SERVICE-ORIENTED ARCHITECTURE (SOA)
– October 11, 2004: I have previously discussed
Enterprise Architecture methods, as well as technologies for rapid delivery into
production of priority business processes. These technologies have included XML,
Enterprise Portals and Web Services. In this issue I will cover the concepts of
rapid delivery technologies based on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and
Business Process Management (BPM). I will discuss a number of XML-based BPM
languages: BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services);
Business Process Modeling Language (BPML); and Business Process Specification
Schema (BPSS) for ebXML.
TEN - The Enterprise Newsletter
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Web Services technology has now advanced so that functions
within existing application programs and suites – as well as functions within
ERP, CRM, SCM and other packages – can be easily and reliably published to the
Intranet or Internet for remote execution using SOAP, WSDL and UDDI. But what
has been missing until now is an automated way to invoke available Web Services
based on Business Rules. This technology is now becoming available with
Service-Oriented Architecture using Business Process Management (BPM) languages
The Importance of Service–Oriented Architecture
The term: “Service-Oriented Architecture” (SOA) up until now
has been synonymous with “Web Services”. I use SOA more precisely: to invoke Web
Services using BPM tools and languages. This is an important distinction. SOA is
expected to make a significant contribution to the future of Systems Development
technologies as indicated in the following paragraphs.
Before SOA, systems development used Workflow Diagrams or
Systems Flowcharts that were drawn and then printed, so that relevant business
logic could be coded by hand. These manually-coded programs were laboriously
tested and eventually deployed for execution. With SOA using BPM tools, this
manual coding and testing step is bypassed. Instead, the diagrams are tested for
correct logical execution using simulation methods. Once correct, these diagrams
are then automatically generated as XML-based BPM languages for immediate
This BPM technology is a major advance in the productivity of
systems development; as significant as the development of high-level language
compilers in the late 1950's. It becomes easy to invoke Web Services anywhere in
the world and to execute them based on Business Rules. When these rules do
change, the relevant logic in the diagrams is changed: these diagrams are then
automatically regenerated. This promises to transform totally the way we build
systems in the future: from slow, error-prone manual coding to an automated
discipline. It will enable enterprises to implement changed Business Rules in
minutes or hours, rather than in months or years. Enterprises will then be able
to change direction rapidly ... to turn on a penny, so to speak.
In the following sections I will discuss the concepts of BPM
languages, including: Business Process Execution Language for Web Services
(called BPEL4WS or just BPEL) from IBM and Microsoft; Business Process Markup
Language (BPML) from the Business Process Management Institute (BPMI); and
Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS) from ebXML.
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Introduction to Service-Oriented and Event-Driven Architectures
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)
is the term that has emerged to describe executable components – such as Web
Services – that can be invoked by other programs that act as clients or
consumers of those services. As well as the execution of Web Services, these
services can also be complete modern – or even legacy – application programs
that can be invoked for execution as a “black-box”. A developer does not need to
know how the programs work: only the input that they require; the output they
provide; and how to invoke them for execution.
The services are loosely coupled to the client program. They
can be invoked based on decisions made by business rules. This means that
developers can swap one service out and replace it by another service that is
designed to achieve the same or enhanced result without having to worry about
their inner workings. Today standard parts in a car can be interchanged without
having to strip down the whole car and rebuild it. So today with SOA we have
similar flexibility, where existing services can be easily replaced by improved
services without having to change the internal logic of monolithic application
programs as was necessary in the past. Software categories that provide this SOA
flexibility are called Business Process Management (BPM), or Business
Process Integration (BPI) products.
A further term also describes these BPM and BPI execution
environments: Event-Driven Architecture (EDA). This is an approach for
designing and building applications where business events trigger messages to be
sent between independent services that are completely unaware of each other. An
event may be the receipt by the enterprise of a Sales Order transaction from a
customer for processing. Or it may be a change in a data value that requires a
Purchase Order to be placed with a supplier, when the available quantity of a
product in the warehouse falls below a minimum balance threshold.
Because the services in an EDA environment are independent,
they are decoupled – as distinct from the loosely-coupled services of the SOA-based
approach above. An event source sends messages to middleware software, which
matches the messages against the subscription criteria or business rules of
programs or services that want to be notified of these events. Messages are
typically sent using the publish-and-subscribe approach because this enables
simultaneous delivery to multiple destinations.
Business Process Management (BPM) is used for workflow
modelling and execution by several products for Enterprise Application
Integration (EAI). These include Microsoft BizTalk Server and webMethods
Business Integrator. IBM, SeeBeyond, TIBCO and Vignette use similar BPM
approaches in their EAI products.
