Portalmania with an SOA twist

According to BEA, the market for portals -- 'the face of SOA' -- is growing at a healthy 15 percent, and CIOs, for a fifth consecutive year, say that portal technology remains a strategic spending priority.

I've always thought of the portal market as a classic example of where there's "always something happening, but nothing going on." Through the years -- while other technologies rose and fell into their troughs of disillusionment -- the portal market kept on chugging along, and still keeps on chugging. Corporations use portals for putting pretty and consistent front ends on their intranet and knowledge management systems. But since the initial excitement came and went a few years ago of being able to add personalized Web interfaces to applications, what's been going on in this space?

Portals are the 'face of SOA' because they help deliver the benefits of SOA directly to the user community.

BEA just released a survey of 254 customers, along with a synthesis of more than 100 analyst reports on the subject. According to BEA, the portal market is growing at a healthy 15 percent, and CIOs, for a fifth consecutive year, say that portal technology remains a strategic spending priority. 

There's more going on that simply the front end to an intranet, the report says. The report also observes that the portal market is expanding to include business process management and usage analytics technologies. SOA is also spurring portal adoptions, "as many organizations see portals as either a first practical step toward SOA or a necessary complement to other SOA infrastructure. Out of 254 BEA portal customers surveyed, 70 percent say that the portal is an integral part of their SOA strategy."

Portals provide a "good starting point" for SOA, "even from the standpoint of making the SOA concept less abstract." The tangibility aspect is a very good point. SOA, which is an architecture, not a product, is a tough sell to anyone, and educating the business on its benefits is a tough task.

Here's how the report further ties portals into SOA:

"Portals have recently been described as the 'face of SOA' because they help deliver the benefits of a service-oriented architecture directly to the user community. The constituent parts of a service-oriented architecture consist mostly of infrastructure technologies such as an enterprise service bus, service registry and orchestration, and service management and security. These technologies offer significant benefits to IT but don’t focus attention directly on the business in the way portal technology does."

"An SOA often leverages many of the independent, siloed applications that support different departmental needs. These systems frequently run on disparate platforms and are built in (and extended through) different programming languages. These systems and applications usually have no inherent relationship with each other, but through the transformation of service enablement they can be interconnected—linking customer information to order status, enabling interoperability between Java and .NET applications, and enhancing legacy systems. To elevate these services into business-transforming assets, portals coordinate them for new business processes, contextualize them with enterprise content, personalize them to various audiences, augment them with collaboration, make them searchable, and secure them by role. In a nutshell, portals are a framework for delivering composite applications in a SOA."

Still, today, the BEA survey shows, most portal implementations (69%) are intranet-ish, used for general information purposes, such as company-wide announcements, press releases, bulletin boards, job postings, and personalized pages.  About 38% have more SOA-ish roles, serving as interfaces to business-specific applications, processes and services.

BEA cites Gartner estimates that the costs of portals can run from "as little as $50 per user per year with low-end products, little integration, and a small number of users or as much as $600 per user per year with high-end products, custom integration, and a large number of users." BEA admits that the ROI for portals is difficult to quantify, but the main benefits cited in the survey include "increased productivity and the ability to deploy new composite applications."

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