Web Development

Avoid Oracle Portal at all costs


The main reason my Learning Oracle ADF series --Creating Java objects from database tables, Simple JSF data view/entry form, and Master-detail forms -- was so late is because I spent most of the month struggling with Oracle Portal, leaving me very little time to work on the series. If your boss ever brings up the subject of Oracle Portal, you should run screaming from the building. It is easily one of the buggiest pieces of software I have ever encountered.

Oracle Portal is a product for building corporate portals. It is a JSR-168 container, which means you can write little portlets that can then be assembled into pages through the portal. Even though it's a Java standard, the portlets don't actually have to be written in Java. It's really an XML-based protocol, and, in fact, several of the built-in portlets in Oracle Portal are actually written in PL/SQL.

The idea behind the product is seductive. Programmers can build little portlets to display content, query databases, display graphs, etc. Then a designer or even a sophisticated business user can use Oracle Portal to assemble these portlets into dashboards and pages that display information pertinent to specific target audiences. Conceptually they're trying to give you a way to build something similar to, say, My Yahoo. A place where users can assemble a collection of portlets into pages that deliver the business intelligence tailored for individual needs.

So, what's the problem with Oracle's Portal? The big one for me is all the bugs in the content transport mechanism. This is the tool for moving content from, say, your Development portal up into the QA and then Production portals. Now you would think that kind of feature would be rock solid. I mean that's the raison d'etre for a portal, right? To display custom content to users.

Alas, every time Oracle has patched the Portal (and in a year of running the Portal, I recall at least two major patches we had to apply) it seems they introduce bugs into the transport system. And so inevitably there are additional mandatory patches you have to apply a couple months after the main patch, to patch the new problems in the content transport system.

The latest mandatory transport patch has somehow left our portal incapable of transporting certain types of content between our portals. The frustrating thing is that the content passes all the pre-flight checks built into Portal. In other words, the Portal's own analysis tools claim the content is perfectly ready and valid for transport. But when you attempt the transport, it always fails.

Amazingly, Oracle's own support organization knows that content transport is a problem. Whenever you talk to them, they acknowledge that this is one of the buggiest areas in a product rife with bugs. I have no idea if they'll actually be able to fix this problem for us. In the end, we may have to reconstruct these pages manually in the target portal instead of trying to transport what we built from the Development portal up into the target.

The icing on the cake is that Oracle is abandoning the Portal product. Instead they're promoting a new portal-like product called WebCenter. At least they recognize there's no way to make Portal work, so chuck it and start fresh. Given their past performance with Portal though, I'd be cautious about WebCenter as well.

Unfortunately, I don't have experience with any other JSR-168 product, like Sun's Java System Portal. I can't tell you if that would be a better alternative. All I can tell you is to avoid Oracle's implementation. Save yourself the grief.

16 comments
nathanpoe
nathanpoe

Rex...we've already made the Oracle AS purchase, and so will be using Oracle Portal (we're running JDEdwards which explains the Oracle purchases if you're wondering)....we're moving from a cobbled together environment of Eclipse/Jboss/Liferay development...and I'm starting to try to put all the pieces of application/portlet development lifecyle together in my head... It is so incredibly confusing trying to understand what works with what in all of this...you've got ADF, Struts Portlets, WebCenter...10G, 11G and documentation of varying versions all over the place...would anyone like to share any insights?

brodip
brodip

This product is indeed a joke and so are the supporting products. I'm actively moving away from JDeveloper to Eclipse and keep dropping hints that we need to evaluate other Portal vendors (JBoss?). Additionally I'd like to note (for anyone running v10.1.2) that although you can deploy JSR-168 portlets to the container, you can not register them "with-in" the portal. This functionality is not available until v10.1.4.

piook
piook

In my experience as a user of it for self service at my grad school I have to agree that it is the buggiest piece of crap, um I mean software that I have encountered in the past 10 years(atleast). I just hope that my school decides to switch over to something a lot more stable.

dhruva_scorpio
dhruva_scorpio

I have been consulting on oracle portal for the past couple of years. I have been doing content transports and I haven't had any major problems so far. Import/ export has improved a lot in latest version. You need to follow the steps throughly and keep the meta data repository clean. Oracle is not abandoning portal at all. WebCenter is a totally different product. http://www.oracle.com/technology/products/ias/portal/pdf/oracle_portal_sod_r11.pdf I believe that Oracle portal is one of the best portal products available in the market right now.

stephen.slade
stephen.slade

Just about to role out across 25 Servers after simulating 8000 users. Its taken an age to get to where we are, but happy that we can support it and it appears to be stable.

Justin James
Justin James

... but it seems like we've had this discussion two dozen times already. :) Seriously, I am convinced at this point that you if wish to have reduced stress levels, you need to work on some projects where Oracle is, at most, simply the data backend. Their backend is great, but the rest of it is, at best, hacked up versions on existing FOSS software (I love their app server, it's just a really out of date copy of Jakarta/Tomcat plus some minor changes of dubious value and quality), at worst it is complete junk like you describe above. J.Ja

plarsen
plarsen

We've been using Oracle Portal since version 3.0.7. And I agree - since it's conception, transporting data has been it's weak-point. However, giving the complexity of the transport mechanism, before I yell "Oracle go home" I would like to know how other portals deals with the issue? Recall, moving content is more than simply moving a portal. There's metadata, related setups and even worse - in production users may have added their own content that you need to merge with. So how does other products deal with it?

bcheung_liferay
bcheung_liferay

Have you tried Liferay Portal? It's probably the most mature open source portal product on the market. (I must disclaim that I work for Liferay.)

RexWorld
RexWorld

If you've used one of the other JSR-168 containers out there, what did you think? I'd love to hear any experiences, good or bad, with the alternative products out there on the market.

tech-mail-junk
tech-mail-junk

I used it in early releases and what I saw was just one unwieldy piece of bloated software. The db end seems ok, but the developer end was very clunky & limited. If its gotten better fine, but it left such a bad taste I would never recommend or use.

RexWorld
RexWorld

I hear you, but the allure of being able to turn to one vendor for support is very seductive. Having the entire system running on Oracle apps means no matter what part is causing problems, we only have to turn to one company for assistance. There's no finger pointing between vendors saying the other guy's software caused the problem.

RexWorld
RexWorld

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others :-) Oracle Portal could be the same thing. It could be that compared to all the other portal solutions, Oracle's might be the best one out there. But given how bad Portal's content transport mechanism is, I have to think somebody out there has a better solution. Unfortunately, like you I don't know yet what that better solution might be.

RexWorld
RexWorld

I hadn't heard of Liferay. I'll definitely take a look, thanks.

Justin James
Justin James

... but it feels like cutting your head off to spite your little toe, to mangle a metaphor. Oracle products tend to be so insanely bad, the "single throat to choke" doesn't pay off. :( J.Ja

JohnBoehlke
JohnBoehlke

BEA WebLogic may be the safest and most reliable option.