ObjectWeb is set to build on the growing interest on business process execution language (BPEL) by launching a open source server.

BPEL is backed by industry heavyweights including IBM and Microsoft, and is emerging as a popular specification for automating business processes such as loan approvals or insurance claims. The technology is also attracting interest among customers and the release of open source products could help to proliferate its use, said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, BEA Systems and other large vendors all support some BPEL capabilities in their server software.

"If you want to build a truly distributed business process, i.e. one where you're not fully in control of all the applications, because they're spread across more than one company or across different divisions in a company, then you basically need to make sure you have BPEL everywhere," he said.

Linux distro, Red Hat has recently begun introducing ObjectWeb's Jonas under its (Red Hat's) own brand. The BPEL server that ObjectWeb, a European non-profit consortium, will offer in the coming weeks was developed by eMaxx, a small software company based in the Netherlands, said Francois Letellier, a member of ObjectWeb's executive committee. "It has been approved by the ObjectWeb committee and should be available for download from our Web site in a matter of weeks," Letellier said.

It won't be the only open source BPEL server available. Californian company Orbeon released the source code for its BPEL server a few weeks ago, along with several other components that comprise the Orbeon Integration Suite.

By making the products open source, eMaxx and Orbeon have a chance to boost their profile and attract more users to their products. The software also provides an alternative for developers and ISVs (independent software vendors) who don't want to - or can't afford to - use the BPEL products from the leading vendors.

It is unclear, however, whether organisations will put their faith in open source software for a job as complex as business process automation, Schmelzer said. "Making these products open source will not by itself make them widely used, but it could help seed the market," he said. In addition, despite its heavy backing, BPEL has not yet been approved as an industry standard.

EMaxx's BPEL server is part of a broader EAI (enterprise applications integration) platform it sells called Mid Office. The software is being used by several local governments in the Netherlands to gather information submitted by citizens at government websites, and to deliver that information in a consistent data format to the appropriate back-end system, according to Michel Veenhuis, eMaxx's founder and chief executive.

Several businesses in Europe are also using Mid Office, according to Veenhuis, and Bull, a member of the ObjectWeb consortium, is developing a version of the software for the healthcare industry, he said.