One Portal to Rule Them All

I won’t rehash what’s already been said by everyone in the press and the blogosphere — Oracle is buying BEA. I wrote almost three years ago that this was inevitable, and now it’s upon us.

I’m hopeful that the BEA/Oracle management crew can take what they learned from the Plumtree, Fuego and Flashline (for BEA) and Siebel, PeopleSoft and Oblix (for Oracle) acquisitions and apply it to the challenges their own merger presents.

Over the past three years, Oracle has acquired dozens of companies. The most notable were probably PeopleSoft (which had just acquired JD Edwards, if I remember correctly), Siebel and Oblix, which gave them a great suite of HR apps, CRM apps and identity management, respectively. These were all enterprise software products that Oracle had, with a modicum of success, built on their own from the ground up, sold and supported as “Oracle Apps.”

Of course, with almost every major company they’ve acquired, Oracle has picked up a portal product. (And with BEA, there’s a special bonus — they get two: WLP and ALI.)

That’s going to create a portal soup consisting of at least the following ingredients:

  • Siebel Portal
  • JD Edwards Portal
  • PeopleSoft Portal
  • Oracle Portal (part of Oracle Fusion Middleware)
  • WLP
  • ALI

Oracle won’t want to endanger existing customer relationships by terminating support for the non-horizontal portals from Siebel, PeopleSoft, etc. Besides, the word “portal” really only loosely applies there, because those “portals” are really just web UIs into Siebel, PeopleSoft, etc.

But what about the horizontal portals: Oracle, WLP and ALI?

They are all playing in the same space. It’s already questionable that we need all three in the market now. And three under the same circle-shaped roof that is Oracle? Absurd.

What will Oracle do with this portal quandary?

Well, I think they’ll do the only thing they can do and support all the products. So that covers legacy customers, but what about future customers? If I’m an Oracle sales rep and my customer wants to buy a portal to front their SOA stack, what on earth do I sell them?

In my opinion, which is just that — my opinion — post-merger, there need to be some decisive acts from Oracle regarding the future direction of their portal strategy.

And, again, IMO, this is where the ALI portal and the ALUI suite of products (formerly Plumtree) can really shine. Why? Because not only can you front Java, .NET, Rails, PHP and any other web application stack with ALI, but ALI already has integration kits for Siebel, PeopleSoft, JSR-168, WSRP and five different flavors of SSO, including Oblix! (Not to mention the obvious fact that since day one, ALI has run beautifully on Windows and *nix systems using Oracle’s bread-and-butter product, their database.) So naturally, if you’re an Oracle shop running a clustered Oracle DB for storage, Siebel for CRM, PeopelSoft for HR, Oracle Financials for the books and Oblix Identity Management, no other product under the sun has more pre-packaged, no-brainer integration and integration options than ALI.

It may be a hard, bloody battle to get Oracle to drop it’s own beloved portal product in favor of AquaLogic Interaction, but I think it’s a battle that needs to be fought.

Same goes for WLP. In fact, I think every product acquired by Oracle has to fight for it’s life and fight to be the #1 product in the space, retiring the others to “maintenance and support” but focusing all futures on the product that is rightfully #1. And I think — and hope — that Oracle has the good sense and the wherewithal to encourage this.

It may cause some near term pain, but taking a longer-term view it’s the right thing to do.

Comments

Comments are listed in date ascending order (oldest first)

  • Interesting post, Chris. Obviously this is something we ALUI consultants have been considering in the past few days. One monkeywrench I have for you: as far as I know, Oracle offers their portal product for free to existing customers, whereas we (obviously) charge for it. I wonder how that kind of business model might change the landscape of how the ALUI portal is distributed/used.

    Posted by: rbrodbec on January 18, 2008 at 7:02 AM

  • Funny you should mention the price issue. About two years ago, we had a customer switch from ALI to Oracle portal for that exact reason. Why pay for licenses and support for ALUI products when Oracle gives you the portal for free? That customer still calls on us for ALUI support, so apparently the migration hasn’t gone exactly as planned.Two old adages come to mind here:
    1. You get what you pay for.
    2. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    Regarding #1, the products really don’t cover the same feature set — Oracle portal cannot be the gateway to SOA that we all know ALUI is, so it’s really not an apples-to-apples comparison.

    Regarding #2, with any free software, whether it’s from a large company like Oracle or from the Apache Software Foundation, you always need to think about Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). If you need to build services integration points in Oracle Portal to talk to all of Oracle’s other products, that adds to your TCO. Moreover, if somebody is giving something away, what sort of quality expectations do you have about the product? What happens if you need to request support from Oracle or ask them to develop a patch for you? All of a sudden, the fact that you didn’t pay for the software comes back and bites you in the butt. 🙂

    Posted by: bucchere on January 18, 2008 at 7:23 AM

  • I guess I agree with you, since I’m not an Oracle portal consultant (not yet, anyway); but I think the bigger question is how Oracle will assimilate these new portals given its current pricing strategy (aka – the bloody war you speak of). If I were an existing Oracle customer, the first question I’d ask is “how come I can get XYZ portal for free but not ABC portal”. And if I’m Oracle product management, I’m thinking about how my current “free portal” strategy has been working out for me versus the ALUI model of charging for it.

