Oracle’s Portal or WebCenter?

IBM (IBM CM, FileNet), BEA (AquaLogic, WebLogic, Plumtree), Open Text (Livelink, Hummingbird, RedDot), Oracle (Portal, WebCenter) are among many vendors with overlapping product offerings. However, Oracle is the only one whose two offerings in Portal space (Oracle Portal, part of application server family and Oracle WebCenter of the Fusion middleware family) are not a result of an acquisition but are home grown. There are some components like YAWIKI (part of WebCenter) which have been acquired but the base products are still home grown.

So what do you do? Read my take on CMS Watch – A Tale of Two (Oracle) Portals. Here are some of the points that you might want to consider:

  1. WebCenter is targeted at organizations that want to build a site using a “J2EE” framework as opposed to a “Portal” framework. So you could use JSF and other J2EE technologies (Servlets etc) to build these. If you already have J2EE applications and want to go along the same path, you could go with WebCenter. I know a lot of customers who take this approach because they have defined standards for security, integration etc using J2EE.
  2. WebCenter focuses a lot on “Web 2.0” features and some of the key features planned are Discussions, Wikis, IM, VoIP, Team Spaces and Mashups – features that are not in the Portal product.
  3. Currently, WebCenter is just a first release whereas the Portal is quite matured. But going forward, Oracle has great plans for WebCenter, including an integration with Stellent that they recently acquired. However, there are overlaps between Stellent and Oracle’s features – like both of them have a Wiki. So one of them will have to go off. WebCenter will also integrate with Content DB (Oracle’s original CMS offering), Documentum, Sharepoint and some other repositories using JSR 170 adaptors. So content that is managed in these repositories can be combined with other WebCenter services to create much more powerful applications.
  4. It’ll be some time before WebCenter evolves. So if you don’t want to wait that long and you prefer a more portal like environment without too much need of Wikis, VoIP and so on, Oracle Portal will be a better choice.
  5. And finally, both WebCenter and Portal can expose each other – You can have JSR 168/WSRP portlets exposed within the WebCenter and WebCenter services exposed within the Portal using JSF Portlet bridge. So if you can afford both, Oracle would be more than happy :). Oracle Portal had a price advantage over others (IBM, BEA etc). But if you combine the cost of WebCenter with Portal and add other add ons (SSO, BPEL etc), I suspect cost advantage will no longer be there.

Consumer Internet and Corporate Intranets Converging

IBM has been trying to bring nice features from the consumer Internet to the Intranets as is evident from its announcements regarding tools for Social Networking and a free search engine along with Yahoo. Recently, it announced Google Gadgets will available as part of WebSphere Portal Server 6.0. This brings thousands of Internet applications to users inside the firewalls.

I think the two worlds are converging and this is a move in that direction. Infact, many of our clients have at least started thinking of Blogs and Wikis which became popular primarily because of the open nature of public Internet.

However, as I have written before, what works in public domain need not necessarily work behind the firewall. Apart from the fact that the two worlds are quite different, isn’t it is too much work for people managing the Intranet if they were to take advantage of Google Gadgets? One needs to go through thousands of applications on a regular basis and identify which ones go in the Intranet. I know there are quite a few good applications – for example, it would be a good idea to show Google maps gadget along with employee information within the portal but I don’t think there are too many applications “yet” that are useful within an Employee Portal. An Intranet is a business application. If you are an Investment Bank, would you want your bankers to be reading the “daily horoscope” or playing “PaCMan”? Okay its an extreme example but the point is that an Intranet should have what business needs and not necessarily what is available out there. One will also need to make sure the quality, usability, navigation and functionality etc of these external gadgets is acceptable before deciding on letting it be a part of the portal.

Also, if people can access a gadget thru the Intranet, won’t they be able to access it directly? If yes, I think people would not like to go thru their Intranet and let their employers know what they are up to.