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WebLogic Portal 8.1: Enabling the Integrated Enterprise

WebLogic Portal 8.1: Enabling the Integrated Enterprise

The typical enterprise relies on a mix of custom built and pre-packaged business applications using multiple technologies. Over the last decade, the Internet explosion drove the desire to make these applications available via the Web. Unfortunately, many companies exacerbated their existing IT fragmentation problem by developing 10s or 100s of Web sites to surface their silos of data and applications to users both internal and external to the enterprise.

With this proliferation of Web sites, portal solutions initially provided a way for companies to provide visibility to content. These early solutions aggregated content and applications, but did not provide integration of applications, support for custom application development, or the ability to interact with and expose business processes.

Today, evolving business requirements are pushing next-generation portal solutions to meet the ever-increasing needs of the enterprise to provide integrated and composite views of applications and data while providing the ability to enforce business policies and processes in order to increase user productivity and utilization of corporate assets.

This article provides an overview of the functionality and design of the latest release of BEA WebLogic Portal - an ideal solution for your current and future portal needs.

  • WebLogic Portal Framework Services: A flexible framework for defining the way applications, content, and business processes are presented to various portal audiences
  • WebLogic Portal Business Services: A robust set of services used to build, define, and administer the portal user experience
  • BEA WebLogic Workshop Portal Extensions: Designers that extend WebLogic Workshop for easily building personalized portal applications
  • BEA WebLogic Portal Administration Tools: An extensible administration environment for managing multiple portal Web applications, portals, and portal resources for an individual department or a portal network that spans an enterprise

    Portal Development Life Cycle
    Common portal projects include sales force portals, intranet portals, customer self-service portals, or business partner portals. In contrast to other portal products, WebLogic Portal provides several entry points that make it an ideal solution whether the project initially requires a single application, delivers content-centric portals, or requires making transaction-based applications available to support business-to-consumer or business-to-business portals.

    WebLogic Portal offers functionality and tools tailored to specific users, including application developers, JSP developers, HTML and graphic designers, system administrators, portal administrators, and business analysts. The following functions assist the creation of portals and portal resources and in many cases do not require J2EE programming.

    Portal Resources and Application Development
    Application developers using standards-based technologies can create portal resources. HTML and graphics designers can easily define new look-and-feel specifications and portal page layouts with traditional page design tools. JSP developers can customize the default portal presentation and layout templates to accommodate sophisticated user interface requirements and to add fine-grained personalization.

    JSP developers can also create new applications and expose them as portlets. In addition to JSP- or HTML-based portlets, developers can create more sophisticated applications that leverage Web services, Pageflow, or available J2EE resources, using WebLogic Workshop.

    Portal Development
    Portals can be created in the same WebLogic Workshop developer environment that supports application development by installing the WebLogic Workshop Portal Extensions.

  • Portal Designer: Allows easy definition and configuration of the portal layout, available pages, booklets and portlets, and the portal look and feel
  • Portlet Designer: Allows developers to build several types of portlets (JSP/HTML, Java API, Pageflows, or Web services; see Figure 1)
  • Portal Resources Designer: Allows developers to define content selectors, user profiles, events, user segments, placeholders, and other portal resources for use when building, testing, and deploying applications

    Portal Administration
    After the portal or portal resources are created and deployed, the portal characteristics can be managed using the browser-based portal administration tools. The following are a sample of the functions available in the portal administration console.

  • User and group management: Manage user and group access to available portals, define delegated administration roles, and define visitor entitlement roles.
  • Portal management: Manage portal resources, including portal desktops, pages, portlets, and layouts.
  • Interaction management: Manage campaigns, placeholders, content selectors, and user segments that can be used to personalize the portal experience.
  • Content management: Manage and define content schemas and repositories. Create and manage the content available to respective portals.
  • Server management: Manage lower-level portal server settings such as cache management.
  • Third-party plug-ins: The portal administration tools' extensibility allow for additional tools to be made available within the portal administration environment.

    Portal End User Customization
    Finally, as is customary for portals, portal visitors can customize their portal within the constraints imposed by administrators. They can add and remove portlets and pages and arrange portlets on a page, select the default start page, and select the look and feel and page layout.

    Portal Framework Services
    The portal framework is composed of several components that support the development of a flexible user interface to provide secure access to content, applications, and business processes. Several new components, including desktops and booklets, are introduced in this release of WebLogic Portal to add increased flexibility when defining and deploying portals and portal networks that require hierarchy and multiple levels of delegated administration.

    Portal Anatomy
    Several enhancements have been made to the technical architecture of WebLogic Portal to provide greater flexibility for building portals. In WebLogic Portal 8.1 the multiportal architecture is augmented to support multiple portals per Portal Web Application, as compared to the one-to-one relationship in WLP 7.0. This change provides more flexibility to developers when building portal applications with more complex hierarchies.

    Portal Rendering
    The main portal template is represented by an XML file. The portal file can be static (accessed directly via a browser - great for development) or dynamic (assembled from a relational database), based on business or customization needs for the portal. Each element in the portal file represents a portal control. These controls provide great flexibility in portal design by supporting the development of loosely coupled portal applications. In addition, this model provides a rich life cycle and supports portlet-to-portlet communication via events.

