Assorted thoughts on BPEL

There’s been a few interesting posts about BPEL lately.

First, SOA World Magazine (which appears on the WebSphere Journal site, not sure if it actually exists elsewhere since there was no back-link) has a post on BPEL’s Growing Up, covering a brief history, current status and the view forward, including BPEL4People:

Going forward, we’re already seeing the next generation of standards around BPEL being discussed. For example, the “BPEL4People” effort was first announced in late 2005 and is intended to standardize an approach similar to the one described above for incorporating human workflow tasks in BPEL processes. Besides being one of our favorite standards acronyms, BPEL4People is an important area of work since most business processes span both systems and humans.

They neglect to mention that BPEL4People is not really much more than a white paper, although a lot of people talk about it as if it’s a standard just about to hit the big time. I recently linked to a Oracle Contractors blog post where one of the comments on the post (#5) pointed out that “so far, there is no BPEL4PEOPLE”. Or as I put it in my commentary on the link, the emperor is looking around for his boxers.

SOA World Magazine goes on to say:

While BPEL vendors provide easy-to-use graphical tools for creating and editing BPEL processes, the very fact that BPEL processes are so detailed as to be executable makes these tools too complex for most business users. Instead, business users need to be able to specify higher-level process blueprints that can then be filled in by developers to make them executable.

Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is a standard from OAG [sic] to address the above requirement.

Um, not necessarily. Now, the article was written by two guys who work for Oracle, so I can see why they have this view, but I’m not sure that everyone would share the view that developers are required to fill in the details in order to make models created by business analysts usable.

Secondly, the comments about Microsoft supporting BPEL. As David Chappell put it:

Like BizTalk Server today, WF [Windows Workflow Foundation] treats BPEL as a way to move process logic between different workflow engines, not as an executable format (and certainly not as a development language).

He goes on to nail the real reason for Microsoft’s adoption of BPEL:

Adding the ability to export and import BPEL workflows to WF — and thus to Windows itself — will help WF in situations where support for BPEL is a political necessity.

BPEL has become more of an RFP check item than a real requirement, since most end-customer organizations don’t really understand what it is or what it might do for them. And if you believe a recent Burton Group report, BPEL is just a placeholder for WS-CDL until that choreography standard is ready for prime time.

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