First Impression: JBoss Enterprise BRMS

Written by Nathaniel Palmer.

Red Hat’s New JBoss Enterprise BRMS 5.3 Business Process Management Software - a look at the current offering and future roadmap.

Founded in 1993, Red Hat, Inc. (NYSE: RHT) is easily the most commercially successful open source vendor, and the first to exceed $1B in software-related sales (which it did in 2012). Red Hat entered the middleware arena in 2006, with its acquisition of JBoss and the related community projects around the “JavaBeans Open Source Software Application Server” (or simply JBoss for short). JBoss was then, and remains today, the most widely-adopted open source Java EE App Server.

Today the success of the JBoss developer community drives the innovations behind JBoss Enterprise BRMS, as the entire suite of JBoss BPM components are developed from the JBoss.org project community. Consistent with the commercial open source model (which as a business it helped define) Red Hat offers fee-based valued-added benefits such as support, patches, and security fixes comparable to other enterprise software vendors. This positions Red Hat JBoss at the intersection of crowd-sourced, community-driven innovation, and the security and support uniquely available from a $1B+ commercial software vendor.

Product Delivery Process
Product Delivery Process
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All Red Hat software, including all JBoss components, is freely available on a subscription basis (e.g., no software license fee). The annual fee entitles the subscriber to support and a stream of updates and patches. Subscription durations are typically for 1-3 years and fees are based on the number of cores on which the software will operate.

Within the community-driven model of the broader open source world, releases occur early and often. This is helpful for sustaining innovation but potentially costly and disruptive for businesses. Failure to keep pace with latest versions and incremental patch releases can quickly lead to a variety technical challenges and support issues.

This is largely what drives commercial adoption of open source -- assurance that the latest install is both reliable and stable, as well as the ability to receive support for whatever version is deployed, and to deploy new versions at a more measured pace. Red Hat offers a number of measures to meet these objectives. Among those measures are creation of specific release packages that are more orderly, scheduled and combined than otherwise seen across the general open source community.

JBoss Enterprise BRMS 5.3

Red Hat’s business rules and BPM solution combines multiple open source projects into a single, comprehensive offering – JBoss Enterprise BRMS 5.3.

As the name implies, JBoss Enterprise BRMS originates from a rules management orientation, notably the Drools project community. It is, however, a complete BPMS – not solely a BRE (Business Rules Engine). As illustrated below, this offering includes Business Rules Management (Drools), Business Process Management (jBPM), and Complex Event Processing (CEP) as well as components for design-time and run-time governance, development and administration.

JBoss Enterprise BRMS
JBoss Enterprise BRMS
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A unique capability of Red Hat is the execution of BPMN against the underlying Drools, rules engines, which executes rules and ultimately the BPMN 2.0 based process definitions. Process logic is executed as BPMN 2.0 syntax, not as business rules (i.e., not Boolean if-then-else logic but specifically according to the associated semantics and syntax defined by the BPMN 2.0 standard metamodel) yet the runtime environment is based on the Drools inference engine.

JBoss Enterprise BRMS 5.3 was released in June of 2012, with successful adoption demonstrated over the last six months. As part of the larger portfolio, JBoss Enterprise BRMS compliments the Red Hat “stack” of middleware packages, which provides a complete solution for what they call the “Intelligent Integrated Enterprise.” Logically, Red Hat emphasizes that its own products have been tested and work well together, however, some customers have run JBoss on WebSphere and mix it with other integration solutions.

Tools are provided specifically to meet the needs of business and IT users. Crucially for business users is the inherently declarative development approach – e.g., you don’t have to write code. A component diagram and a business rules repository, which includes event definitions and APIs, and can even work with third party tools, supports the user. Customers get a consistent set of tools – three tools and three interfaces. At run time it is relatively easy to perform tasks such as kicking off processes in response to events.

JBoss also incorporates a runtime decision engine that supports event processing, so it can handle manual activities and manage human tasks. Customers typically deploy JBoss BRMS with the JBoss SOA Platform to address more complex integration requirements. In addition JBoss also provides a runtime management console for basic systems monitoring and management, and all components have been tested and fully certified to work together.

Consistent with its BRMS heritage, extensive support is provided for decision tables and a guided rules editor, so there is no need for coding and editing and no need to memorize syntax. The BPMN capability is still fully integrated and supports most of the BPMN standards, symbols and drag and drop functionality. Business analysts with a BPMN background can pick it up quickly, yet there is also a lower level interface available for developers.

Summary and Value Proposition

Competitive on a feature/function and scalability basis, JBoss Enterprise BRMS can be fairly compared to competing products from similarly oriented vendors (e.g., “stack vendors”) such as IBM, Oracle, Fujitsu and Software AG. The distinguishing feature is its open source roots, which lowers TCO so that, in effect, the customer pays for support. The pricing model is also designed to be suitable for both small and large organizations.

Combined this provides a compelling value proposition. What is further intriguing, however, is the tight integration with CEP combined with the inherently rules-driven orientation of the run-time engines. We believe that this unique orientation and capability sets JBoss apart from both commercial and open source competitors, favoring positioning it against the “intelligent BPMS” model introduced by Gartner late last year.

Although we view “intelligent BPMS” as just one facet of the BPM market, we do support the vision suggested by Gartner and other analysts, involving the integration of traditional BPM with CEP and advanced analytics, as well as process simulation and highly declarative, model-driven architectures. We view JBoss as a competitive offering in that arena, something we expect to expand and strengthen as the roadmap unfolds.

Roadmap and Go-Forward Plans

Over the next year, Red Hat plans to release two new products: JBoss BRMS 6 (extending development of the current platform) and BPM Suite 6 (incorporating code acquired with the acquisition of Polymita).

Polymita has been deployed extensively in Spain and Latin America but is a relative newcomer in the North America market. Red Hat saw its capabilities to be complementary to existing products including simulations and outstanding graphics. It also provides for simulated workloads to test processes. Over time, Polymita will become fully integrated with JBoss.

Traditionally JBoss has been characterized as being developer-centric, in contrast with some BPMS environments that emphasize business-oriented roles. Although it is arguable whether or not actual business users have or will ever be truly hands-on in deploying BPM, it is true that Polymita has been more closely aligned to business tools than software development (think “drag-and-drop” versus “command line and compiler”). By combining JBoss and Polymita, Red Hat is taking aim at a key weakness of many BPMS environments – the need for tools that enable real collaboration between business and IT users.

This shift towards a more business user-friendly orientation can be seen in the planned JBoss BPM Suite 6 features planned, particularly those found in the Integrated Design Environment (IDE). Notable examples include:

  • Drag and Drop BPMN 2.0 compliant process and business rules authoring (within both Eclipse and the browser)
  • Drag and drop forms creation for human tasks
  • Drag and drop data modeling
  • Business process simulation

Planned enhancements to run-time capabilities include:

  • Standalone, scalable BPM/rules server with lifecycle management
  • BAM Dashboards and reporting
  • Enhanced tools for process management and monitoring
  • External web service integration

Polymita BPMS and JBoss BRMS V5.3 will be gradually integrated into BRMS 6. It will be based on the Drools v6 high-performance inference engine, with features intended to improve performance and tools derived from Polymita.

The planned JBoss BPM Suite 6 will be a fully-fledged, Business Process Management Solution, featuring as a key component JBoss BRMS.

Another specific enhancement is the inclusion of Optaplanner, a heuristic-oriented planning solver that leverages rule engines to solve many kinds of planning challenges. We expect this will be a unique point of differentiation, and one that reinforces Red Hat’s clear goal of making the solution more useful and appealing to business users.

Release is targeted for Q3 2013.

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