Red Hat polishes business process management suite

Red Hat BPM Suite 6 has a new UI from the company's 2012 Polymita acquisition and major new functionality to appeal to the enterprise market

Thanks to its 2012 acquisition of Polymita, Red Hat has added major functionality to its software suite for managing business processes, making the package an appealing choice in the enterprise market for BPM (business process management) software.

"Rather than building this stuff ourselves, we were able to leverage the technology from Polymita and bring this to market sooner," said Phil Simpson, Red Hat principal product marketing manager, of the new release of Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite 6. "Polymita brought a lot of technology that was very business-user friendly."

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JBoss BPM Suite 6 integrates Polymita's BPM software with the company's own business rules management software, Red Hat JBoss BRMS, and its open source Java-based BPM engine, jBPM.

This release "is a big deal for Red Hat," said Carl Lehmann, a research manager covering BPM for 451 Research. Even when they were used together, BRMS and jBPM still lacked a number of crucial features in terms of providing full BPM capability, he said.

BPM software can automate organizational workflows than span multiple applications. In many cases, it can serve as an alternative to building a new application, by managing a process that involves different applications.

BPM found a home in many enterprises because it allows business managers to cobble together workflows without relying on the sometimes scarce resources of the IT department, Lehmann said. Companies such as IBM, Appian and OpenText's Metastorm all offer BPM suites.

JBoss BRMS provides a platform for defining business rules so computers can make decisions based on these roles. For instance, an automobile insurance company may have a set of rules for guiding how much to charge customers, based on their age and type of vehicle.

BRMS, and other business rules management software, minimizes the need to encode business rules directly into an application, which can be cumbersome to update should the rules change over time.

"Instead of coding everything in Cobol, which would be very hard for users to understand what the business rules are, you separate the rules from the application itself, and manage them independently of the application code," Simpson said.

The software acquired in the Polymita purchase brings a number of important features to the new BPM Suite. For one, it offers a much more polished user interface, making it more easily usable for business users.

The Polymita addition introduces more powerful BPM modeling capabilities for instance, which provide a graphical way for business users to understand how the processes work. It also offers business activity monitoring (BAM), which supplies a summary of processes in operation.

"Before Polymita, you could think of jBPM was more Java developer workflow with BPM-ish capabilities. Now we got a full BPM suite," said Pierre Fricke, Red Hat director of product marketing, integration and BPM. "It brings Red Hat on par with some of the more entrenched BPM suites."

Red Hat's BPM suite might even offer a number of capabilities that other packages lack.

Red Hat boasts of the software's ability to execute complex event processing (CEP). CEP takes BRM a step further, allowing managers to define rules based on changing criteria. An automated stock trading application may use CEP to buy stock only when the price of a stock falls beneath a certain level, for instance. Few BPM suites have built-in CEP capabilities, Simpson said.

Lehmann points to some other possible advantages of using Red Hat JBoss BPM 6.

For instance, Red Hat's BPM suite uses OptiPlanner, a powerful open source Java planning engine that can calculate the optimal use of limited resources. OptiPlanner can boost CEP capabilities.

Also, the suite's simulation capability is based on the open source BPSim (Business Process Simulation Interchange) standard, which seeks to bring uniformity to the parameters between the BPM models and the processes they represent.

"A lot of companies and users of this technology don't understand how to do simulation properly. Having a standard to go against is valuable. Red Hat is early to have this capability, compared to its rivals," Lehmann said.

Users of BRMS version 5 should have little difficulty upgrading to the new suite, thanks to a migration tool Red Hat has developed for the job.

Red Hat will continue to offer BRMS separately. Red Hat JBoss BRMS 6, which is based off the open source Drools BPM software, offers a drag and drop interface as well as graphical data and process modelers.

The BPM package can run on any Java Enterprise Edition-compliant application server, such as IBM WebSphere or Red Hat's own JBoss.

A support subscription for the full Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite starts at about US$40,000 per year and Red Hat BRMS 6 starts at about $20,00 per year. Pricing is based on the number of processor cores being used.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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