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

More on BEA Participate 2008

BEA executive Jay Simons just posted more details about Participate 2008 on the en.terpri.se blog and, needless to say, all of us here at bdg are very excited about the event.

Last year’s event in Atlanta was a raging success. Over 1000 attendees came to hear BEA employees, customers and partners describe their experiences with AquaLogic User Interaction and AquaLogic BPM. For our part, we had the usual partner/sponsor booth, we gave away a Video iPod and hundreds of fun USB-powered laptop lights. We also presented a very well-received demo showing how to integrate ALI, ALSB and ALDSP.

In 2008 we’re upping the ante. BEA has contracted the development team here at bdg to build a suite of social applications for AquaLogic Interaction (formerly known as the Plumtree Portal) that will allow conference attendees to network with one another on iPod Touches that BEA will be providing at the conference.

(BTW, our applications will run in a normal web browser just like every other ALI-powered application, but they’ll also be optimized for the iPod Touch form factor.)

They’ll be much more info to come on these great ALI-powered applications that we’re building for Participate, so watch this space and my dev2dev blog as well. To give you a little taste, think Facebook tuned for the enterprise with the specific goal of conference social networking in mind. Rich user profiles; mini- and aggregate feeds; user, session and group walls; private messaging/poking; tagging and other popular Facebook-like functionality will all be included.

Imagine this: instead of raising your hand to ask a question, use your WiFi-enabled iPod Touch to post the question on the session’s wall while the session is in progress. Then, at the end of the session, the presenter can pull up the session’s wall on the projector and field the questions. Like the presenter? Ask him or her to be your contact or join one of your groups! Meet an influential C-level executive who’s an expert in SOA governance and want to get to know him better? You can poke him or leave a message on his wall.

Leave your business cards at home — instead use these great bdg built/ALI-powered applications!

This is revolutionary, game-changing stuff. And this is why we’re excited about Participate 2008. We hope you are too.

Portals and SOA: Portals in a Service-Oriented Architecture

I’ve been invited to give the following talk at BEA Participate:

Why is a Service-Oriented Architecture important to an IT infrastructure and what are the elements and products needed to build out an SOA? These questions answered, plus a discussion on how portals are the practical starting point to leveraging SOA.

Quite honestly, the title and abstract make it sound like an invitation to engage in a lively game of buzzword bingo, but I assure you this talk will be light on the trite — you won’t hear me use the acronym SOA more than once or twice — and heavy on the real deal, rubber-meets-the-road stuff about how mere mortals/human beings are actually accomplishing the sort of things that SOA evangelists are preaching these days.

So, here’s what you can expect: I’ll talk a bit about some of the challenges of building integrated user experiences in today’s enormously complex and heterogeneous IT environment and show how a software developer — without superpowers — can piece together an integrated true-to-the-principals-of-SOA application using ALUI, ALDSP (Data Services Platform) and ALESB (Enterprise Service Bus). This will culminate in an actual, real-life demo.

I will of course make sure to sacrifice a chicken to the Almighty Goddess of Demos or do whatever else I have to do to make sure my demo doesn’t crash. Scratch that, I’ll just run it on Linux and everything will be fine.

So, all joking aside, if you have any ideas for items you’d like me to include in (or exclude from) my talk, please post your comments here. I’ll be sure to give anyone who makes a good suggestion a “shout out” during my presentation. They’re actually giving me a whole hour this time, so they’ll be room for plenty of tomfoolery, geekspeak, silly anecdotes and still time to answer your insightful questions at the end. As one of my good friends and business partners said following my talk at last year’s BEA World,

you never know what to expect during one of [Chris Bucchere’s] talks.

I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but of course I took it as a compliment.

In closing, while we’re on the subject of BEA Participate, I just wanted to say thanks to Christine “Obi” Wan for giving me the opportunity to present and, more importantly, for putting together such a great-looking agenda, which you can review if you like, because now it’s posted on the BEA Participate site.

In the meantime, do your best to convince the powers that be at your company/organization that they will finally discover the secret to “leveraging SOA” if they send you to this conference. Also, please don’t mention that every past Odyssey has had several open bars.

Comments

Comments are listed in date ascending order (oldest first)

  • Working with Aqualogic we all know how it’s easy to plug in our portlet into Aqualogic. We don’t need Aqualogic portal running on our own computer to do this, we don’t need special IDE, we don’t need upload wars into portal. It took time to explain this to my experience J2EE collegaes that got some experience with IBM Websphere. Here what they do there:
    http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/websphere/techjournal/0410_barcia/0410_barcia.html
    A lot of steps pretty much the some but have a look at step 11. Here is the core difference. So at least one benifit of SOA is that we don’t need to do step 11.

