX) using XML to communicate to a .NET backend on C#. They have about 3,000 plus people designing software using the platform and have about 13 plus solution providers covering 7 countries. They have customers across a wide range of industries with lots of smaller companies and ISVs. They are primarily working with partners who develop and support software and services. As with most PaaS vendors, they offer a no capex, minimum op-ex approach.

They position their product as a rapid application development platform – code free with no scripting language. They offer a nice hybrid model in that cloud applications can be developed and then moved to a private cloud. They offer their standard On Demand deployment using iweb (http://iweb.com/) and offer premium customers their choice of deployment with Rackspace, Amazon.com, etc.

They offer Integration, Billing, Presentation, Application Development and Database layers – all code free. They aim to allow software development to be 70% faster and 50% cheaper. In their approach, business analysis and application design are the critical pieces – coding is not required. They argue that this changes the equation from traditional development – 25% design, 50% develop and code, 15%test and 10% deploy – to 25% design, no development/code, 7% (functional) testing and no deploy. As a result they get to be 70% faster. They also focus on the role of a domain expert/business analysts. Finally their XML/web-services architecture also makes it easy to develop components as part of mashups and to link with other SaaS providers or any web portal as embeddable functional widgets. Some of their solutions today connect with SAP, Quickbooks, Microsoft suite, etc

Unique value propositions:

  • Business rules as a service
    More on this later
  • Customizable UI
    Data and UI rendering separate so can be customized
  • Minimize lock-in
    Data is not locked, you can click to extract and use data, design is stored in Wolf but design extraction is a supported process that produces XML, hosting is open as can move to your own environment
  • Standard software
    AJAX, XML, IIS, .NET etc.

They also offer support for multiple devices and reporting. They talk in terms of having data at the center of the solution with a wrapper of business rules around that and definitions for input/output around that (mobile devices, web etc).

From a design perspective they offer what seems like a nice UI with widgets and graphs, tabs, basic forms, printing, access to Excel, CSV, RSS Feeds, etc all built in. The Entity Designer lets you define the information you are managing in the application. Entities can be grouped for management and each has relations and an edit screen. Designing the screen, as usual in PaaS, defines the entity. Fields can be grouped into sub-tabs and repeating groups of fields are supported. You can define multiple screens & tabs for an entity. A Navigation Designer allows you to define the structure of the user navigation in an application and the Reporting Designer does exactly what you would expect.

From the business rules perspective they have made some good progress. All pieces of business logic in the system are identified as business rules. Each is associated with an entity defined in the system for management. Rules can also be linked to events (such as saves or updates to the entity) or to explicit service calls. Each rule can be as simple as a single If.. Then rule or a long procedural script. The logic is easy to specify with a nice point and click interface, easy access to the data involved etc. Rules can invoke other rules within looping constructs or in a simple sequence and the invoked rules have direct access to the data available within the calling rule.

While Wolf does not offer a “true” business rules management environment, what they have actually let’s you get pretty close:

  • You can write lots of simple rules
  • You can group and manage these rules using the entities (all claims rules, for instance, could be associated with the claims entity)
  • You could write a rule for each ruleset or group of rules that invoked the rules in that ruleset in order
  • You could write a rule for each decision that simply invoked all the rulesets involved in that decision
  • Rules and rule sets can be reused across multiple decisions in this way

For instance, one could write a set of business rules to validate a claim. You could then write an additional rule representing the ruleset “Validate Claim” and another for the decision “Approve Claim”. The Approve Claim rule can be triggered from a user action (so that the user could decide when to call it in the UI) and can then call Validate Claim before executing the rules / rule sets for approving the claim. Because rules can be exposed as services, the Validate Claim and Approve Claim rules could be exposed as Decision Services for use elsewhere in your system.

Obviously this only supports sequential execution and there is no support for decision tables or trees or other higher level rule representations, so it’s not perfect. But, for a PaaS solution, this is a pretty good start. You COULD just use it to write code like any other PaaS but you could also use it with a decision management mindset, which is cool.

Analytics in Wolf is focused on reporting and dashboards rather than decisioning so there is no support today for data mining or predictive analytics. You would need to take the data out and into a cloud-based data mining solution like Data Applied or Clario

It will be interesting to see where Wolf take their rules capability in the coming months.

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