IBM bolsters workflow tools for WebSphere 5.0

IBM has released detailed plans to significantly bolster the workflow capabilities in the upcoming version of WebSphere...

IBM has released detailed plans to significantly bolster the workflow capabilities in the upcoming version of WebSphere Application Server Version 5.0, with the aim of tightening ties between application development and integration technologies.

WebSphere Application Server Version 5.0, which was due to launch last month, will now go on sale in November. The reason for the delay is that IBM had "reprioritised" its schedule to bring a corresponding suite of tools, WebSphere Studio 5, to market first.

"What we traditionally have done is deliver the server first, but after talking with customers we realised it makes sense to get the tools out there first," Scott Hebner, WebSphere director of marketing. "[Customers] want to begin developing and migrating their applications, so we reprioritised the delivery schedule."

The company is highlighting the upcoming workflow features in the application server. The more robust workflow engine will exploit WebSphere Studio's integrated toolset in a way that IBM officials say sets Big Blue apart from rivals BEA Systems, Microsoft and pure-play integration specialists.

Central to the workflow engine is the runtime and tools support for building both J2EE and Web services-based workflow applications, according to Stefan Van Overtveldt, program director of WebSphere technical marketing at IBM.

Using workflow to develop Web services plays into the strategy for making integration and Web services technologies key components of the core development environment, said Van Overtveldt. "The workflow engine is aimed at developers building new application logic to be linked together and exposed as a Web service."

Van Overtveldt added that workflow needs emanating from existing enterprise applications would still be best handled by IBM's WebSphere MQWorkflow product, which will also be bundled into the application server platform sometime next year.

The workflow engine also supports several high-end features, including long-running transactional and compensation-patterning capabilities across multiple systems, and human intervention and notification functions, said Van Overtveldt.

Compensation-patterning capabilities, for example, will automatically reverse a workflow transaction more intuitively - not necessarily following the original ordering of the process. So if a customer purchase has executed to the point of issuing an invoice, only to have the credit check denied at the last minute, compensation-patterning capabilities will back out of the transaction and take fresh steps that branch off to add the item in question back into the inventory system.

IBM will be taking its new workflow engine to market in November minus support for BPEL4WS, the proposed business process flow language specification it has been pushing along with Microsoft and BEA. Instead, a proprietary flow definition language called a "precursor" to the BPEL4WS that is technologically similar will fuel the upcoming workflow engine.

A service pack for BPEL4WS will be distributed to WebSphere Application Server 5.0 users when the standard is ready.

Building workflow and business process integration into the development environment is a trend being driven in part by the Web services phenomenon, said David McCoy, an industry analyst at Gartner.

"If you think about it, workflow does step-by-step process execution at a very serious level," said McCoy. "In terms of Web services, workflow becomes a way to invoke them more easily. Rather than invoking them through procedure calls you can use BPM to string Web services together as blocks on a flow."

The reliance on flow composition as a way to package Web services up into a new application is a concept that Gartner has dubbed SODA - or services-oriented development of applications, said McCoy.

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