ASAP spec proposed for delayed Web services

OASIS is working on standard technology to enable Web services to function in situations in which business process communications have a delayed response, as opposed to the quick responses normally associated with Web services, an OASIS official said this week.

ASAP (Asynchronous Service Access Protocol) is intended to provide for a simple extension to SOAP that enables generic asynchronous Web services or long-running Web services. The technology would be used when an answer to a request might take from minutes to months to arrive. The service being invoked might be automated, a manual task that a person performs, or a mixture of the two. ASAP is intended to be particularly suited for b2b or intra-organizational service requests.

A demonstration of ASAP, along with a companion specification, Wf-XML (Workflow XML), is planned for the Brainstorm Group’s Business Process Management Conference in San Francisco on June 23. ASAP is in a committee draft form at the OASIS ASAP committee, with plans calling for it to be finalized by the end of the year, according to the committee’s chairman, Keith Swenson.

Swenson, lead author of ASAP and also a chief architect at Fujitsu Software Technology Corp., said he has been working on ASAP for a number of years.

“What we need is a way for a Web service to call something that takes a little bit of time,” Swenson said. He cited as an example a housing transaction that could benefit from ASAP, with multiple parties such as mortgage, title, and geology companies getting involved and tasks such as appraisals and credit checks needing to be performed.

“A mortgage company could use ASAP to connect to the appraiser (and to) the geology company,” Swenson said. “This is all information that needs to be transferred back and forth.” Parties such as the title company could use an ASAP-based connector to be linked into the transactional chain.

“What ASAP does is it gives you a standards-based plug,” for connecting Web services-based transactions, Swenson said.

“This is used for connecting different business process management engines, basically,” Swenson said. Fujitsu has built ASAP into its Interstage Business Process Manager, Swenson said.

ASAP presents a standards-based alternative to publish-and-subscribe messaging, Swenson said. Wf-XML, meanwhile, is being worked on by the Workflow Management Coalition. Wf-XML provides for a lifecycle of services, or a services “factory,” according to Swenson. A factory represents a specific service such as a loan application. Swenson is chairman of a working group at the coalition that is working on Wf-XML.

An analyst, though, was highly critical of ASAP.

“ASAP is a new standard that offers new capabilities for asynchrony,” said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink, in an e-mail response to questions. “I can think of at least a half-dozen specifications trying to accomplish what they are (trying to do with ASAP).” He cited, among others, WS-Eventing, WS-ReliableMessaging, and WSBPEL (Web Services Business Process Execution Language).

“Furthermore, companies are applying asynchronous protocols like MQ Series, JMS, MSMQ, Tibco and other protocols to SOAP. There’s nothing about SOAP that precludes non-HTTP use,” Schmelzer said.

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