Before SOA, most BPM products used proprietary methods to
define process logic in Workflow Diagrams. To overcome these product-focused
solutions, an open architecture approach has been defined for interoperability.
Several XML languages have emerged: Business Process Execution Language for Web
Services (BPEL4WS); Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) and the ebXML
Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS) definitions.
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Business Process Execution Language (BPEL)
Recognizing the complexity of accessing web services in
synchronous and asynchronous environments, in August 2002 IBM, Microsoft and BEA
introduced their jointly defined Business Process Execution Language for Web
Services (BPEL4WS – or just BPEL). Its specification is now being managed by
OASIS. (The BPEL Specifications are at:
http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/ws-bpel/ and also on OASIS at
BPEL combines capabilities of IBM’s Web Services Flow
Language (WSFL) from IBM WebSphere Business Integrator and those of
Microsoft’s XLANG as used by Microsoft BizTalk Server 2002. BPEL includes WSFL
support for graph-oriented processes, with XLANG support of structural
constructs for processes. BPEL is designed to support implementation of any
complex business process, as well as being used to describe interfaces of
WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction specifications have also
been defined for use with BPEL. These offer transaction and process coordination
and recovery to address typical error conditions.
BPEL is a comprehensive workflow definition execution
language specified in XML. It can be defined as a programming language and
executed directly, but is more likely to be automatically generated from
Workflow Diagrams. The BPEL language commands are called Activities. Some
Activity constructs are discussed next:
an operation on
Web Service (<invoke>)
for an external message (<receive>)
a response for
input / output
for some time (<wait>)
data between locations
that an error occurred or something went wrong (<throw>)
the entire service instance (<terminate>)
a sequence of steps toi be executed in a specific order (<sequence>)
using a "case-statement" (<switch>)
a loop (<while>)
one of several alternative paths (<pick>)
that steps should be executed in parallel (<flow>)
fault logic processing via <throw> and <catch>
compensation for error recovery – implement
compensating actions for any irreversible actions in error
handling and compensation
supported recursively by
specifying the relevant scope
White Papers on BPEL are available from: IBM at
http://www.ibm.com/; Microsoft at
http://www.microsoft.com/; and OASIS at
http://www.xml.org/. The examples in this section have been drawn from the
IBM DeveloperWorks site at
http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/ws-bpelwp/ and also at
BPEL is a comprehensive workflow definition execution
language that is specified in XML. It can be written as a programming language
and executed directly. But it is mainly intended for automatic generation and
execution directly from Workflow Diagrams. The IBM DeveloperWorks web site has a
White Paper that describes two examples: a Loan Processing example at
and a Travel
Itinerary example that is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: A Travel Example using BPEL (Source: See URL
Figure 1 shows the
reservation Web Services from airline, hotel and car rental partners in a Travel
Itinerary business process. The White Paper referenced in Figure 1 details how
the activities of a business process are externalized as Web services, such as
the initial wait for receipt of a customer itinerary request, for example. The
activities for multiple Web services within
transaction are described, together with the dynamic linking to services from
multiple providers at runtime. This is based on data that is derived from the
process flow itself: for
the customer wishes to use, the preferred car rental company, and a requested
The BPEL, WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction Specifications
from the OASIS web site at
http://www.xml.org/ describe how they are used together. WS-Coordination
(WS-C) is an extensible framework for coordinating the actions of
distributed applications operating in a heterogeneous environment. WS-C is used
to create an environment to propagate an activity to other services and so
coordinate their actions, or to register for coordination protocols. It defines
coordination types that specify a set of coordination behaviors.
specifies two coordination types used in conjunction with
WS-Coordination: Atomic Transaction (AT); and Business Activity (BA).
The AT behavior is used to coordinate activities that have a short duration,
while BA behavior coordinates activities that are long in duration and so need
to apply business logic to handle business exceptions.
With development of BPEL, WS-C and WS-T now managed by the
OASIS WSBPEL Technical Committee, its members include Booz Allen Hamilton, BEA,
CommerceOne, E2open, EDS, IBM, Microsoft, NEC, Novell, Oracle, SAP, SeeBeyond,
Siebel, Sun, Sybase, TIBCO, Vignette, Waveset and others. With the strength of
these organizations behind its adoption, BPEL is expected to become a major
force in XML-based languages for Business Process Management.
