I have introduced three business process management languages: BPEL (Business Process Execution Language); Business Process Modeling Language (BPML); and Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS) for ebXML. Last month I covered Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN). Over the next few months, I will discuss some of the major business process management software vendors and their products. Note that none of these descriptions are recommendations of any product. Their intent is only to show the trend toward automatic generation of executable XML-based code using business process management languages.

Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004

The current edition of BizTalk is Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004. Extensive training in its use is available online from the Microsoft Web site.1 BizTalk Server 2004 uses the BizTalk Orchestration Designer for business process management, based on Visio.

Microsoft uses the term orchestration (rather than workflow) to differentiate the support for long-running business processes that have many document interchanges over days or weeks. They consider the term "workflow" to refer mainly to short-running, people-based processes that execute in minutes or hours.

Figure 1 shows that Microsoft provides extensive project support in BizTalk Server with the definition, generation and testing of BizTalk projects within the Visual Studio.NET Integrated Development Environment. Business documents are used to generate XML Schema Definition (XSD) files, used with BizTalk Data Mapper for data transformation. XML input queues are pipelines for message input, with processed messages directed to message output queues for further pipeline processing. Within Visual Studio.NET, visual business processes are defined using the BizTalk Orchestration Designer. Extensive training in BizTalk is available online from the Microsoft Web site.2

Figure 1: Microsoft BizTalk Project Development (Source: Microsoft)

The most volatile parts of any business process are typically the business rules. These rules are coded as conditional logic in most systems development methods. When these rules change, the conditional logic must also be changed in every application program that references the relevant rules.

To avoid this problem, BizTalk Server 2004 also includes a business rules engine. This is a significant advance in the maintenance of business processes. Each business rule and its associated conditional statements are expressed using business terminology in the rules engine as shown in Figure 2. Each rule is referenced from all Orchestration diagrams that need to execute the rule. When a rule is changed in the engine, it is then automatically changed in every Orchestration diagram that refers to the changed rule - with dramatic improvement in maintenance cost and responsiveness to business change.

Figure 2: BizTalk Server 2004 Business Rules Engine (Source: Microsoft)

BizTalk Server 2004 also includes support for business activity monitoring and real-time tracking. It generates executable BPEL XML-based code automatically from orchestration diagrams and provides full support for Web services, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI standards. Microsoft summarizes the features of BizTalk Server 2004 as follows:

  • Business Activity Monitoring: Gives information workers a real-time view of running business processes with Microsoft Office tools.
  • Real-Time Tracking: Follows the real-time progress of documents and processes in BizTalk Server applications.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio .NET Development Environment: Increases developer productivity through a common development environment and inherits all the capabilities of Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework.
  • Microsoft Office InfoPath Integration: InfoPath is a Microsoft Office System program that provides a front end to BizTalk Server 2004 for entering XML and consuming Web services.
  • Single Sign-On: Provides unified authentication between heterogeneous systems and applications (Windows and non-Windows).
  • Human-Based Workflow: Integrates people and processes with a single orchestration engine.
  • Business Process Execution Language (BPEL): Simplifies cross-platform interoperability for process orchestration with standards developed in conjunction with other industry leaders (automatic generation of BPEL from Orchestration Diagrams).
  • XML Web Services: Provides ground-up support for XML Web services standards such as Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI). Referencing and building XML Web services for orchestration is a simple process in the integrated development environment.
  • Business Rules: Dynamically changes business processes to maximize organizational flexibility.
  • Enhanced Scalability: Constructs massively scalable messaging and orchestration-based applications through scale-out architecture.

Next month, I will discuss IBM's product support for SOA and BPEL. 

  1. Visit the Microsoft BizTalk home page at http://www.microsoft.com/biztalk/. The "See Screen Shots on the Product Overview Page" link includes many screen shots of BizTalk operation, with reference also to BPEL.
  2. Visit the Microsoft BizTalk home page at http://www.microsoft.com/biztalk/. The Site Map link provides access to many BizTalk Server 2004 White Papers. Also see "Technical Information for Developers." These details include several on-demand Webcast presentations with online demos.

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