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Type: Thesis
Title: Applying functional programming theory to the design of workflow engines.
Author: Kelly, Peter M.
Issue Date: 2011
School/Discipline: School of Computer Science
Abstract: Workflow languages are a form of high-level programming language designed for coordinating tasks implemented by different pieces of soft-ware, often executed across multiple computers using technologies such as web services. Advantages of workflow languages include automatic parallelisation, built-in support for accessing services, and simple programming models that abstract away many of the complexities associated with distributed and parallel programming. In this thesis, we focus on data-oriented workflow languages, in which all computation is free of side effects. Despite their advantages, existing work-flow languages sacrifice support for internal computation and data manipulation, in an attempt to provide programming models that are simple to understand and contain implicit parallelism. These limitations inconvenience users, who are forced to define additional components in separate scripting languages whenever they need to implement programming logic that cannot be expressed in the workflow language itself. In this thesis, we propose the use of functional programming as a model for data-oriented workflow languages. Functional programming languages are both highly expressive and amenable to automatic parallelisation. Our approach combines the coordination facilities of workflow languages with the computation facilities of functional programming languages, allowing both aspects of a workflow to be expressed in the one language. We have designed and implemented a small functional language called ELC, which extends lambda calculus with a minimal set of features necessary for practical implementation of workflows. ELC can either be used directly, or as a compilation target for other workflow languages. Using this approach, we developed a compiler for XQuery, extended with support for web services. XQuery’s native support for XML processing makes it well-suited for manipulating the XML data produced and consumed by web services. Both languages make it easy to develop complex workflows involving arbitrary computation and data manipulation. Our workflow engine, NReduce, uses parallel graph reduction to execute workflows. It supports both orchestration, where a central node coordinates all service invocation, and choreography, where coordination, scheduling, and data transfer are carried out in a decentralised manner across multiple nodes. The details of orchestration and choreography are abstracted away from the programmer by the workflow engine. In both cases, parallel invocation of services is managed in a completely automatic manner, without any explicit direction from the programmer. Our study includes an in-depth analysis of performance issues of relevance to our approach. This includes a discussion of performance problems encountered during our implementation work, and an explanation of the solutions we have devised to these. Such issues are likely to be of relevance to others developing workflow engines based on a similar model. We also benchmark our system using a range of workflows, demonstrating high levels of performance and scalability.
Advisor: Coddington, Paul David
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Computer Science, 2011
Keywords: functional programming; workflow; distributed computing
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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