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Dashboard: Apps Put Portals in the Spotlight

An interesting mix of SOA, composite application and BPM possibilities are bringing some spark back to the portal market.

Much of the pioneering pizzazz seemed to drain out of the portal market in recent years as it consolidated into the hands of top vendors. But some of the spark is back this year as an interesting mix of SOA (service-oriented architecture), composite application and BPM (business process management) possibilities are being layered on top of the portal.

In announcing its WebSphere Portal Server in August, for example, IBM emphasized "new collaborative capabilities with templates built on [SOA] that can be used ... to deploy role-based composite applications." Designed to be used with the newly bundled WebSphere Portlet Factory (from last December's Bowstreet acquisition), the templates will string together out-of-the-box, partner-developed and Factory-generated portlets into composite applications.

IBM's approach sounds like a portal-flavored version of SAP's xApps game plan, and it also has much in common with BEA Systems' portal strategy. Having acquired Plumtree to gain a foothold in composite apps and Fuego to gain a BPM suite, BEA is also talking about the combination of SOA, BPM and collaboration.

"The process portal is an example of where people have started to blend BPM with SOA," says Shane Pearson, VP of product management and marketing at BEA. "It's not just integrated access to an ERP or CRM system. You're stringing along tasks that people need to complete, so it becomes the single workspace for the user."

You can also hear echoes of the SAP-Microsoft call for interaction with enterprise systems at the desktop, promised by the joint Duet offering announced in May. And in the next-generation SharePoint, expected to be announced in November, Microsoft is even taking "portal" out of the name "because there's so much other, more important stuff going on," says Jeff Teper, general manager of the Microsoft SharePoint Group. The theme is that portal infrastructure isn't enough; you have to deliver applications or processes through a portal to make it relevant. --Doug Henschen