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Workflow Engine


The article provides a general overview of the Workflow Engine architecture and explains the common principles of how the designed Workflows are executed.


Once a Workflow is designed in the Workflow Studio, it is stored in the Workflow Repository, in Production database, and is ready for execution. The Workflow Engine is a special module of the Workspace Management application which is responsible for managing the execution of workflows and handling such tasks as starting, resuming, terminating Workflows, monitoring and persisting the Workflow instance state.


For analysis of how the Workflow instance is being executed (or has been executed), the System provides the Visual Tracking action available in the Workflow Studio. To feed this module with data, enough for understanding of how each workflow activity has been executed, which input arguments it has received, and what the Activity result is, as a value of output arguments, the Workflow Engine catches the Workflow Instance events and persists them in the Monitoring database (by default, the name of the monitoring database is "M42Monitoring"). The System keeps all Workflow Instance events in the database until the workflow instance is completed, and for some time afterwards.


A workflow is a long-running process which in many cases requires human interactions, which means the time between the start and finish of the Workflow Instance could be years. Obviously, in such a timeframe the Application is restarted many times. For that reason, the Workflow Engine handles the saving of the Workflow Instance state to a storage any time it changed. The System uses the Instance Store database for storing the serialized Workflow Instance (by default, the database name is "M42InstanceStore"). The instances are stored in the database only until the moment they are completed.


The Workspace Management application supports two alternative implementations of the Workflow Engine, the basic one which is based on Microsoft AppFabric, and a new one, based on using Workflow Workers.  


The first version of the Workflow Engine is fully based on the Microsoft AppFabric module which out-of-the-box provides an implementation of all the basic tasks of the Workflow Engine, like hosting Workflows, monitoring, and persistence. The specifics of the AppFabric Engine is a way how the prepared Workflows are deployed and hosted. Using the "Publish" or "Publish Repository" action available either in Matrix42 Software Asset and Service Management or in the Workflow Studio, the prepared Workflows are deployed to the Application Server, to folder "/svc/WF/", and the System dynamically introduces Web Services endpoints for each deployed Workflow version. At the end, each version of the Workflow represents the Workflow Service.  

Workflow Workers

Due to a couple of downsides of the previous Workflow Engine implementation based on AppFabric, such as a problem with performance, using enormous system resources and a problem with scaling out the Workflow execution, the new concept of Workflow execution called Workflow Workers has been introduced.

Set Execution Engine for the Workflow

The Workflow Workers is an application which runs on an independent process, either on the Application Server or on any other computer. This, compared to the classic AppFabric implementation, brings extra tasks for migration, as previously all Workflow Activities have been executed in-process of the Application and had direct access to all Business Components.

Workflow Activity Compatibility

To be able to be executed on the Workflow Worker, the Activity has to be compatible with it, which means the Activity either has all the required modules for the execution deployed on the Workflow Worker process, or the Activity is able to delegate the execution back to the Application Server via a Web Service method call. To signal the System uses the Workflow Activity property PLSLBinaryComponentClassBase.WorkerCompatible to signal that the Workflow Activity can be executed on Workflow Worker. 

In Workflow Studio, the Activities compatible with the Workflow Worker are highlighted to provide better transparency to the Author, which blocks the Workflow from being executed in the Workflow Worker.


Action "Set Execution Engine"

By default, all the Workflows present in the Workflow Repository run on the AppFabric engine. But an Administrator is able to define the execution for the specific Workflow(s). In the workflow management area, select one or few workflow definitions and start the "Set Execution Engine" action.


In case the "Workflow Worker" engine is set, the System checks the selected Workflows and proves that all the workflow activities used in Workflows are compatible with the Workflow Worker. In case at least one Activity is incompatible, the set engine operations for such workflows are rejected. In this case, the mentioned activities need to be reworked, and the compatible flag for the activity set.






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