I've been delivering enterprise portal, content management, and collaboration solutions to customers since the late 1990s, and I have witnessed this product space both evolve and mature over the years. At Xtivia, we started with traditional commercial software from the likes of Vignette and Epicentric and moved into IBM WebSphere Portal around 2003 and 2004. IBM WebSphere Portal was our preferred portal platform until its heavyweight nature and high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) started to wear on us and our customers. Unfortunately, none of the Java Portal alternatives were very viable at the time, and SharePoint was far from being a true portal product.
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While it had been in existence for many years, we only started to experiment with Liferay in 2006 when it was still at v3.6. Liferay Portal felt like a breath of fresh air for us compared to WebSphere Portal, but because of the lack of key functionality and enterprise worthy support, it really was not ready for prime-time from our perspective. We did a few smaller implementations based on Liferay 4.x including one for the asset management wing of a large, international financial institution that was looking at this initiative as an open source proof-of-concept. It was only when v5.2 came out and the enterprise edition was an option for our customers, that we truly embraced Liferay. And v6.0 and v6.1 have only solidified our preference for Liferay as the best enterprise portal platform for our customers.
Now that was a pretty bold statement given that Liferay’s competitors in the Leader quadrant of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals report are some of the biggest software companies in the world – IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. I imagine, you are not going to let me get away with this without some rationale – so here I go supporting my stance –
- Liferay has the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to its competitors starting with its licensing costs. Downloading it and getting it running takes a matter of minutes (check out http://www.theserverside.com/tutorial/Installing-LifeRay-Portal-61-From-download-to-install-in-ten-minutes). And the savings continue through development costs, operational costs, and training/support costs (from the perspective of infrastructure, developers, administrators, and end users).
- Second-to-none rich out-of-the-box (OOTB) functionality around core portal, content management, collaboration, social, mobile, security and more; check out http://www.liferay.com/products/liferay-portal/features/portal for more information.
- All portal products typically need extensions and/or additions to deliver requisite functionality – with Liferay you can simply do more within a specific budget.
- Product innovation – leader in introducing new capabilities whether it be AJAX or friendly URLs or mobile or social
- Improved business agility – it is lightweight in nature enabling you to get it running and configured quickly; its ease of use and management enable your IT and business users to configure, tailor, and develop custom functionality on Liferay to meet your business objectives.
- A mature Enterprise Open Source (fully supported) product – a variety of support options including 24x7x365 platinum support with 1 hour response time SLA; this includes access to all service packs, hot fixes, notifications of security alerts, phone and web based support.
- Liferay’s open architecture and its open source nature help you avoid lock-in to a single proprietary vendor. Liferay adheres to several specifications including JSR-168 (Java Portlet Specification v1.0), JSR-286 (Java Portlet Specification v2.0), JSR-170 (Java Content Repository Specification), JSR-127 (JavaServer Faces), WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portlets – standard for enabling interoperability between multiple portal vendors where one portal provides a portlet and another consumes that remote portlet) 1.0, WSRP 2.0, WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning), SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language for Federated SSO), and more.
- Liferay’s hook and extension plugin model allows you to tailor product behavior to your needs without rewriting from scratch and without creating upgrade hell (if done right). With most other portal vendors, if an OOTB feature meets 80% of your need, then getting the remaining 20% might be difficult and expensive, or worse, you may need to live with the limitations or recreate the functionality from scratch.
- Liferay offers opportunities for product feature sponsorship to enable contributions back into the core product for key customizations – this allows you to offload responsibility of maintaining and enhancing your custom features back to Liferay.
- Liferay offers you a full choice of application servers, databases, and operating systems to run on, thereby allowing you to leverage your infrastructure and skills investment.
- The Liferay community has experienced significant growth adding an average of 1300 members a month in 2011, reaching strength of 56,000 members. Additionally the community members are extremely active with increased contributions to forums, wiki posts, blogs, code contributions and activity in special projects teams. The community contributes greatly to the product functionality as well as product information/support.
Now that I have made my case for why Liferay rocks, let me admit that Liferay is not perfect. The product continues to evolve and add new features all the time with typically one major release every 12-18 months – so you will likely find holes in its out-of-the-box functionality depending on what you are looking for. Going back to my original post there were some comments about the product being buggy and I would have to agree with that - we have certainly run into our fair share of defects in Liferay and worked with Liferay support to resolve them. However, every product has bugs and security holes whether it be IBM or Microsoft or Oracle or Liferay or "take your pick vendor". I could go on with stories about what I have seen from other vendors but that is neither here nor there. Additionally the product does have some internal code quality flaws that are open to the world to see given its open source nature – it is up to the Liferay community (including me) to help improve the code base where we see opportunity.
Summing it up, if you are launching an enterprise portal project, you certainly should consider using a portal product as the foundation, and look into Liferay – you will get a jumpstart with all the features that come out of the box – the recent 6.1 Enterprise Edition release of the product packs many new business value features including –
Liferay Sync – innovation at its best – bringing a Dropbox like experience to Liferay with multiple desktop/mobile clients.
Multiple Website Versions enabling multiple content projects to be developed in parallel and scheduled for publication.
Intuitive undo and redo capabilities at the portal page level
Affiliated Sites Management: Liferay pages and websites maintain links to their original site templates, making it easier to propagate changes to associated sites and pages – having done several multi-tenant implementations, I know how valuable this feature is from an operational perspective.
Powerful visual editors to enable business users to create web forms and workflows interactively in the browser.
Users can create custom data lists online that can be tied to form submissions to model business processes such as inventory management, vacation requests, or sales order submissions.
Significant improvements to Liferay’s document and media library with preview capabilities for documents, images and videos (using HTML5), enterprise integration with Documentum, SharePoint, and other popular third-party CMIS repositories, and customizable document types and metadata sets.
Federated Single Sign-On support based on SAML with both Identity Provider (IDP) and Service Provider (SP) support
All in all, Liferay gives you a solution that works today and is flexible enough to drive future strategic growth. It is simpler than WebSphere and more flexible than SharePoint!
And now a plug for my employer - if you need help with your portal strategy or implementation, feel free to contact us at email@example.com. Do check out http://www.xtivia.com/portal/liferay-portal for more information about our portal services.