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Portal services to become key in SOA

Expect superplatform players to dominate as portals become an extension of the underlying application platform, according to the Burton Group.

Enterprise portals are not going the way of the dinosaur, but rather are adapting to change: They're evolving from owners of services to consumers of services. As part of this transformation, the portal server will be replaced by portal services that will consume application and infrastructure services, according to a recent telebriefing on the enterprise portal market from the Burton Group, Midvale, Utah. And for many organizations, the portal will be the initial "face" of their service-oriented architecture.

Also, look for the "superplatform" vendors -- BEA Systems Inc., IBM, Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and SAP AG -- to dominate as the portal becomes an extension of the underlying application platform. "It's a stack battle," said Burton principal analyst Mike Gotta. However, he said a case can still be made for the use of third-party and new open source portals from vendors such as Exo Platform, JBoss and Liferay.

Portals will care more about the infrastructure services they consume, which is a key architectural difference between the past generation and the future.
Mike Gotta
Principal AnalystBurton Group

"There are a lot of things coming together all of a sudden," Gotta said. "It's not about the portal, but the services and the maturation of the underlying infrastructure. As we get smarter about how we want to package and expose [things like] identity management, content collaboration, [etc.], the portal gets to go back to its roots, which is not so much a portal but a set of services. The portal ends up a consumer of services. Portals will care more about the infrastructure services they consume, which is a key architectural difference between the past generation and the future."

In his presentation, Gotta called portals the "harbinger" of modern composite applications.

For many organizations enterprise portals will be a first step toward an SOA, according to Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. Through 2007, Gartner projects that an enterprise portal will be the first major application of SOA concepts for more than 50% of enterprises. And through 2006, portals will be the chief consumer of Web services, according to Gartner.

"The original idea around portlets was to consume a specific transaction or service," said Gene Phifer, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst. "Portal frameworks are a good technology to start to leverage SOA."

Phifer, however, said a portal is a tactical step to an SOA, not a strategic one. Similarly, Gotta said a portal "is a pathfinder for how we want to build composite applications" and "a great way to show users what the advantages of SOA could be." However, he added, "it doesn't mean that if you have a portal, therefore you have an SOA."

Both analysts said the end of the standalone portal market is coming to a close. "The move to portal services favors the superplatforms," Gotta said. "The critical market mass, the bundling capabilities they have and the spectrum they support means de facto they will swamp the market and be dominant." But Gotta said enterprises should "take an architectural approach in making a stack decision, not just a portal decision."

Gotta said questions and issues remain around the superplatform strategies. BEA, for example, had a portal when it acquired portal vendor Plumtree earlier this year. The company "has to make a decision which application server and which portal goes away," Gotta said. "I don't buy into the .NET vs. Java dual stack. I'm generally thumbs down on that acquisition."

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For IBM, Gotta said the company's focus is workplace software. However, he said, "clients say WebSphere is still daunting."

Microsoft solved a lot of performance issues with SharePoint 2003, Gotta said, but users are looking at Office 12 to build out enterprise content management and collaboration capabilities. Oracle with its Fusion middleware story is "still a work in progress," he said. And SAP's portal "is more scaffolding around NetWeaver, but SAP has been pretty honest about that. There's a lot of advanced capability they're designing around the SAP user constituency."

Inevitably, enterprises will end up with more than one portal, Gotta said, so they need to be aware of the architectural and interoperability issues. The relevant interoperability standards are the JSR 168 and Web Services for Remote Portlets specifications, but only WSRP applies to both Java and .NET. However, Gotta said there hasn't been much market uptake for WSRP yet.

Despite dominance by the superplatforms, Gotta said enterprises do have alternatives. He calls Vignette Corp. the "Switzerland" of portal offerings, taking a horizontal approach that's attractive to some organizations. And he said there is a growing undermarket for open source portals that take a more minimalist approach to a portal framework vs. the soups-to-nuts approach of the superplatform providers.

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