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Business Process Modeling Language (BPML)
Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) is complementary to
Business Process Execution Language (BPEL). BPML can be used to define the
detailed business process behind each service. Details
about the Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) specifications are available
from the BPMI web site at
BPML maps business
activities to message exchanges. It can be used for the definition of enterprise
business processes, the definition of complex Web Services, and the definition
of multi-party collaborations. Some of the organizations that are involved in
the definition of the BPML Specification are CSC, Intalio, SAP, Sun, SeeBeyond
and Versata. From the BPML Specifications, its intent is as follows:
“Business Process Modeling
Language (BPML) is
an XML language to define a formal model for expressing executable processes
that address all aspects of enterprise business processes. BPML defines
activities of varying complexity, transactions and compensation, data
management, concurrency, exception handling and operational semantics. BPML
provides a grammar in the form of an XML Schema to enable the persistence and
interchange of definitions across heterogeneous systems and modeling tools.”
BPML is a rich and mature language to express both simple as
well as complex business processes. BPML and BPEL share an identical set of
idioms and similar syntaxes as block-structured languages. Compared to the
activities supported by BPEL as listed last month, BPML syntax supports:
Activities and Activity Types; Processes; Properties; Signals; Schedules; and
Exceptions. To illustrate, Simple and Complex BPML Activity Types are listed and
Simple BPML Activity Types
Performs or invokes an operation involving the exchange of input and output
assign: Assigns a new value to a property.
call: Instantiates a process and waits for it to complete.
compensate: Invokes compensation for the named processes.
delay: Expresses the passage of time.
empty: Does nothing.
fault: Throws a fault in the current context.
raise: Raises a signal.
spawn: Instantiates a process without waiting for it to
synch: Synchronizes on a signal.
Complex BPML Activity Types
Executes activities in parallel.
choice: Executes activities from one of multiple sets, selected
in response to an event.
foreach: Executes activities once for each item in an item list.
sequence: Executes activities in sequential order.
switch: Executes activities from one of multiple sets, selected
based on the truth value of a condition.
until: Executes activities once or more based on the truth
value of a condition.
while: Executes activities zero or more times based on the
truth value of a condition.
A Complex Activity is an activity that contains one or
more child activities. It establishes a context for execution and directs that
execution. Complex activities define hierarchical composition. This can be as
simple as repetitive execution of a single activity, or a means to establish a
nested context for the execution of multiple activities. BPML supports other
forms of composition, which include cyclic graphs and recursive composition.
Complex activities are used when hierarchical composition is required, in
particular to establish a new context for the execution of child activities.
A Simple Activity is any activity that may lead to the
execution of multiple activities, specifically the action, call, compensate
and spawn activities. However, a simple activity does not by itself
define the context for the execution of other activities. Differentiating
between these further, the following language summary illustrates that BPML
includes all of the logic constructs of a rigorous programming language.
A complex activity that contains multiple activity sets must
of course select which one to use. Several typical logic constructs are used.
The choice activity waits for an event to be triggered and then selects
the activity set associated with that event handler. The switch activity
evaluates conditions and selects the activity set associated with a condition
that evaluates to true. All other complex activities defined in the BPML
specification contain a single activity set and so do not have to make such
A complex activity also determines the number of times to
execute activities from the total activity set. Typical logic constructs here
are: the until activity, which repeats executing activities until a
condition evaluates to true; the while activity, which executes
activities repeatedly while the condition evaluates to true; and the
foreach activity. This repeats executing activities, once for each item in
the item list. All other complex activities above execute activities from the
activity set exactly once.
A complex activity determines the order in which activities
are executed. The sequence activity executes all activities from the
activity set’s list in sequential order. The all activity executes all
activities from the activity set’s list in parallel. All other complex
activities defined in BPML execute activities in sequential order.
The complex activity completes when it has finished executing
all activities from the activity set. This includes all activities that are
defined in the activity list and all processes instantiated from a definition
made in the activity set’s context. Nested processes and exception processes are
considered activities of the activity set.
Simple activities abort and throw a fault if
they cannot complete due to unexpected error. Complex activities abort
and throw a fault if one of their activities throws a fault from which
they cannot recover.
With its additional support for nested processes and other
syntax, BPML is a superset of BPEL. When BPEL is used with BPML, an end-to-end
view depicts the role of each individual business process in the overall
choreography, and the business activities that are performed by each role.
BPEL and BPML are similar approaches to solve the same
problem: the definition of process logic in XML so that it can be used as
executable code by BPM-based software products. These languages are evolving. At
the time of writing, BPML had reached the level of a W3C Proposed
Recommendation. A decision between them has not yet been resolved. All are
solutions to the same problem, with specifications and languages that are
conceptually similar; they may in time consolidate into one overall
The cross-participation of organizations in two (and for some
organizations all three) of these initiatives augurs well for possible
convergence of the specifications. But until that time, most BPM tools will most
likely need to support generation of all three BPM languages from workflow
models or process diagrams, including BPSS as discussed next.
