RobinAtWIUGJuly2009After a journey characterised by a conspiracy between parking meters and failed tube signals, I made it yesterday to IBM’s Hursley Park for the WebSphere Integration User Group meeting. Here’s the photo at a sunny Winchester station as proof…ok…so Jamie and I forgot to take any photos at the event.

The key note presentation was from Kevin Turner – ESB and Messaging Technical Strategy Manager. He covered IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative and then moved on to future architectural trends – the noteworthy points were:

  • The 2nd wave of SOA is coming – there’s a significant number of ’1st wave’ adopters out there now who have been through the joy and the pain, and have now fully understood the upfront investment required and the potential benefits. This 2nd wave is likely to consist of organisations trying to join up their islands of SOA (probably built along departmental lines due to a sensible pragmatic strategy of ‘baby steps’ SOA), and so federation of multiple ESBs will be a key theme. Governance will be crucial here if these islands are ever to be consolidated into a virtual enterprise bus that solves the problems of visibility of services across ESBs, end-to-end security and manageability etc.
  • Patterns – IBM are working on building some integration patterns support into their tooling (presumably WebSphere Business Modeller, WebSphere integration Developer etc) to allow an expert from an organisation’s ICC/ICoE to define the standard ‘pattern’ and therefore accelerate the development of instances of that integration pattern. The integration developer might just have to supply the pattern parameters for example, with many of the decisions such as how to manage errors etc already consistently solved for them.

There were a couple of presentations about specific MQ-related Supportpacs (MO71 and IH03) which I expected to be dull due to their nature, but the presenters managed to bring them alive – especially Paul Clarke. It was clear that he’d written and refined quite an impressive beast of an application over many years and was rightly proud of it.

Kevin mentioned CloudBurst during his keynote, and I managed to get some time with an IBMer later in a hastily arranged session to discuss it some more – I’ll post details in another blog post later as there’s quite a lot to report.

That means I missed the start of the next session about the developments in the WebSphere Process Server product to better support the human interaction aspects of BPEL processes (which have been sorely needed in our experience!). Paul Smith demoed the Business Space web app from WPS v6.2 which goes some of the way to addressing these shortcomings, with better human ‘override’ control of processes (skipping a step, repeating a step etc) and better visualisation tools for business users to use to understand where a particular process instance has got to, etc. This is clearly still a developing area of the product set though.

ilogThe last session I attended was a demo of rules from the recent iLog acquisition by IBM. An ex-iLogger Lenny Bromberg gave a very engaging demo which involved my colleague Jamie playing the role of “business user” to dynamically change rules that influenced the behaviour of a mock motor insurance quotation app. An interesting aspect of Lenny’s “pitch” was that essentially rules engines are 10 a penny, there’s several good open source ones out there if you want one, but what rules provides is a Business Rules Management System (BRMS), i.e. all the significant extras wrapped around the actual runtime rules execution environment that you need to make it really workable, manageable and governable. This includes rule development/editing environments (developer IDE and business facing), rule versioning, rule comparison tools, audit, simulation environments etc. Some other observations:

  • Lenny’s experience from previous projects where they have integrated with BPM solutions (like WPS etc) is that they often find that the business process definition/BPEL has become ‘spaghetti’ as the business rules are not clearly separated from the business process – and so the use of an external rules engine enforces a good business process automation design practice, and leads to more maintainable BPEL etc.
  • This is related to BRMS’s in general and not specifically iLog rules, but a weakness that I could see is that the rules rely on a good, stable business object model and we know from experience with numerous customers how difficult it is to get enterprise data models together and agreed. This is the potentially shifting sand that the rules are all built upon.

Many thanks to Mike Wyvill and Keith Guttridge and others for organising the event. Well worth the £28… :o)