Another Swipe at BPEL

  • July 24, 2009
  • Scott

Max J Pucher writes a pretty thorough rebuttal of the idea that BPEL matters.  He starts by pointing out that the defenders of BPEL often malign those who question BPEL’s utility.  Mr. Pucher has quite a few controversial posts and discussions in the BPM space, and this post is no exception. I can summarize his article in a few key points:

  • BPEL is not widely supported.  There are over 200 BPM vendors, and less than 10% support BPEL, and by Mr. Pucher’s reckoning, their support is partial at best.
  • Avoiding “vendor lock-in” is not a valid goal of BPEL – because there is still vendor lock-in with BPEL implementing products.  I happen to agree that it is a bit naive to think that software you buy from a software vendor won’t entail a certain amount of vendor lock-in.  Transferring execution details from one body of software to another and expecting complete faithful reproduction is non-trivial.  Just think about Java Virtual Machines – without a robust specification test to validate against, these JVM’s would never approach parity.  Even so, software vendors usually only warranty their products against particular JVMs and even JVM versions. He quite rightly points out that the combinatorics on database, OS, JVM, appserver, rules, security, etc. make it nearly impossible that an implementation can merely be lifted from one BPEL vendor and run inside another BPEL vendor’s platform.
  • Since BPEL is XML that we hope never to lay eyes on, why is it the representation that we hope to preserve?  Aren’t the diagrams more useful to preserve?
  • BPEL doesn’t address key business requirements – such as monitoring the execution of the process for important business metrics.  And the business shouldn’t really care how the process is executed so much as those metrics… So is BPEL missing the point?

His conclusion:

Conclusion: When BPEL and even BPMN are looked at from a pragmatic business need perspective the only acceptable benefit is that products that use them have similar functionality and people designing processes will find it easier to switch products.[…]

Well, this is a significant benefit – but it is not what the vendors of BPEL vendors will claim – “model portability” and vendor independence.  As usual, interesting stuff from Mr. Pucher, and a little different perspective on the BPM space.

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