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What does the BEA acquisition of Plumtree mean for the future of Web services?

This second part of a two-part article looks at what BEA's acquisition of Plumtree means to the future of Web services and service-oriented architecture.

The recent BEA acquisition of enterprise portal maker Plumtree has put the spotlight on portals again. Portals powered by Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) have become central to many enterprises, but in technology terms, they had begun to seem old hat. The Plumtree buyout changes all that.

In this second part of a two-part article, we'll take a look at what the move may mean to the future of Web services and service-oriented architecture.

SOA-driven portals have become a primary way for enterprises to provide services to employees and customers, gather information, and conduct commerce. They also see a great deal of use for application integration, and to tie legacy applications deeper into the enterprise and to other services and applications.

What the Buyout Means for Portals

So what does the BEA acquisition mean for the future of Web services, SOAs and portals? One clear message is that there isn't enough room in the market for many pure-portal vendors, and so consolidation was almost a foregone conclusion.

But beyond that, there are longer-range consequences as well, says Christopher Harris-Jones, principal analyst, information management for Ovum. The days of putting up a special-purpose portal for a specific purpose are over, he says. Instead, portals have to serve larger strategic enterprise purposes.

"The acquisition emphases what we have been saying for some time -- that there is really no market for standalone portals," he contends." The most successful companies in this space are Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, and they are all selling (or simply providing) their portal as a way of delivering lots of other functionality. Portals represent a more integrated way of delivering information and working -- Portals are only of any value when they deliver applications that have a direct impact on the business."

Matt Brown, senior analyst for Forrester, agrees with Harris-Jones.

"Portals as discrete category have disappeared," he says. "In fact, some major players are giving away their portals as a way to get their foot into the door in an enterprise so they can upsell them on backend applications."

Although the acquisition may end the days of standalone portals and portals as a discrete category, it also validates the use of enterprise-wide portals. In fact, Brown says that Forrester surveys have found that 38 percent of companies in North America, and 19 percent of companies in Europe intend to buy or upgrade their portals. That's an especially high number, given that portals have been around for seven years, and have reached a certain level of maturity, he says.

What the Buyout Means for Web services and SOAs

Although analysts agree on the implications of the buyout for portals, their opinions diverge when it comes to what the implications are for the future of Web services and SOAs.

In the naysayer camp is Brown.

"The buyout has no real bearing on the importance of Web services and SOAs," he says. "It's true that portals are consumers of Web services, and always will be, and that they'll interact with back-end services. But I don't see any implications for this from the buyout."

Brown adds that "there's a great deal of interest in SOAs, especially in the largest enterprises with revenues of one billion dollars and above. But again, the buyout has no bearing on their uptake of SOAs."

Other analysts disagree. Jim Murphy, research director of AMR Research, believes that the BEA buyout will bring a greater corporate focus on Web services and SOAs, because it puts portals in the spotlight.

"Portals are the mechanisms that can show to businesses the very real benefits of Web services. Rather than Web services offering abstract benefits, enterprises will see the very real benefits of Web services from portal (environments).". "

The deal may also bring a wider acceptance of SOAs, he says.

"It's been difficult for the business side of a company to grasp the value of SOAs. What are they paying for when they go with an SOA, they often wonder? Portals show them those benefits."

In particular, he notes that BEA is pushing SOAs hard, and the Plumtree buyout will allow them to preach the benefits of SOAs to even more enterprises. Possibly more important is that the buyout will allow BEA to explain the benefits of SOAs to an audience that they have had a hard time reaching until now -- the business influencers within corporations.

"BEA is strong with the developer community, but not with the business end of corporations," he says. "With the acquisition of Plumtree, BEA will now be able to talk to business influencers about the benefits of SOAs."

No matter the truth of things, it's clear that the BEA acquisition of Plumtree will change the portal business forever. As to whether it will increase the use of Web services and SOAs remains to be seen.

About the Author

Preston Gralla is an expert on Web services and the author of more than 30 books, including How the Internet Works. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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