ObjectWeb will begin distributing its second open-source BPEL server in the coming weeks, expanding the available options for a middleware technology used to link several applications and data sources into a larger business process.
BPEL (business process execution language) is backed by industry heavyweights including IBM and Microsoft, and is emerging as a popular specification for automating business processes such as loan approvals or insurance claims. Oracle was sufficiently interested in the technology that it recently acquired independent BPEL supplier Collaxa.
While far from pervasive, the technology is attracting interest among customers and the release of open-source products could help to further its adoption, said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink.
IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, BEA Systems and other large suppliers all support some BPEL capabilities in their server software.
"If you want to build a truly distributed business process, ie one where you're not fully in control of all the applications, because they're spread across more than one company or across different divisions in a company, then you basically need to make sure you have BPEL everywhere," he said.
ObjectWeb is a non-profit consortium based in Europe that oversees several open-source projects, including the Java Open Source Application Server (Jonas), which Red Hat recently began distributing under its own brand.
The BPEL server that ObjectWeb will offer in the coming weeks was developed by eMaxx, a small software company based in the Netherlands, said Francois Letellier, a member of ObjectWeb's executive committee.
"It has been approved by the ObjectWeb committee and should be available for download from our website in a matter of weeks," Letellier said.
It will not be the only open-source BPEL server available. Orbeon, a systems integrator released the source code for its BPEL server a few weeks ago, along with several other components that comprise the Orbeon Integration Suite.
By making the products open source, eMaxx and Orbeon have a chance to boost their profile and attract more users to their products. The software also provides an alternative for developers and ISVs (independent software vendors) who do not want to - or cannot afford to - use the BPEL products from the leading suppliers.
It is unclear, however, whether organisations will put their faith in open-source software for a job as complex as business process automation, Schmelzer said.
"Making these products open source will not by itself make them widely used, but it could help seed the market," he said. In addition, despite its heavy backing, BPEL has not yet been approved as an industry standard.
EMaxx's BPEL server is part of a broader EAI (enterprise applications integration) platform it sells called Mid Office. The software is being used by several local governments in the Netherlands to gather information submitted by citizens at government websites, and to deliver that information in a consistent data format to the appropriate back-end system, according to Michel Veenhuis, eMaxx's founder and chief executive.
Several businesses in Europe are also using Mid Office, according to Veenhuis, and Bull, a member of the ObjectWeb consortium, is developing a version of the software for the healthcare industry, he said.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service