    A developer may also override the functionality in the life-cycle methods via the control's backing file. A backing file is a simple Java class that implements the appropriate life-cycle methods. All life-cycle methods on the backing file are run before the control is rendered, allowing the developer to modify certain attributes or fire events before the portal is rendered.

    Desktop
    Portal Desktops represent a portal instance that is accessible by end users. Access to a desktop can be controlled by entitlements, which grant authorization to desktops based upon user roles. A desktop is the physical entity that is accessed by end users and is the successor to group portals that were used in earlier releases of WebLogic Portal.

    The relationship between desktops and portals is illustrated in Figure 2, expanding upon the earlier example.

    Booklet
    A booklet is a container for one or more pages and/or booklets, and are typically associated with a navigational control for switching the currently displayed page(s). Booklets can be used to more easily create n-tiered navigation and are used to provide navigation options for the portal.

    Page
    The main portal content area may contain one or many pages. Pages can be stacked in order to create a multitiered navigation model. By default, a tabbed navigation bar is used to quickly switch between pages by bringing a page to the front. Each page consists of one or more layouts, and contains portlets within a layout.

    Portlet
    Web applications can be presented as one or several rectangular windows on a page or booklet. Portlets may have several views, such as the maximized or edit view. Portlet views are implemented using JSP and may range in complexity from simply including static HTML content, employing JSP tag libraries or WebLogic Workshop Java controls to access EJB components, or other application functionality within the Workshop Framework or WebLogic application server.

    Several new features are supported in this release:

  • Multithreaded portlets support: Allows for a more flexible and higher performing portal rendering model. A portlet property can be set in order to make the portlet multithreaded. This means that on rendering the portlet spawns an additional thread in order to render the portlet. This feature would most likely be used on portlets that contain applications, which for business reasons are not cached or require large amounts of processing.
  • JSR 168 Portlet API will be fully supported: Allows WebLogic Portal developers to use the Java portlet as an implementation choice. There is no difference in how Java portlets appear and function to portal administrators or end users.

    Portal Development Framework
    BEA WebLogic Portal is implemented using the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) architecture; it's a J2EE application that runs in the WebLogic Server environment. In J2EE terms, WebLogic Portal is an enterprise application that consists of a collection of Enterprise JavaBean (EJB) components and a set of Web applications, which in turn are collections of servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSPs), JSP tag libraries, and supporting Java classes.

    WebLogic Portal 8.1 provides developers with a rich set of portal functionality exposed via JSP tag libraries and APIs, such as user and group profile, rules-based personalization, and content management. In this release, many of these features are also exposed as WebLogic Workshop Java controls that further increase developer productivity and make these features available to a larger developer audience.

    Controls were introduced in the last release of WebLogic Workshop for use during application development. This release of WebLogic Workshop adds additional business controls that support application development in WebLogic Portal and WebLogic Integration.

    A control is a component that you can incorporate into your Web service, JSP, Pageflow, or other application so that it can communicate with other kinds of applications and components. For example, a database control enables your application to request data from a database. A service control makes it easy to call another Web service.

    Portal controls allow for specific portal functions to be more easily incorporated during application development by exposing the appropriate methods to the application developer. Control methods allow a developer to visually or programmatically invoke the functionality of the underlying resource without having to write the wire up to the resource.

    The User Profile control is one example of a portal control. This control provides the business logic to retrieve and update user profile information. It allows a developer to determine whether a user exists, determine what user profiles exist, and retrieve a list of all users with the option to specify search parameters or obtain a list of all user profiles.

    Application developers who require user information for custom applications can then use this control without having to first learn the lower-level WebLogic Portal APIs and JSP tags. While they could write the same application without leveraging this control, it would require them to write many more lines of code to make the appropriate calls to the underlying portal services.

    Enterprise Integration
    BEA WebLogic Portal supports several methods of enterprise integration in order to communicate with other applications and systems.

  • Portlets: Portlets are applications, or views of applications, that exist within a portal. Different types of portlets are supported (JSP/HTML, Web service, Pageflow, or Java) and can be used by developers to aggregate or integrate data and applications from enterprise systems.
  • Unified User Profile (UUP): The Unified User Profile in WebLogic Portal can be used to integrate with any external system to aggregate user profile information for use within WebLogic Portal applications. The UUP API can also be used by external systems to change, read, update, and delete data contained in the UUP (see Figure 4).
  • Web Services: WebLogic Portal empowers business application developers to create, test, and deploy enterprise-class Web service applications within the portal environment. The simple visual development tools, available in WebLogic Workshop, make it easy to access enterprise resources and other Web services to support Web service and portlet development. Because WebLogic Portal tools are made available within WebLogic Workshop, your Web services are ready to deploy on a BEA WebLogic Portal within your organization.
  • Pageflow: Pageflow represents the next generation of application flow technology from BEA and is the logical evolution of what was provided in previous releases as Webflow. Pageflow manages the flow of business logic and application presentation while allowing developers to use discrete units of business logic called Actions to execute focused processes within a session. The Pageflow Editor in WebLogic Workshop can be used to build applications that integrate data or business processes from external sources, while the Portlet Designer allows the developer to generate an appropriate portlet to make the application available to various portal audiences.
  • Business Process Management and Application Integration: WebLogic Portal's flexible architecture supports the ability for portal-based applications to interact with J2EE Connector Architecture adapters and with business process management applications. In addition, WebLogic Portal is pre-integrated with WebLogic Integration to make it easy to expose WebLogic Integration application views and business processes within the portal environment, or to have portal events trigger long-running enterprise business processes.

