BPEL for Microsoft People

BPEL for Windows Workflow Foundation CTP release showcases Microsoft’s newest business process management offering.

Last month Microsoft released a preview of its Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) for Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) toolset. Microsoft co-authored the original BPEL standard, an orchestration language for automating business processes that uses Web Services Description Language (WSDL) to send and receive messages.

The BPEL for Windows Workflow Foundation March 2007 Community Technology Preview (CTP) offers application developers a set of WF activities in Visual Studio (VS) and a workflow runtime environment. The tools are required for building BPEL-enabled workflows in VS. The final release will include an import tool that lets developers load a standard XML BPEL file into the VS WF design environment and an export tool that takes the same VS artifact and exports it in a BPEL XAML format. The CTP is based on BPEL 1.1. The final release, expected in Q4 as a separate download from the .NET Framework 3.0, will support OASIS WS-BPEL 2.0.

Microsoft faced demand from customers who were using BPEL as a process definition language, so the .NET team decided to implement BPEL in the WF layer of the framework. "This doesn't mean that BPEL will be available in the enterprise for people to integrate with," explains Paul Andrew, a senior product manager on the .NET Framework team at Microsoft. "We'll need to see some products built on WF expose those BPEL activities for people to do that."

Basically, software developers who are using WF can map out processes using the built-in activities WF ships with, or they can use the specific state of activities that the BPEL standard specifies.

"Some people will see BPEL as an executable format for process, but we don't think that customers will use it that way," Andrew says. "We think the value in BPEL is that once you have a Web service that's defined with an interface in WSDL, it allows you to define message exchange patterns, within the enterprise or for anyone using Web services."

BPEL for BizTalk
BPEL is a key part of the BizTalk product line and there is a "really nice" BPEL editor in VS 2005, which Windows users are now using to build process layers into their applications, observes Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. "There has been some controversy in the community about how to extend BPEL over time," Gilpin says.

There's also debate about the relationship between BPEL and another language: Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), which many in the industry consider more important. "But that controversy seems to have resolved itself," says Gilpin, as vendors including Microsoft have decided to support both BPEL and BPMN, and ensure the technologies work together.

The next major version of BizTalk Server, not yet announced, will be built on WF and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and support BPEL 2.0, according to Andrew. An interim upgrade, BizTalk Server 2006 R2 is slated for Q3; the beta has not yet been released. "We're providing a WCF adaptor for BizTalk Server and building some integration with WF," he explains. A tracking service in R2 lets developers specify a workflow model in .NET. When the model runs, its activities are saved into the Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) database of BizTalk Server.

"I definitely would not put Microsoft in the leader category for BPM technology," says Gilpin. "They're clearly looking at the market differently than the big BPM players, so they're not trying to go toe-to-toe on all of the feature sets that a high-end BPM tool is able to provide."

Microsoft is following its typical strategy of meeting the needs of 80 percent of the people who are out there. "Microsoft is going to sell a lot of BizTalk, and the people who are buying it don't really care about the difference because the problem they're trying to solve is solved by what BizTalk already does," says Gilpin.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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