Sun, Oracle Join BPEL Effort

As the date for the first Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) committee meeting hurtles closer, OASIS will host two parties it previously hadn’t counted on: Sun Microsystems and Oracle.

Sun and Oracle have joined the committee and plan to attend the May 16 meeting, in a new twist on the contentious issue over standards for Web services choreography, which aims to automate business process integration.

Until this development, Sun and Oracle had long been lobbying for a separate Web services choreography specification, Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), under the auspices of the World Wide Web consortium and took issue when Microsoft representatives were pulled from a group meeting on that spec.

While it is a compelling turn in the winding road for BPEL, it is hardly a surprise, as industry experts noted Sun is making up ground in the Web services arena, much as it did when it finally joined the Web Services Interoperability Consortium last year after holding out for a leadership position.

“There’s nothing at all surprising about Sun’s changing their mind, as their software strategy has been rudderless for over a year now. When you put this week’s change of direction in the context of all the zigzags Sun has been making since Web Services got off the ground, it might look like Sun is desperate — and maybe they are,” said ZapThink Senior Analyst Jason Bloomberg.

Redmonk Senior Analyst James Governor agreed the development was not a surprise. “One reason to be on these bodies is so you don’t miss the boat. Sun obviously can’t really afford not to know what is happening with its competitors’ business process management approaches,” he said.

Ever since the meeting in March, Sun and fellow WSCI supporters Oracle have alleged that the BPEL camp is creating a schism in the community at a time when Web services adoption suffers from distrust over, in part, a lack of fully capable, interoperable protocols.

Microsoft argued that it already had a comprehensive framework for choreography, called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), which it co-created with IBM, its main partner in efforts to create and guide Web services standards adoption.

Those firms felt their technology was more mature and sent BPEL4WS, BPEL for short, to OASIS in April, with BEA, SAP, and Siebel agreeing to shepherd the effort. OASIS later announced the formation of the BPEL technical committee and set the May 16 meeting date to formally introduce BPEL.

Ed Julson, group marketing manager of Web services standards and technologies at Sun, said the decision to join BPEL comes as a result of customers telling “us that BPEL is likely to be an important specification. It does have market momentum and from a pragmatic point of view, it makes sense to be involved in the evolution of that effort. We will attend because we owe it to the W3C to try to reconcile the two overlapping standards so don’t overlap.”

An Oracle spokesperson said that given its position in the software space “Oracle feels it needs to participate in both groups to encourage cooperation between them and ensure an outcome that is best for the industry.”

The door swings both ways, however, as BEA, Oracle, SAP and others plan to support both WSCI and BPEL.

For Sun, ZapThink’s Bloomberg said it looks as though they are “finally starting to get their act together. N1 is a step in the right direction, as is Project Orion. Now that Sun has joined the board of the WS-I and put their support behind BPEL, it looks like they’re pointed the right way with respect to Web Services. There’s no question they have some catching up to do, but everyone likes to root for the underdog, and that’s what Sun is in the Web Services world,” he said.

So, where does all of this leave WSCI, and by extension, the W3C? ZapThink Senior Analyst Ronald Schmelzer isn’t so sure, but he said that they, and not Microsoft and its BPEL team, might be splitting up forces in a time when interoperability is crucial.

“Where there is a problem is with the W3C — they will have to figure out what to do with the WS-Choreography group and quick,” he said. “They need to find a role for themselves that doesn’t put them at odds with the OASIS group, since there’s no doubt that the momentum is behind that effort. As a standards organization, they have the responsibility and accountability to the industry to not just create standards, but to foster interoperability. If they decide to put WS-Choreography at odds with the WSBPEL group, they face not only splitting the industry, but also damaging their credibility.”

Sun’s Julson said the industry can’t really be sure what will happen on this front. “The fact is, this creation of overlapping efforts is really unprecendented in the industry.”

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