Saturday, October 4, 2008

On Event Processing Network and Transaction Processing

It is a holiday period, time in which we have four holidays during three weeks, and is quite a lazy time here, with many people taking vacations (like the second part of December - beginning of January in the countries with christian majority), due to holidays and some other events I'll see my office in the coming week only on Tuesday, but working a bit from home now...

In an IBM internal Email exchange this week with a person who does not really understand event processing, this person has seen some illustration of EPN (Event Processing Network) and wondered -- this seems like regular transaction processing ? what is the difference ?

Indeed - from bird's eye view everything looks like directed graph, such as the one shown in the top of this page, both transactional flow and EPN as well as many other things are expressed using a directed graph, however there is a major difference in the semantics of the graph.

In order to refer to a concrete example, let's take an EPN example taken from an application of remote patient monitoring.

The semantics of EPN means that a node in a graph creates events and then these events are consumed by other nodes in the graph, for example the "enrich" node takes a blood pressure reading and enrich it with indication whether the patient is diabetic, thus creates a derived event; this derived event is consumed by the node that is looking for pattern to alert physician. Without going to the application's details too much - we may also state that unlike a control flow, the pattern detection node does not start its execution when all of its predecessors have finished, since the pattern may look at multiple blood pressure measurements of the same patient, it may exist for longer period relative to the enrich node that is created and measurements anytime that there is a blood pressure reading of a new patient, so the graph does not show the control flow, moreover, these two nodes don't know each other and communicate through a router (channel) node. So there are some differences between event processing network and transactional flow:

  1. The EPN graph does not represent control flow, but event flow.
  2. In a control flow graph, typically the relationship between predecessor and successor nodes are "finish to start" (either "meets" or "after" in the Allen's operators that I'll discuss in a seperate discussion) which means that the predecessor's node must terminate in order for the successor node to start, in EPN, this may not be the case.
  3. EPN does not necessarily be atomic (one node in the EPN may fail, but others continue - no "atomic commitment protocol" (e.g. 2PC) is applied
  4. It also may not be isolated -- a node can emit events, while still continue working; even if it fails later - its emitted events may still be valid, if atomicity is not required.
  5. EPN can be restricted to behave in a transactional way - this is an interesting observation, as transaction support violates the decoupling principle, however there are cases in which it is required (again, deserves some more discussion). More - Later.

1 comment:

harvey said...


This is a good post, and points us to "what makes events unique?". In the transactional (or even BPEL) viewpoint, it is common to think of a "unit of work" (or transaction, business process, etc).

Here in event processing, we see that it is more about setting conditions (how does each agent process individual or streams of events), and setting the network in motion. There is no well defined unit of work - although you could create a degenerate case as you suggest that could mimic transactional.

Take care,