BPEL standardizes process management
Business process management provides a graphical approach to automating and monitoring business activities, integrating enterprise applications and managing manual tasks. Historically, BPM products have utilized their own proprietary process languages, design tools and engines. Now that BPM is considered a key aspect of service-oriented architecture, the lack of an industry standard is a significant problem.
An upcoming standard called Web Services Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) is an important step toward addressing this concern.
Originally co-written by BEA Systems, IBM and Microsoft, and currently under review and revision by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, BPEL has attracted a lot of attention and industry backing.
Slated for completion by year-end, BPEL should encourage the adoption of BPM and SOA technologies by companies that have hesitated because they were concerned about portability and protecting their investment. It also should result in the proliferation of new products and solutions, giving buyers newfound levels of flexibility and freedom in choosing tools and platforms.
BPEL is a programming language written in XML. With BPEL-based visual process design tools, developers will be able to use drag-and-drop diagrams to create programs that automate interactions between Web services. This activity is often referred to as Web service orchestration. The processes can range from simple to complex, and they can talk to Web services running on any platform, such as Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition and .Net.
It is important to note that BPEL can only talk to Web services; Web service orchestration is all it does. It is not intended to integrate with resources that do not offer a Web service interface (such as legacy or custom applications). It is expected that BPEL often will be extended with other languages, such as Java, and paired with other technologies to address these needs.
BPEL is well positioned to take advantage of a significant and timely IT trend: SOA, a standards-based organizational and design methodology that more closely aligns IT with business processes. Using standard interfaces and shared Web services that help mask the underlying technical complexity of IT environments, SOA enables greater re-use of IT assets. This can result in more rapid development, and more reliable delivery of new and enhanced business services.
Once a corporation has built up a library of reusable Web services, BPEL will make it fairly straightforward to tie these services together into new applications. But these services will still have to come from somewhere; IT will need to build, expose and manage these services.
Because BPEL assumes that everything is exposed as a Web service, it won’t always help solve these latter problems. A range of other technologies will continue to be relevant for this purpose and in completing the SOA stack. A few examples are enterprise application integration products ——which can handle the sticky data and integration problems——and service bus products, which will provide centralized management and monitoring of a corporation’s Web services.
Just as BPEL is the first step in BPM standardization, it also is just one of several technologies that eventually will make up most SOA deployments.
While there have been previous attempts at creating a standardized business process language, BPEL has attracted an unprecedented level of interest and is the first to gain critical mass among software vendors.
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