Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Managed Reporting Environment's Repository

By default, the WebFOCUS Managed Reporting Environment (MRE) uses a file-based repository system to keep track of users, security groups, and reporting domains. WebFOCUS stores this information in simple HTML control files in the "basedir" of your WebFOCUS Client environment (typically stored on the web tier):
  • MRREPOS.HTM --Points to the user, the role, and individual domain control files
  • USER.HTM -- Contains user information and the groups to which they belong
  • ROLE.HTM -- Contains users and the roles they can perform within MRE
  • Username.HTM -- MRE users have their own control file, with pointers to the user directory, reports, deferred reports and output, and report domains

Under the basedir directory are the individual domain folders, with each folder containing its own domain control file:
  • Domainname.HTM -- Points to individual domain folders (standard report groups, reporting objects, other files, help files, and run links) and provides a listing of each folder's contents.
While adequate for many uses, there are some problems with a repository infrastructure that utilizes simple text files.

First, the files are prone to corruption should the system encounter an issue such as a full hard drive or a power outage. For example, if an individual domain control file is corrupted, it will appear to the MRE user that all of the contents of that domain have disappeared. In reality, WebFOCUS is just unable to present that information to the user as it has lost the association between the domain and its contents. Likewise, if the main repository control file is damaged, the entire MRE environment can become unavailable as the various programs are now unable to access necessary information. The Java App Server might begin to throw null pointer exceptions and fail as it tries to access the files. When using the file-based repository, therefore, it is important to establish a good backup and restore process.

A second problem with the file-based repository is that it can become slow when a large number of MRE users are in the system. Because each MRE user performs file I/Os on the same three files in the basedir and shares the domain file with other domain users, this file access can become a bottleneck for large user environments.

Also, special characters stored in the files can violate the HTML rules and make the file unreadable. For example, if you add a userid with special characters (such as a dash), this can corrupt the file and make it so that no users can log into MRE.

Understanding these issues, Information Builders offers an alternative. Instead of using the file system for storing the information, MRE can be configured to access a relational database such as DB2, SQL Server, Oracle, Informix, Sybase, or MySQL (a good practice would be to use the same database as that for the Report Caster repository). The MRE user administration interface is used regardless of your choice of internal files or external database repositories.

An external RDBMS repository has several advantages in that it provides protection against file corruption, should perform faster and scale better than a file-based system, and is probably already part of a formal backup and recovery process. The change to the underlying repository is transparent to the MRE administrator(s).

Of course, you have security options other than just picking between internal file-based and external database repositories. These are simply two out-of-the-box features available for easily managing the user authentication (userids and passwords) and entitlement (their roles and security groups) should you not have other security packages in place or choose not to take advantage of them.

While the MRE file-based repository might meet your needs today, you should consider the alternatives as you roll out more WebFOCUS applications.

2013 note: Everything changes with WebFOCUS 8. With that new architecture, Information Builders has completely revamped the MRE repository into a robust relational content repository. If you need information about this new structure, contact me. 

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.