7 min read

Fast Short-Running BPEL

Let’s begin with a discussion on compiled BPEL.

Uses of Short-Running Processes

Having developed an approach to keep SOA processes running for an arbitrarily long time, we now turn our attention to short-running processes and ask: howcan we make them run as fast as possible? The two most common uses of a short-running process are:

  1. To implement a synchronous web service operation. The process begins with an input message, runs through a quick burst of logic to process it, sends back the output message, and completes. The client application blocks for the duration, as diagram (a) in the next figure shows. If the process moves too slowly, the client will complain about the response time.
  2. To perform complex routing for the ESB. As David Chapelle discusses in his book Enterprise Service Bus (O’Reilly, 2004), a good ESB can natively perform basic content-based- and itinerary-based-routing, but it needs orchestration processes to handle more complex routing patterns. In diagram (b) in the figure, when the ESB receives a message, it passes it to an orchestration process that proceeds to perform in eight steps a series of transformation and invocation maneuvers that could never be achieved with the basic branching capabilities of the ESB. Again, speed is critical. The ESB prefers to get rid of messages as soon as it gets them. When it delegates work to an orchestration process, it expects that process to move quickly and lightly.
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Architecture for Short-Running Processes

In considering a design to optimize the performance of these two cases, we assume that our stack has both an ESB and a process integration layer. All messages in and out of the stack go through the ESB. The ESB, when it receives an inbound message, routes it to the process integration engine for processing. The process integration engine, in turn, routes all outbound messages through the ESB. Further, we assume that the ESB uses message queues to converse with the process integration layer. Client applications, on the other hand, typically use web services to converse with the ESB.

The following figure shows how we might enhance this architecture for faster short-running processes. (The implementation we consider is a Java-based BPEL process engine.)

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When a client application or partner process calls through the ESB, the ESB routes the event, based on the event’s type, either to the general process integration engine or to an engine optimized for short-running processes. To route to the general engine, the ESB places the message on the Normal PI In Queue. That engine is drawn as a cloud; we are not concerned in this discussion with its inner workings. To route to the optimized engine, the ESB either queues the message on SR In Queue or, to reduce latency, directly calls the short-running engine’s main class, ProcessManager. (Direct calls are suitable for the orchestration routing case described in the previous figure; there, processes run as an extension of the ESB, so it makes sense for the ESB to invoke them straightaway.) A set of execution threads pulls messages from SR In Queue and invokes ProcessManager to inject these inbound events to the processes themselves. The role of ProcessManager is to keep the state of, and to execute, short-running processes. Each process is represented in compiled form as a Java class (for example, ProcessA or ProcessB) that inherits from a base class called CompiledProcess. Compiled classes are generated by a tool called BPELCompiler, which creates Java code that represents the flow of control specified in the BPEL XML representation of the process. ProcessManager runs processes by creating and calling the methods of instances of CompiledProcess-derived classes. It also uses TimeManager to manage timed events. Processes, whether running on the general engine or on the optimized engine, send messages to partners by placing messages on the outbound queue Out Queue, which the ESB picks up and routes to the relevant partner.

A general process engine is built to handle processes of all durations, long and short alike, and, with a mandate this extensive, does not handle the special case of time-critical short-running processes very effectively. There are three optimizations we require, and we build these into the short-running engine:

  1. Process state is held in memory. Process state is never persisted, even for processes with intermediate events. Completed process instances are cleaned out of memory immediately, so as to reduce the memory required.
  2. Processes are compiled, not interpreted. That is, the process definition is coded in Java class form, rather than as an XML document. Compilation speeds the execution time of a burst.
  3. The process may define timed events of a very short duration, to the order of milliseconds. Furthermore, the engine generates a fault when the process exceeds its SLA. The process may catch the fault or let it bubble up to the calling application.

The architecture we sketched in this section, as we discover presently, is designed to meet these requirements.

Example of a Very Fast Process

The next figure shows a short-running process with multiple bursts that benefits from these optimizations.

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When the process starts, it initializes its variables (InitVars) and asynchronously invokes a partner process called the Producer (Call Producer Asynx). It then enters into a loop (FetchLoop) that, on each iteration, waits for one of the two events from the Producer: result or noMore. If it gets the result event, it, in parallel, invokes two handler services (Call Handler A and Call Handler B), and loops back. If it gets the noMore event, the process sets the loop’s continuation flag to false (Set Loop Stop). The loop exits, and the process completes. While it waits for the producer events, the process also sets a timed event (too long) that fires if neither event arrives in sufficient time. If the timer expires, the process sends an exception message to the producer (Send Exception Msg Producer Async), and loops back.

The timing characteristics are shown in parentheses. The producer, on average, sends a result or noMore event in 80 milliseconds. The handlers that the process invokes to handle a result event average 50 milliseconds and 70 milliseconds, but because they run in parallel, their elapsed time is the greater of these two times, or 70 milliseconds. Thus, an iteration of the loop with a result event averages roughly 150 milliseconds. Iteration with a noMore event averages just 80 milliseconds, because the activity Set Loop Stop runs nearly instantaneously. The cycle time of an instance with one result iteration and one noMore iteration is just 220 milliseconds. The too long timed event has a duration of 200 milliseconds, which in itself is rather a small interval, but is a huge chunk of time compared to the normal cycle time. The cycle time of an instance whose three intermediate events are result, too long, and noMore is 420 milliseconds on average. Times this fast cannot be achieved on a general-purpose engine.

Running the Very Fast Process on the Optimized Engine

The sequence diagram in the following figure illustrates how this process runs on the short-running engine:

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The process starts when client application sends a message intended to trigger the process’ start event. The ProcessManager receives this event (either as a direct call or indirectly via an execution thread that monitors the short-running inbound queue) in its routeMessageEvent() method. It then checks with the process class—shown as Process in the figure, a subclass of the CompiledProcess class we discuss presently—whether it supports the given start event type (hasStartEvent()), and if so, injects the event into the process (onStartEvent()). The process, as part of its logic, performs the activities InitVars and CallProducerAsync and enters the first iteration of the while loop, in which it records in its data structures that it is now waiting for three pending events (Set Pending Events). Because one of these events is a timed event, it also registers that event with the TimeManager (addEvent()).The first burst is complete.

In the second burst, the producer process responds with a result event (result: routeMessageEvent()). The ProcessManager checks whether the process instance is waiting for that event (hasPendingEvent()) and injects it (onIntermediateEvent()). The process invokes the two handlers (that is, it invokes CallHandler on HandlerA and HandlerB), completing the first iteration of the loop. It now loops back, resets the pending events (Set Pending Events), and registers a new timed event (addEvent()). The second burst is complete.

Assuming the producer does not respond in sufficient time, the timer expires, and the TimeManager which checks for expired events on its own thread notifies the Process Manager (routeTimedEvent()). ProcessManager gives the event to the process (calling hasPendingEvent() to confirm that the process is waiting for it and onIntermediateEvent() to inject it), and the process in turn performs the SendExceptionMsg activity, completing the second iteration of the loop. The next iteration starts, and the process resets its pending events. The third burst is complete, and we leave it there.


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