    Posted by: rbrodbec on January 18, 2008 at 8:22 AM

  • You’re right — the big issue is how will Oracle deal with the portals they’re acquiring and will there be a shakedown or more of a graceful assimilation.There’s a similar issue with WLS and Oracle’s application server, although I think in that case the answer is a little less complicated. 😉

    Posted by: bucchere on January 18, 2008 at 8:32 AM

  • Of course you completely forgot to mention Oracle WebCenter. In spite of your assertions, there are only 2 portal products at Oracle. Oracle Portal and WebCenter. WebCenter is the future “face” of Fusion Applications, so any integration of portal products will move in that direction. IMHO….plumtree is as proprietary as Oracle Portal, and its dead. WLP and the folks on the WebCenter team will need to figure out how to integrate the code bases of those two products since they are the most similar in their support of Web 2.0 futures.

    Posted by: Dr. BEA Good on January 20, 2008 at 11:44 AM

  • Thanks for the correction about Oracle WebCenter — I’m not too familiar with Oracle products other than the DB and I should have done more homework before posting this!However, I still disagree that there are only two portals at Oracle. I’m not too sure about JDE, but I remember with 100% certainty that PeopleSoft and Siebel called their UIs “portals.” They’re not truly portals in a horizontal sense like Oracle Portal, WebCenter, WLP and ALUI and I don’t think they’re actually relevant to this discussion, so it’s a moot point.

    Now, given the four remaining portal products, I challenge your assertion that WebCenter and WLP “support Web 2.0 futures” and I’d like to see some examples that support that claim. As far as I know, the only products coming out of BEA that deserve the “Web 2.0” label are AquaLogic Pages, Ensemble and Pathways. (Note I don’t include ALI itself as a Web 2.0 product, despite the fact that ALI 6.5 has some pretty slick social features that might someday earn it that distinction.)

    I also take issue with your calling Plumtree/ALUI proprietary and I’m not sure what makes you make that claim. It’s written in Java and ported to C#.net, so it runs “natively” on IIS (which no other products from BEA or Oracle can do). Its Java version (from the same source base), runs on WebSphere, WLS, Tomcat and probably JBoss and other app servers and it supports both Oracle and SQL Server, so in terms of how and where you can run it, it’s probably the most open and flexible product in the entire 40+ product lineup that BEA boasts.

    That’s just one side of the proprietary vs. open argument. The other is how well one supports standards for plugging in functionality. In those terms, I think ALUI stands out from the pack as well. It supports portlets over two very well supported standards: HTTP and HTML, which again makes it the most flexible portlet development environment on the market. (You can develop ALI portlets using ANY web server that speaks HTTP and I’ve personally done so using Java, .NET, LAMP, Ruby on Rails, Groovy on Grails and even Domino if you can believe that.) It also supports JSR-168 and WSRP. (In reading about WebCenter, all portlet development documentation was Java-centric, so I’m not sure if they support any other kind of portlet development, e.g. .NET. It’s crucial that any product which claims to be the “face of SOA” supports at least Java and .NET development and plugins; however, many would argue that you need to support much more — e.g. Ruby on Rails, PHP, etc.)

    Leaving portlets out of the picture for a moment, consider the other ALUI integration points: AWS, PWS, CWS and SWS. All of them use SOAP, which is a documented open standard. In fact, in my next blog post (which went up last night), I talk about how I integrated a custom MySQL/Ruby on Rails user store with ALI using a Rails-based SOAP-driven web service to interface with ALI’s user management system. It just doesn’t get any more open than that. At last year’s Participate conference, I demonstrated how you could use the ALI “face” to front WLS applications written to run on the WL message bus and communicating with data stores using DSP, proving that you integrate ALUI products with pretty much anything. I would like to see how a WebCenter consultant or a WLS guy would approach integrating Siebel or PeopleSoft, two products now in the Oracle family.

    I may make many “assertions” (as you call them), but they’re backed up by solid facts. I’m open to continuing this dialog because I want to hear more facts about 1) how you perceive ALUI as a proprietary technology and 2) how WLP and WebCenter claim to support “Web 2.0.”

    Posted by: bucchere on January 20, 2008 at 6:10 PM

  • Out of respect of SEC rules, I won’t touch the Oracle topic. But as for WebLogic Portal (WLP)…2) how WLP … claim to support “Web 2.0.”There are a bunch of features that contribute to the overall Web 2.0 story for WLP. Look at the WLP Groupspace application, for example. Web 2.0 is about publishing social applications that get better the more people use them. Groupspace is such an app. It is first a packaged social app ready to go out of the box, but secondly shows off many of the WLP features in the area of “Web 2.0”.

    Groupspace doc link (community framework, RSS, Groupnotes (think wiki), discussion forums, shared document repository, calendar, contacts, etc, etc).

    Also, read up on Josh Lannin’s blog to see what will be out shortly in terms of WLP and REST, more Ajax, more Portlet Publishing (Google Gadgets, RoR, PHP, etc). Lannin’s WLP futures

    Cheers – PJL

    Posted by: plaird on January 21, 2008 at 8:30 PM

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