Active Endpoints Delivers BPEL4People Tool

The new product supports the push among vendors for greater human interaction within process definitions.

Active Endpoints, which makes SOA orchestration solutions, is rolling out ActiveBPEL for People, a product that adds workflow and human interaction capabilities to the companys ActiveBPEL Enterprise servers.

Fred Holahan, founder and chairman of Active Endpoints, of Shelton, Conn., said the company based its technology on the emerging BPEL4People specifications, which bring the human element to the BPEL (Business Process Execution Language).

ActiveBPEL for People, which became generally available July 19, is architecturally aligned with both the BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask specifications, which form the foundation of standards-based human interaction using BPEL, Holahan said. Active Endpoints—along with Adobe Systems, BEA Systems, IBM, Oracle and SAP—co-authored BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask, he said.

For historical reasons, technology to manage human workflow has evolved separately from technology to automate processes across IT applications, said Rob Hailstone, an analyst at the Butler Group.

"Users have made it very clear that there is a need to include human interactions within process definitions, and there has been a distinct danger that individual vendors would create proprietary extensions to BPEL to cater for this need, but would ultimately cause the fragmentation of the standard and the associated lack of portability/interoperability," Hailstone said. "The BPEL4People initiative sets out to provide a standard that is technology-neutral and will allow human interactions to be included within process definitions. The associated WS-HumanTask proposal will create a technology-neutral standard for including tasks within the user interfaces of applications or generic user environments such as portals."

As defined in the BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask specifications, the ActiveBPEL for People product adds a "People" activity to the core BPEL syntax. It includes a comprehensive task manager infrastructure with prebuilt end-user application controls and provides an extensive array of programming interfaces for customization and interoperability, the company said.

Holahan said that over the summer Active Endpoints and the other co-authors of the BPEL4People specifications will continue to refine the specifications and will turn them over to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS.

ActiveBPEL for People features three primary components. The first is a people activity component, which is a new BPEL activity that extends the WS-BPEL 2.0 standard to support human interaction and provides a set of extensions to BPEL4People. The second is a task manager, which is a server-side technology that handles all of the management of the human interaction tasks. The third is a set of end-user and developer interfaces. These are out-of-the-box end-user controls that can be easily embedded into Web-based applications, including task inbox, task detail and task assignment, Holahan said. Also, these controls are provided as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) components and include full source code, he said.

Meanwhile, the Butler Groups Hailstone said that although Active Endpoints does not have as high a profile as other vendors that are collaborating on the BPEL4People initiative, its technology is widely deployed, being incorporated on an OEM basis by a number of vendors.

It is the independence of Active Endpoints that makes its ActiveBPEL for People a valuable product, Hailstone said.

"There are very many providers of BPEL technology, some being relatively small vendors that may not have the resources to implement BPEL4People in a timely manner," Hailstone said. "Because ActiveBPEL for People is a stand-alone product, it can be added retrospectively to an existing implementation, irrespective of the current product selection in use in a user environment."

Moreover, there would be some advantages in using an integrated product set throughout, particularly with respect to having an integrated development environment, but since most vendors deploy the development environment as plug-ins to Eclipse, this shouldnt be a major issue, he said.

"Perhaps a bigger long-term issue is the governance of the life cycle over several iterations of change to both the process and human workflow definitions, where the use of a single repository would help," he said.

Holahan said Active Endpoints road map includes automated migration for user processes created using the current versions of ActiveBPEL for People. Thus, organizations can use current versions of ActiveBPEL for People to create, deploy and manage their human-facing BPEL processes and be confident they will not incur significant costs and disruptions when the BPEL4People standards are approved, he said.

ActiveBPEL for People is available immediately as an add-on module to the ActiveBPEL Enterprise server. A version is also planned for the ActiveBPEL open-source engine, using the ActiveBPEL Designer for complete design, test, deployment and debugging.


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