    Portal Business Services
    BEA WebLogic Portal has at its foundation a core set of modular business services that support enterprise portal and application development. These services improve the developers' ability to build custom portals and for administrators to tailor the portal user experience. These flexible and extensible services are provided by BEA, but are also in many cases available to be extended by customers, independent software vendors, and solution implementation providers in order to provide best-of-breed solutions.

  • Collaboration: Collaboration is a key component of many portal implementations as increased user productivity is usually a component of the return on investment. WebLogic Portal allows for relevant information to be made available where and when users require the information, thereby increasing group and user productivity by improving communication and reducing information search time and project cycle time. Services included in WebLogic Portal are provided through prebuilt portlets and the flexible portal architecture, which supports multiple ways to define communities that support sharing of information and group collaboration.
  • Commerce: Commerce services can be used to build partner, employee, and customer portals that require support for transactions. These features support custom application development and back-end system integration. Developer samples covering catalog, shopping cart, order management, and order discounts, as well as documented programming interfaces and JSP tag libraries, enable you to extend the commerce features or to add your own custom components.
  • Content management: WebLogic Portal provides support for portal content management with a set of content services and an extensible architecture that supports the ability to integrate multiple content repositories as required by business requirements. Developers can use a common set of content and personalization JSP tags and application programming interfaces that support targeting portal users with dynamic content based on user, user segment, or group attributes.
  • Search: WebLogic Portal's enterprise search capabilities use sophisticated pattern-matching techniques to provide secure access to users searching for information. Search capabilities support keyword and metadata to identify concepts within the text itself to determine which are the most important in order to display search results. In addition, a default search interface is provided that can be customized as needed in order to use relevance ranking, document similarity, and proximity search features.

    The search engine includes several connectors that support options for integrating different content sources, including ODBC, JDBC, and HTTP sources. This flexibility allows for making unstructured, semistructured, and structured information from multiple repositories based on the business needs of the portal audience. In addition, any search engine that provides a Java API can be integrated into WebLogic Portal.

    Interaction Management
    WebLogic Portal provides personalization capabilities that support profile, segment, and event-based personalization. These core services can be used to tailor the portal user experience by providing implicit and explicit personalization and a framework for defining and measuring user interaction to better target content and services to users.

  • Campaign management: A full set of campaign services can be used to create an interactive, personalized user experience. Scenarios can be defined to determine how a portal responds to user events, taking into account profile data. This functionality leverages the core elements of WebLogic Portal, such as the rules engine, the UUP, and Content Manager.
  • Event and behavior tracking: Provides the ability to respond in real time to user actions and persist user actions for subsequent processing and reporting. Event and behavior tracking support both a set of pre-defined events and the capabilities for creating custom events.

    Security
    BEA WebLogic Portal relies on the J2EE security functionality provided by WebLogic Server. This Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS)-based implementation provides a common and unified security structure for developing applications and portals.

  • Delegated administration: Sometimes called "decentralized administration," it is a practical necessity in today 's portal applications. It is common to delegate authority not only to IT personnel, but also to nontechnical users to enable the performance of appropriate tasks. WebLogic Portal supports delegated administration of portals and portal tasks by providing the infrastructure and tools for defining the delegated administration structure and specifying the specific tasks enabled for given users.
  • Entitlements: Provide a means for defining end-user access control to portal resources. Roles can be created and mapped to portal resources in order to restrict access to content, applications, and business processes.

    Summary
    BEA WebLogic Portal was built to solve the needs of the integrated enterprise. In addition, it continues to implement the latest advances in Web services, XML, and J2EE-based standards that increase the flexibility for creating and integrating enterprise applications. Today, WebLogic Portal provides the most complete portal solution for the integrated enterprise and is a cornerstone of the BEA WebLogic Platform, a comprehensive solution that increases productivity and lowers the cost structure for enterprise IT organizations by providing a unified, simplified, and extensible architecture.

  • More Stories By Shane Pearson

    Director of Product Management
    Enterprise Framework Division
    BEA Systems, Inc.

    Mr. Pearson is the Director of Product Management for WebLogic Portal at BEA System, Inc. In this role he manages the team responsible for the product strategy and design of BEA WebLogic Portal‰. This includes coordinating the definition of product requirements based on input from customers and partners to ensure the successful implementation of a competitive and innovative product.

    During his tenor, several releases of WebLogic Portal and earlier products have been recognized as innovative products and received industry awards.

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