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ebXML Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS)
This is the third BPM language that we will discuss. BPSS is
part of ebXML, which has decades of experience in Electronic Data Interchange
(EDI) behind its Specification. The full ebXML Specifications on
http://www.ebxml.org/ and also on OASIS at
htpp://www.xml.org/ should be read in conjunction with the discussion of
ebXML BPSS Specification in this section.
BPSS differs from BPEL and BPML. It defines a business
process for physical business interchanges between parties for collaboration and
for transactions to be carried out between commercial business partners. It is
designed to work in conjunction with the ebXML Collaboration Protocol Profile
(CPP) and Collaboration Protocol Agreement (CPA), both defined in the
ebXML Specifications. In contrast, the other BPM languages are generic to
Web Services: they do not provide explicit commercial semantics (or terms) as
discussed next, nor do they have the intent of a trading partner agreement as
A Web Service may have to be designed for internal and
external uses. For this reason, internal-use Web Services can be described in
the other BPM languages, while external-use Web Services may require further
specification: described with commercial terms for business collaboration using
For example, if a Supplier accepts a Purchase Order from a
Customer, this acceptance is a binding legal agreement: for the Supplier to
deliver the requested Products or Services to the Customer at an agreed price
and time; and for the Customer to pay the Supplier following delivery. The
various messages and interactions sent between these external businesses
constitute a binding contract between both parties. BPSS therefore includes the
concepts of time periods for business response, plus non-repudiation:
neither party can deny its legal obligations to the other party, once the
Purchase Order has been issued and accepted.
A company may want to wrap its implementation of a given role
in external-use BPSS collaboration, and additionally also as an internal-use Web
Service. To achieve this it can describe the Web Service in any BPM language:
there is nothing in the specifications that prevent either of these two
scenarios; but neither BPSS nor the other BPM specifications have been designed
with the other approaches in mind.
BPSS also specifies how models are used to generate XML-based
BPSS definitions. It describes the XML-generation concepts using UML (Unified
Modeling Language) class diagrams and action diagrams. With its earlier start
from 1999, the specification of ebXML BPSS is several years ahead of the other
The ebXML Business Process Specification Schema provides a
standard framework for business process specification. It works with the
Collaboration Protocol Profile (CPP) and Collaboration Protocol Agreement (CPA)
of the ebXML Specifications to bridge the gap between business process
modeling and ebXML compliant e-commerce software, such as ebXML Business
Service Interface (BSI) software.
The architecture of the ebXML Business Process Specification
Schema consists of the following functional components:
UML version of the Business Process Specification Schema;
XML version of the Business Process Specification Schema;
Production Rules defining the mapping from the UML version of the Business
Process Specification Schema to the XML version;
Business Signal Definitions (that acknowledge receipt of messages).
Together these components allow complete specification of the
run-time aspects of a business process model.
Business Process Specification Schema is the
machine-interpretable run-time business process specification that is needed by
ebXML Business Service Interface software. The BPSS code is incorporated
with or referenced by the ebXML trading partner CPP and CPA. Each CPP declares
its support for one or more Roles within the Business Process Specification,
documented by UML Use Case diagrams. Within these CPP profiles and CPA
agreements are added further technical parameters that result in a full
specification of the run-time by ebXML Business Service Interface
software at each trading partner.
To illustrate the generation of BPSS, Figure 2 shows business
document and receipt document flows that are acknowledged Business Signals. The
request requires business signal acknowledgement of the receipt and acceptance,
while the response requires receipt acknowledgement.
Figure 2: Document Flows and Signals, with Sequence (Source:
ebXML BPSS Specifications)
Figure 3: UML Class Diagram for Document Flow in Figure 2 (Source:
ebXML BPSS Specifications)
Figure 3 shows a UML Class Diagram for the document flow in
Figure 2. Using this, the BPSS XML code in Figure 4 has been generated
automatically from the Class Diagram in Figure 3. The BPSS Specification
provides full guidance for automatic generation by UML modeling tools of
XML-based BPSS code from class diagrams and action diagrams.
Figure 4: Partial BPSS XML Syntax for Document Flows in
Figure 2 (Source: ebXML BPSS Specifications)
Figure 4 shows the BPSS definition for a Create Order
business transaction. To define the commercial and legal nature of this
transaction, the RequestBusinessActivity attribute shows:
(where “P2D” is a W3C Schema syntax standard that means Period=2 Days; P3D means
Period=3 Days). These periods are all measured from the original sending of the
In time it is expected that the other BPM languages – or a
consolidated version of them – will evolve along similar lines to BPSS, but with
broad applicability to all applications: not just for EDI and ebXML-based
applications. In fact BPSS is a clear pointer to a future when application
development will be based on automatic generation of XML-based languages
directly from workflow or other process models.
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