Red Hat’s JBoss BPM Suite is about much more than just the jBPM project. The company is working to attract interest from a community that’s more diverse than its heritage Java developer audience, and this shows in recent additions to the suite. Competition for the attention (and budgets) of business audiences looking for work co-ordination platforms is fierce, though, and Red Hat’s going to face challenges.
The JBoss BPM Suite: more than you might think
In the BPM technology marketplace, the JBoss brand is principally associated with the jBPM open-source workflow technology project – the project that initially kickstarted the burgeoning open-source BPM technology movement in 2003. However today the JBoss BPM Suite combines the technologies managed by the jBPM project with technologies from a number of other Red Hat-managed open-source projects: Drools, Drools Fusion and OptaPlanner (among others). On top of that, a number of technologies acquired from BPM technology specialist Polymita in 2012 are now playing front-and-centre roles in the suite. The result is a BPM technology platform that covers all the core bases well, additionally including capabilities particularly suited to scenarios where event-based decisioning and business process execution are important.
Sustained focus required if Red Hat is to deliver on promises now being made
Over recent product releases and subsequent to the acquisition of technology from Polymita, Red Hat has placed more and more emphasis on features and capabilities that are designed to appeal more to business analysts and casual developers than to its professional Java developer heritage audience. This in itself is an entirely sensible strategy, but to continue to compete well in a broader marketplace Red Hat is going to have to focus its efforts in a sustained way to improve tool integration, make the suite as a whole easier to work with, and create more business-friendly educational and promotional materials. Given that the JBoss teams working on the constituent elements of the BPM Suite together form just one small group in a much larger enterprise middleware business, success here is not guaranteed.
Open source software and BPM: a considerable heritage
Open source software projects have played major shaping roles in a great many infrastructure and application software markets, and the BPM technology platform market has not escaped this influence.
The value of open-source models to BPM technology adopters is just the same as it is for adopters of other kinds of software technology. That is to say, primarily:
- Alignment of investment to return. As a user of an open-source BPM technology, you can download the software, install it, experiment with it, deploy projects that use it, and get production value from it – and only pay for commercial support services as and when you want to or need to.
- Openness and extensibility. As a user of an open-source BPM technology, you have ultimate flexibility in how you work with the software. If you want to embed it in another project, rewrite parts of it, develop your own extensions or plugins – you can.
For these reasons, open-source BPM technology implementations have historically been primarily interesting to two groups that can look very different from each other: very skilled software development teams (often resident in organisations like banks with large in-house software development budgets) wanting to create customised technology implementations; and organisations in emerging markets lacking the kinds of budgets that would enable them to afford licenses for mainstream commercial BPM technology products.
The efforts of one key player, Tom Baeyens, runs through most of the story of open-source BPM technologies in the market today. Baeyens was the instigator of the jBPM project that first tackled the BPM technology domain with an open-source workflow engine; Baeyens then started another project, Activiti, at Alfresco – and then, when Baeyens moved again (to kick off a project to build a cloud-based lightweight workflow automation tool called Effektif) Camunda forked the Activiti project to create its own commercial distribution of the software.
Red Hat’s JBoss BPM Suite – built on mature foundations
At the time of writing, Red Hat is the principal contributor to maintaining the jBPM project, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of open-source software provider JBoss. However the commercially-offered JBoss BPM Suite is about much more than the jBPM project.
The technologies that underpin Red Hat’s JBoss BPM Suite today combine the assets of the jBPM project with the assets of the Drools open-source business rules technology project, the Drools Fusion event processing technology project, and the OptaPlanner optimisation technology project (all also maintained by Red Hat), and technology acquired from BPM technology specialist Polymita in 2012.
The result is currently on release 6.3, and combines the ability to define and execute three core concepts using model-driven application definition and execution capabilities: workflow models, business rule models, and event models.