Tuesday, January 4, 2011

WCI vs Webcenter Spaces

This post will describe some of the differences between Webcenter Interaction and Webcenter Spaces. It is meant to be used as an informal guide to the choices available within Webcenter Suite and future paths for those who may already be invested in the Webcenter Interaction product. Before we get too much further we should first define some of the products and terms used in connection with Webcenter Suite.

Webcenter Suite is an enterprise portal platform made up of many products including 3 portal products, Webcenter services and the Webcenter development framework. Also included is limited-use licensing for Universal Content Management, Secure Enterprise Search and Presence and Communications Services.

Webcenter Interaction refers to the cross-platform portal product and services previously known as Plumtree and BEA's Aqualogic Interaction. It has portal versions native to both .net and Java.

Webcenter Services is a set of Enterprise ready social services that can be integrated with existing portals as well as custom applications. It includes products for wikis, blogs, RSS, activity streams, discussions, tags and links.

Webcenter Spaces is the portal application that provides the UI and administration layer to the products that make up Webcenter Suite. It has out of the box features that closely match the features provided with Webcenter Interaction’s portal. It is the product with the highest level of integration to Webcenter Services, Fusion Middleware and other Oracle products.

So what are the differences?

To understand the differences it is good to know the history of the products. Webcenter Interaction grew up as a pure play portal product. This meant that the product was originally meant to be a top layer portal product that did not care too much about the backing technologies that needed to be surfaced. That being said, many of WCI’s components were built using Java and only the core portal product was 'jumped' to .net using a java to .net conversion technology. Also, most of WCI’s add-on products and services are black box java apps that run on packaged tomcat or JBoss app servers. Development against WCI can be done using your IDE of choice depending on the technology you are using (.net,java,php,rails or any html emitting technology) and the functionality or product you are surfacing. An SDK and API web services are used for writing portlets and composite applications that take advantage of portal services and intrinsic functionality. Exposing and consuming JSR 168 and WSRP 1.0 compliant portlets is also possible with WCI.

Webcenter Spaces, on the other hand is a pure java based application that is supported for deployment to Weblogic Application Server. It was built to be the presentation layer to the Fusion Middleware product line. Customizing and developing for Spaces involves the use of Oracle's Jdeveloper IDE. You can use another Java IDE but that would be painful. Jdeveloper has deep integration not only with the Webcenter stack but with ADF development and fusion middleware overall. The Webcenter framework used with Spaces allows for consumption of JSR 168 as well as WSRP 1 and 2 compliant portlets. Additionally, ADF taskflows can be exposed as JSR 168 portlets using the portlet bridge available as part of the framework.

Which do I go with?

If you are in the process of deciding on a portal suite and framework be assured that the Webcenter Suite provides everything you need to stand up an enterprise strength portal with many out of the box features. Enterprise 2.0 functions come out of the box for both Spaces and WCI. For WCI the integration levels range from simple installation/configuration to custom integration work or even the dreaded iframe. If you have not yet decided on the portal product to use also be assured that Webcenter Interaction and Webcenter Spaces both provide enterprise strength portal functionality and customization capabilities.

With the 11g release of Spaces there is no longer much that Spaces lacks in comparison with WCI. Both products are fully supported by Oracle. Both portal products have or will have 11g versions and future versions/enhancements. Going forward, though, pieces of WCI functionality will be replaced by Webcenter services and other Oracle solutions as consolidation and convergence happens with the Webcenter products and shared services. This may be the biggest reason to choose Spaces as the portal of choice if you are not invested in either portal yet and if you are not absolutely tied to the .net development environment. Even if your preference is to develop using .net you can wrap .net apps with WSRP 2.0 and maintain functionality within Spaces.

My experience has been that most companies have a blend of technologies in the enterprise and either have teams that know both technologies or have separate teams to handle .net or java development. In either of these two situations you might be better served to go with Webcenter Spaces as your choice of portal product since integration is tighter with the other Webcenter pieces and Spaces will only be enhanced while the WCI product may have some functionality replaced with newer Oracle products or services.

What if you are already invested in Webcenter Interaction?

If you are already on the Webcenter Interaction product stack you have your choice of paths. The decision on whether to move to Webcenter Spaces is dependent on a longer list of decision points than we can discuss here. So what kinds of paths might you take to transition to Spaces from Webcenter Interaction portal?

Stay with the product for the foreseeable future. If you are heavily invested in the WCI product set and are only interested in modest changes for the foreseeable future you can certainly stay with WCI. You can augment functionality with Webcenter Services and integration with UCM. These integrations are not yet mature but they will be soon.

Start a piecemeal migration. You can stay with the core portal product and start smaller migrations of functionality. For example, you can migrate from Publisher to UCM or start migrating portlets or apps to be exposed via JSR 168 or WSRP and surfaced through Spaces.

Yank the band-aid and start a full migration effort. Knowing that the Spaces product is fairly mature should help if you decide to make the full blown migration effort. Depending on the size of your user base, app/portlet inventory and points of integration a migration effort might take a few months to a year or more. Just remember that the effort will put you on the latest version of Spaces and in the middle of the best of breed products and services that make up the Webcenter Suite offering.

In future posts we will take a look at specific mappings of functionality between WCI and Webcenter Spaces.