Will BPEL and WSCI Come Together?

A potential rift between the supporters of two specifications, which both
address what is considered by many to be a fundamental component of the
next level of Web services, may be averted.


At the first meeting of the OASIS Web Services Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) Technical
Committee
last week, the committee agreed to accept the invitation of
the chairs of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Services Choreography Working Group to attend that
group’s next face-to-face meeting and “explore possible liaisons,”
according to OASIS spokesperson Carol Geyer. The meeting will be held June
18-20.


The meeting may not only imply a thawing of relations between the various
companies involved, but may also signify an end to any potential rivalry between the OASIS
and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
standards bodies.

BPEL
co-developed by BEA Systems , IBM ,
Microsoft , SAP and Siebel Systems
— provides a language for the formal specification of
business processes and business interaction protocols. By doing so, it
seeks to give Web services the ability to support business transactions. The specification defines an interoperable integration model intended to
facilitate the expansion of automated process integration in both the
intra-corporate and the business-to-business spaces. The complementary
specifications WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction orchestrate the
choreography of Web services while BPEL serves to articulate them.

The Web Services
Choreography Interface
(WSCI) specification — co-developed by BEA
Systems, Intalio, SAP, and Sun Microsystems is an
XML-based interface description language that describes the flow of
messages exchanged by Web services in choreographed interactions. It seeks
to describe the observable behavior of Web services in terms of
dependencies among exchanged messages, featuring sequencing rules,
correlation, exception handling and transactions.

The acceptance of a meeting between the groups working on the two
specifications may be a further sign of a willingness to join forces on
defining standard methods for business process execution and choreography
between Web services. While the two specifications share two developers in
common (as well as a number of Working Group/Technical Committee members),
they had become the focus of a battle between four Web services giants over
the future of that technology, with IBM and Microsoft lining up behind
their creation, BPEL, and Sun Microsystems and Oracle
throwing their weight behind the WSCI specification.


And the Winner is BPEL?
Analysts and vendors broadly agree that BPEL is the likely winner of a
confrontation between the two specifications, noting that the combination
of IBM, Microsoft, and a mature specification makes it an 800 lbs. gorilla.

“It looks like BPEL is going to win,” James Philips, vice president of
products and marketing for Web services management specialist Actional,
told internetnews.com. “It’s almost a de facto win.”


He added that Actional has decided to commit to BPEL, even though OASIS is
only now beginning to hammer out a recommendation on the specification. “At
the end of the day, it all comes down to a business decision,” he said.
“It’s where the wind is blowing. Basically, we want to support our
customers. You’ve got IBM, BEA and Microsoft all throwing their weight
behind BPEL — that’s greater than 90 percent of the application server
marketplace right there.”


Oak Grove Systems, which focuses on selling business process execution
technology and which is also one of the members of the Business Process Management Initiative
(one of the creators of WSCI as well as the Business Process Management
Language), feels the same way.


While Chuck Ames, CEO of Oak Grove, told internetnews.com that the
company takes a neutral approach with its Reactor 5 business process
management engine, he noted, “I think we can all see the writing on the
wall. When IBM and Microsoft throw their weight behind it, that’s the
gorilla approach.”

He added, “The industry momentum is certainly behind BPEL right now. WSCI
and some of the [other specifications] are actually not duplicates of each
other. I think BPEL has already established mindshare that is
insurmountable, so these others may not matter much in the future.”


BPMI.org has acknowledged the similarities between its BPML specification
and BPEL, and has moved toward embracing BPEL.

Initial Rift
But while the industry consensus seems to support BPEL, there is
considerable commercial advantage in getting in at the ground floor of the
development of a new specification in order to be sure that it answers the
demands of customers. One of the first signs that the firms would use BPEL
and WSCI as a battleground, and one which cast a potential pall on the
future of Web services, was Microsoft’s abrupt
decision
in March to pull out of the WSCI Working Group after only one
meeting.

At the time, Stephen O’Grady, a senior analyst with research firm Redmonk, told internetnews.com,
“I saw that move, and I must say that it doesn’t bode well for the future
of Web services. I was just chatting with [group marketing manager for Web
services standards and technologies at Sun] Ed Julson and a few others from
Sun about the state of Web services last week, and while I wasn’t entirely
convinced then with their pessimistic outlook, this is certainly another
step in that direction.”


But in a sign that the future of Web services might not be that dire after
all, WSCI heavy-weights Sun and Oracle seemed to extend the olive branch
earlier this month when they announced they would join the
BPEL Technical Committee.

“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.


A Thawing of Relations
But the parties’ decision to explore liaisons seems to indicate a more
thorough thawing of relations, answering the often-stated plea of multiple
vendors in the space. “We’d like to see it resolved,” Actional’s Philips
said. “We’d like to see systems in the marketplace embodying these
standards as rapidly as possible.”


That may be just what is taking place, according to ZapThink Senior Analyst
Ronald Schmelzer. “They’re trying to establish some real connection between
the two,” he said. “It’s at least a sign that there’s an interest in
talking. It’s really about extending the footprint of BPEL.”


Forrester
Research
Analyst Ted Schadler agreed. “What they’re doing now is
building bridges,” he said. “This is an example of that bridge.”

Noting that he sees WSCI disappearing in favor of BPEL, he said of Sun’s
and Oracle’s apparent decision to join forces with Microsoft and IBM,
“That’s what should happen. That’s called taking the high ground.”


But even if the two groups are willing to coordinate, will it really add anything to BPEL, the heir-apparent? ZapThink’s Schmelzer doesn’t really think so.

“It turns out that there really aren’t any major features in WSCI that are not present in BPEL,” he said. “BPEL, in many ways, is a super-set of the WSCI functionality. The main difference is that WSCI focuses primarily on ‘choreographies,’ which are the defined interactions between independent processes. This is what BPEL describes as ‘abstract processes.’ BPEL supports these in addition to ‘executable processes’ which aren’t covered by WSCI.”


The rest of the BPEL Technical Committee’s initial meeting primarily dealt
with administrative details of starting up the committee — especially the
difficulties holding meetings through conference calls with more than 100
participants. OASIS’ Geyer said 115 OASIS members participated in the first
call.

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