Oracle and IBM move BPEL to the BPI forefront
Promising process servers ease Web-services integration complexities
In both cases, I found the process engines supported advanced BPEL capabilities, including asynchronous message handoff and transaction compensation, which is the rolling back of a transaction to an earlier state due to, for example, a processing error.
Each engine handled dehydration well with a persistent state-management store for long-running transactions. Recovery agents awakened (or rehydrated) my dormant transactions after a specific lapse in time or upon receipt of a completed transaction and moved the process to the next stage.
Via JCA (Java Connector Architecture) adaptors, both products do a good job at extending their reach to orchestrate more than just Web services. The well-integrated support of WBISF extends it to include J2C and WBI application, technology, and mainframe adaptors, such as CICS support, as well. Because Oracle’s acquisition of Collaxa is relatively recent, similar functionality should eventually find its way into BPEL-PM.
I found the BPEL-PM administration console easy to use, allowing me to deploy my BPEL processes, test and debug flows, collect data on transactions, and trace both completed histories and those in progress. I liked the ability to visually inspect a business flow and drill down to the underlying XML that encapsulated my transaction.
BPEL language is wordy and awkward to manage in volume. The process map-design tools from both vendors address the shortcoming, offering good graphical cues and inspectors to streamline setup of processes, partner links, and variables. I was able to quickly construct complex, parallel branching flow logic based on run-time conditions and variables. I was also able to manage the partner services, roles, and port types that were participating in my services interactions without ever touching XML directly.
In general, the tools were smart enough to promote efficiency and build maps directly from my WSDL data. Building exception-handling into design was also easy.
I found both tools allowed good XML manipulation: Oracle by way of a visual XPath Editor, and IBM with a graphical WSDL editor and XSLT mapper.
WSAD-IE has user tasks that can be added to integrate the human element of a transaction -- although workflow is not yet part of the BPEL specification -- and has even adopted good provisions for directory services to enhance form routing and approval, for example.
Pop and hiss
I experienced some interface difficulty with the WSAD-IE designer, such as the inability to scroll a zoomed-in process map. Additionally, I was unable to print my flow diagrams from the WSAD-IE interface, which is an absolute necessity because working in the graphical interface can quickly become unwieldy during complex flows. There was too much paging back and forth with unreadable icon tags.
BPEL-PM would benefit from sprucing up its XML source editor by adding tools to streamline productivity, such as source code completion, and by providing a more developer-friendly environment.
Analytics, too, still need some work. Although I was able to extrapolate basics from BPEL-PM, such as time to completion of a process, I would like to see more advanced analytics eventually built into the tools to sift metrics and improve decision-making abilities.
In all, these packages continue to be mired in complexity, making them too green to let business analysts in on the process. Integrating business processes remains a systems integrator’s game.
But BPEL-PM has come a long way from the first time I looked at Collaxa’s scripted ScenarioBean approach back in 2002. And, for IBM, the addition of the Process Choreographer to its application server architecture is a sign of its continued commitment to BPEL.
Both of these products represent the existing cream-of-the-crop for SOA transactional process integration, and it would serve you well to take a look at the future of collaborative business process management.
This review should originally have stated that IBM has folded WAS (WebSphere Application Server) Enterprise into WBISF (WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation) 5.1. The error has been corrected.
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