    Posted by: Bryazgin on April 13, 2007 at 7:03 AM

  • >Quite honestly, the title and abstract make it sound like an >invitation to engage in a lively game of buzzword bingo True, I have the some issue. In my article (for russian development network) I want to stress SOA architecture of Aqualogic, but I don’t want to use SOA word. Audience is pretty techical so they all pretty much feed up of this word. Hmm, may be I will end up with this:
    Avoid nightmare of step number eleven !
    At least, “what the hell this guy talking about?” will be more predict reaction. 🙂

    Posted by: Bryazgin on April 13, 2007 at 7:25 AM

  • Hi Dmitri! Thanks for your insightful comments.As I’m building the demo for my talk, I’ve noticed that these SOA tools encourage you to loosely-couple everything. And that’s a good thing. As you pointed out, ALUI fits into this nicely with its loosely-coupled portlet architecture. The evil “Step 11” (too bad it wasn’t “Step 13”) is: “Select the Browse button and navigate to the WAR file for your portlet, then select Next (Figure 17).” Step 11 has some pretty awful implications for the enterprise. First off, it assumes that everything is Java, which, as much as I love Java, is just wrong wrong wrong in the heterogeneous enterprise. Secondly, it tightly couples your portlets to your portal, which is contrary to SOA.As an aside, I was listening to some Web 2.0 podcasts in the car the other day, and this guy who worked on Google Maps talked about “seams” in an architecture. To paraphrase, he basically said that everyone misuses the word “seamless.” Seams, just like in the textile industry, are critical to enterprise architecture. Just as seams hold swaths of fabric together and separate one bit of fabric from another, they also help define boundaries in the enterprise architecture that are equally critical to SOA. Without seams, everything must be homogeneous — applications must be bought from the same vendor, run on the same OS, be written in the same language, etc. — and this is completely contrary to the reality of enterprise software and systems and completely anti-SOA.

    To illustrate how not being “seamless” is actually a good thing, I’ve designed a demo system that involves bits of LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP), bits of Java, bits of .NET and bits of Adobe Flash all held together with seams built with ALDSP, ALESB and ALUI. I’m still working on the technical side of things, but the use case is simple: a sales rep wants to quote his customer. Behind the scenes, his company is running a LAMP CRM server, a Flash/SQLServer product database, a .NET portal, and a Java-based Collaboration Server. Using a hybrid of ALDSP, ALESB and Java and .NET web services, the user experience is easy and seamless, but behind the scenes, it’s the powerful seams supported by ALDSP and ALESB that make this not only possible, but fairly straightforward.

    If you’re interested in hearing more, register for BEA Participate and [shameless plug]come to my talk[/shameless plug]! By the way, I’m co-presenting with Joseph Stanko, the BEA Engineering Manager responsible for the development of Ensemble (formerly known as Project Runner) — he will run several slides to help you understand the theory behind SOA and I will show the reality of how the AquaLogic stack truly enables SOA in the enterprise.

    Posted by: bucchere on April 14, 2007 at 6:07 AM

  • Alas, I’ve finally finished my demo. I had some configuration issues with ALSB, but ultimately they boiled down to the interface between the keyboard and the chair, i.e. human error. I had the proxy service calling the business service, which, in turn, called the proxy service again. You should have seen the utter wasteland this little tidbit of mutual recursion made of my machine. Actually, I was impressed — Java would spit out a JVM_Bind error once it exceeded some internal maximum, but ALSB (running on WLS 9.2) would actually keep running. Nice.Anyway, now that I’m past all that, I have an ALDSP layer over two disparate data sources (one MySQL DB containing CRM info and one HSQL DB containing product info) exposing data through netui/beehive to a single ALI portlet. (The nifty little portlet uses script.aculo.us to show an interesting new take on the age-old concept of master-detail.) I also included an Adobe Flex-driven portlet. The two portlets use some client-side IPC (inter-portlet communication) to exchange info and then they call a proxy service on ALSB that takes info from both sources and creates a Word document (in the form of a sales quote). The business service also uploads this document to ALI Collaboration so that people can work on it collaboratively before sending it to the customer. (I may replace this last little bit with a .NET web service, just to show that Java and .NET are both acceptable alternatives for writing the “glue” or “seams” in a true service-oriented architecture.)Lastly, the event coordinators have locked in a time slot for us: Monday, May 7th at 4:30 PM in the Technical/Developer Track.

    If you’re “participating” it would great to see you at our talk or at the bdg booth. This year we have a cool — yet practical — giveway that will definitely brighten your day. Looking forward to the conference!

    Posted by: bucchere on April 22, 2007 at 7:52 PM

BEAWorld 2006 General Session

Alfred Chuang (the “A” in BEA) said that 20% of BEA’s business comes from AquaLogic. He parlayed this into a nice talk about the realization of SOA. They demo’d Hiper and some other stuff that showed SOA in action using ALI and ALIP/ALBPM along with some very slick Excel integration. This really clarified how important AquaLogic is to BEA’s overall strategy.