Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite Gives Developers Jump on Apps

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2010-03-11

Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite Gives Developers Jump on Apps

Adobe's LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, the latest version of which began shipping in November, is a set of Web services with which organizations can build applications for interacting with users, implementing business processes and managing document-based communications, all through Adobe client technologies, such as PDF, Flash and Air. 

Take, for instance, the "my first app" project from Adobe's LCES tutorial documentation: a system for serving up PDF-based loan applications from a Web portal, accepting the form input through Adobe Reader, routing the applications to the appropriate decision maker, notifying the applicant of their approval or rejection, and filing the proper documents to a networked location for archiving. 

Click here to see Adobe's LiveCycle Enterprise Suite in action.

I worked through this project to get a feel for what LCES is capable of, and I was impressed by the amount of sophistication achievable in a short amount of time with the LiveCycle suite. Further shortening the amount of time required to achieve results with this product was the method I used to test it. 

I tested LCES in a hosted implementation of the product that's managed by Adobe and run from Amazon's EC2 cloud computing service. Adobe has made LCES available in this way for about a year as part of its enterprise developer program. Starting this month, the hosted edition of LCES became available as a full-fledged product offering under the name LiveCycle Managed Services.

I found the hosted edition of LCES easy to use, thanks to a console for launching the EC2 instances, which is much friendlier than the spartan front end that Amazon provides for the service by default. The administration console for LCES is Web-based, and I was able to use a simple Java-based networking application that was provided as part of the service to access the console securely from my Linux desktop. The networking application comes in Windows and OS X flavors, as well.

The hosted nature of the LiveCycle edition I used for my testing definitely shortened my setup time. However, I found that the Windows Server 2003 EC2 instances on which Adobe hosts LiveCycle Express took quite some time-at least 20 minutes, and sometimes much more-to spin up, and twice during the time that I was testing, networking issues between Adobe's controllers and Amazon's EC2 infrastructure lengthened these startup times considerably.

In a production setting, I would expect instance startup and shutdown times to be less of an issue, since the LiveCycle instance would remain running over long periods of time. The next time I test out LiveCycle, I'll likely opt for the ready-to-run VMware software appliance that Adobe makes available for evaluation.

The managed version of LCES that I tested ran on a stack comprising the JBoss app server and MySQL database server running atop Windows Server 2003 on a "Large" EC2 instance with virtual processor cores and 7.5GB of RAM.

In its on-premises incarnations, LCES also supports IBM WebSphere and Oracle WebLogic for the app server layer; IBM DB2, Oracle and SQL Server for the database layer; and Solaris SPARC, IBM AIX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for the underlying operating system.

Adobe chose Windows Server 2003 for the operating system layer of this managed service in order to allow for remote hosting of the suite's form designer component, which only supports Windows. However, the company plans to add a Linux option for the hosted service in the near future.

The Adobe LiveCycle Express service I tested is available to subscribers of Adobe's Enterprise Developers program, which costs $1,495 per year and comes with 10 hours of use of the hosted service per month. Pricing for LiveCycle Managed Services is based on an annual subscription model that varies based on number of users and the LiveCycle modules included, but according to Adobe, an average one-year subscription to LiveCycle Managed Services runs around $50,000.

LiveCycle ES in the Lab


LiveCycle ES in the Lab

I kicked off my tests of LCES by logging into the Web interface for Adobe's LiveCycle Express service and opting to start a new instance. With that, Adobe's controller infrastructure fired off a request to Amazon to mint me an EC2 instance hosting the LiveCycle stack. On subsequent visits to this console, I could opt instead to restore a backup of an instance I'd previously shut down. Since the EC2 instances sometimes took quite a while to launch, I would have liked to have received an e-mail or other notification once my instance was up and ready to use.

Once my instance was up, I launched Adobe's handy little networking application, which linked me to my remote image, and established port forwarding for Web and Terminal Services on my remote machine. This made it easy for me to access my server through remote desktop, and through my local browser, without requiring that I keep track of the network information that changes between separate EC2 sessions.

Through my remote desktop session, I fired up Adobe's LiveCycle Workbench ES2, with which I could create the forms and processes that would comprise my applications. Adobe's Workbench is based on the open-source Eclipse IDE, which ensured a certain amount of familiarity from the first time I opened the application. The other attribute I've come to expect from Eclipse-based tools is cross-platform friendliness, but a dependency on Windows in the form-building portion of the Workbench meant forgoing that friendliness.

In both the process- and form-building portions of the Workbench, I was able to drag and drop my way through much of the app-creation process. Each object had its own set of properties to specify, which I did through the context-sensitive properties panes common to most graphical IDEs.

The LiveCycle Workbench supports check-in/check-out of all project assets, which, along with controls for determining which users have access to particular projects, would have helped me work on my project with other team members. In addition to storing projects on a particular LCES server, I could export my project to a LiveCycle archive file. This came in handy as I moved between different hosted instances of the product during the course of my testing.

In order to test my application, I had to open up the product's Web-based admin console, either from the browser on my remote instance or, with the aid of the LCE Networking app, from the browser on my local system, and set the appropriate security rules for the application-for instance, whether the application could be accessed by an unauthenticated user.

I accessed my test application through a separate Web-based LiveCycle console, called the Workspace, at which I logged in using a set of test user credentials (I could create other users and roles through the admin console), and kicked off the loan application process I'd created in the Workbench tool. As part of the process, my LCES installation spawned a PDF-based loan application, which I filled out through a browser-embedded instance of Adobe Reader.

Later, when I logged on to the same Workspace as a separate user tasked with a bank manager role, I found a loan approval task waiting for me, which I could carry out right away, claim for later completion or forward to another manager in the system.

One of the most interesting things about LiveCycle is the way that the services and client interfaces that comprise it can be mixed and matched. For instance, the same service that produced the PDF forms for my test application was available, through an Adobe Air application called Launchpad, for converting office productivity documents to PDFs right from my desktop.

Rocket Fuel