One of the complaints we often hear about horizontal portal systems is they are complicated and feel “heavy”. What makes a system feel heavy and how can we lighten the load?
In a typical portal application we have to integrate multiple applications, content and document management systems, security, search, personalization, page management, etc, etc. is it any wonder why a portal would feel heavy when you try to bolt together all these systems? Some vendors have taken the approach that they will build all of these components into their horizontal portal, which makes them seem heavier out of the box. Other vendors go lighter out of the box, but then put the burden on others to integrate the missing parts.
Given that portals are naturally heavy, what can we do to lighten them up or make them appear lighter?
First, let’s talk about requirements. Do you really need all these systems integrated to accomplish your goals? If not, maybe simpler web pages built off simpler content management systems maybe all you need. For example, if your site is going to be content only or mostly content, then you probably don’t need a full blown horizontal portal.
But let’s assume a horizontal portal makes sense. Then you’ll likely need the portal software, an application server, a database server, an http server, a security system like LDAP, and maybe a few other servers just to get started. From an install and infrastructure point of view, that is a lot of heavy lifting to install all those servers and get them to work together.
To make this infrastructure lighter or appear lighter, we can turn to cloud vendors, or in the case of IBM their PureApp system. Let’s look at cloud vendors first.
If you’ve kicked the cloud tires yet, you know it is fairly easy to get individual servers up and running. You can request a database instance, an http server, security, and an application server and have it running in minutes. In the portal world you may still have to install the portal server separately, but some vendors are able to have that provisioned too. In most case you still have configuration steps to take to get all of those servers to work together. Still the cloud makes the portal infrastructure feel lighter because you didn’t have as much work to do to get it running.
What if you can’t go cloud and have to stay on-premises? IBM has tackled that problem with their PureApplication System. With PureApp, IBM has defined system patterns and has created the tooling necessary to implement the patterns automatically. For a portal environment, an IBM pattern looks like this: two portal servers clustered, an http server, a db2 server, and a Websphere Deployment Manager. That’s a lot of servers and configuration and feels heavy.
In PureApp, with this defined pattern, the system can install and configure a complete WebSphere Portal production environment is less than an hour. Five servers, fully configured and operational in less than hour. Now that feels much more lightweight. My colleague Kate Tuttle just posted an article on our Healthcare Blog about how Blue Shield of California used PureApp in their portal implementation project.
In the next part of this post, I’ll talk about how to make portlet development lighter weight. Here is a link to part 2: How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 2: Portlets