The Evolving Role of Portals in a SOA World

Enterprise portals have become widely adopted as the gateway for employees to perform their job - and for good reason. Common business flows such as order fulfillment, billing and quarterly financial reporting can cross application boundaries.

In fragmented IT environments, users trying to complete these business processes are left with time-consuming tasks like surfing intranet websites for answers to simple questions, building relationships between application data and unstructured content and rationalizing conflicting sources of information. The result is a significant decrease in productivity. Enterprise portals emerged to address these issues by providing a single repository for a variety of information that employees need to do their jobs. Many of the same enterprises that adopted an enterprise portal are now turning their attention to the IT infrastructure itself and are increasingly adopting Service Oriented Architectures SOAs- as an approach and strategy. By applying SOA and embracing a standards-based, service-oriented environment, legacy stovepipes are being service enabled or replaced by new systems that can be orchestrated to directly support evolving business scenarios. Given these trends, one might question where that leaves enterprise portals - the technology that was brought in to address a problem that appears to be going away. The good news for portal adopters is that enterprise portals will continue to perform their traditional functions for the foreseeable future and will take on new and equally important roles as SOA is adopted. Portal to the Future of SOA Service orientation has been part of portal DNA for some time and this fact allows portals to jumpstart SOA within an enterprise from a variety of entry points. For projects that originate from user-facing or presentation-oriented service requirements, portals are a natural fit as supporting standards are already in place. Web Services for Remote Portlets WSRP- standard has been widely adopted by portal products and application ISVs. WSRP allows applications implemented in a variety of technologies Java, .NET, PHP- to be discovered and accessed over SOAP/HTTP and represent themselves in the form of a portlet. For more traditional data-oriented services accessed via a Web Services Description Language WSDL-, a wide variety of browser-based and IDE-based tools are available that support connecting to the service, applying visualization, and deploying to the portal as a portlet. Required communication and interaction between services and portal users is supported through interportlet communication and integrated workflow. In addition, for enterprises that have already started down the path to SOA and have begun to publish their application data as services, binding and visualizing these services within their portal can provide critical management proof points for continued investment. In summary, portals offer a relatively easy to use, yet robust environment for deploying service-oriented applications. These applications can start small, yet they can expand incrementally into sophisticated composite applications as new services are made available. Single Interface, Multiple Uses Given the investment in existing technology and the need for a practical approach to new technology purchases and deployments, many SOA transformations will occur in phases or in discreet projects that expand in scope and complexity as ROI is achieved. While the underlying applications and technologies can vary widely, a common denominator across many of these projects is the need for a user interface UI- for presenting services to one or more end user communities. Instead of treating UI as a one-off that must be redeveloped for each project and risk repeating the mistakes of the past that lead to the end user based aggregation-, enterprise portals make it possible to formalize the user interface as a layer within the enterprise architecture for delivery of SOA-based applications. When treated as a layer, the portal brings the reusability and loose coupling principles of SOA to the UI level - UI components become building blocks that can be re-used, combined and tailored easily. By following this approach, the portal continues to provide needed UI and conceptual consistency for end users as new services and composite applications are rolled out - users experience a single view of IT services with a single UI to master. Portlets: A Component Model for Success Given the broad definition of messaging, service description and discovery contained in the Web Service basic profile, developers and architects have many options to choose from when considering how to implement a service. We have discussed earlier the benefits of an implementation that can leverage the portal framework and portal unique services. A common theme in these discussions has been exposing services in the form of a portlet - portal s re-useable component model. While not appropriate for all forms of SOA, exposing services via a WSRP producer and in the form of a portlet should be seriously considered for composite applications that implement presentation layer integration. Reasons include: Productivity - a portlet-based architecture allows developers to delegate common functions for life cycle, per-user customization, aggregation, and integration. Standards - key portlet standards including WSRP and JSR-168 the standard for portlets implemented for the Java platform- are complete and relatively mature. Ecosystem - the number of ISVs offering out-of-the-box portlets is significant, growing and includes some of the most business critical applications. Portlets are particularly well suited in cases where application specific business logic needs to be preserved and leveraged either directly by users within the portal interface- or by a composite application. Complementary Services When architects and developers factor enterprise portals and portlet-based components into their SOA implementation, they can leverage an application framework and rich set of built-in portal services. For example, portals provide a relatively easy-to-use, yet fairly robust, environment for deploying serviced-oriented applications. Services exposed as portlets can support end-user customization and profile-based personalization. Interportlet communication and workflow can support basic composite application assembly and presentation-layer integration. Portal based navigation and style/branding can be incorporated into the visualization of a service and within composite applications. Single-sign-on often implemented as part of a portal deployment- can be leveraged for authentication and authorization. In addition, more advanced services will be made available as a result of the approval and release of WSRP 2.0. These services are expected to include support for WS-Security, inter-portlet communication across multiple producers, portlet events and portlet management copy/clone, export/import-. Clearly, enterprise portals have an important place in today s enterprise and an equally important role in the deployment of SOA. In the short term, portal s service-orientation and out of the box capabilities for composite applications make it an ideal on-ramp to an early stage SOA. In the longer term, portal s user interaction layer, the portlet component model, and the portal s unique value-added services will prominently place it in the middle of most if not all SOA implementations. Source: line56.coma>