Is it possible that something once pronounced Bipple and now Be-PEL is shaking up the Web services world? Is something as dry as Business Process Execution Language signaling an important split in Web services standards groups? Are Microsoft, IBM and BEA icing Oracle and Sun and their customers?
The answer to each is yes.
The decision of IBM, BEA and Microsoft (has anyone realized that the names of the big-three Web services players create an acronym for IBM?) to put a tiny specification for how Web services orchestration should occur into OASIS rather than the W3C sealed the developing split between the two groups. The result of the split is not antagonism, however. OASIS and the W3C are no longer competitors for standards; theyre now perfectly complementary.
But first the news and why its important. Before Web services can be useful outside a corporate intranet, there needs to be a way to create processes that invoke other processes that correspond to a business workflow. For example, if a company gets pricing quotes from a supplier, the company may want to use a Web service that triggers a database query from the supplier. If the order is placed, a series of events has to take place, including products taken off the supplier inventory and added to the buyers system. Also, multiple processes must be invoked to add to both the suppliers and the buyers financial applications.
How that flow is accomplished is called orchestration, and its the main goal of BPEL4WS—or BPEL for Web Services. BPEL is a completely arbitrary standard, however. These same kinds of transactions have happened for 20 years; they were just expensive, limited in scope and usually handled among a small set of partners. Even at the dawn of the Web services age, BPEL-like standards had begun to emerge, including Web Services Choreography Interface—WSCI, pronounced Whiskey, of all things. Web services theoretically reduce the cost and complexity of a Web services implementation, though its too early to say this is true with any confidence.