Reflecting on Liferay Portal: From big data to secure mobile delivery

The portal has evolved in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the manner in which it can integrate with big data solutions and deliver secure mobile content. Here are ten big takeaways from the 2014 Liferay Symposium in Boston.

The ability to leverage big data, aggregate disparate content streams and securely present information to users through both mobile and desktop browsers is a challenge that all enterprises face, which is why so many organizations turn to portal based solutions like the ones offered by Liferay and eXo and IBM WebSphere. TheServerSide was fortunate enough to have Xtivia’s Vivek Agarwal in attendance at the 2014 Liferay Symposium, and here are his top ten takeaways from the conference.

While many people have prognosticated the death of the portal server over the past decade or so, the fact is that Liferay is very much alive and kicking, as was evidenced by the success of the 2014 Boston Liferay Symposium. As the Liferay practice lead at Xtivia, I have been attending Liferay Symposiums each year since 2010, including two in 2011, and from the entire Liferay team to customers and folks evaluating Liferay to technology and service partners that enable you to get the most from the Liferay platform, the energy at the 2014 Boston Symposium was simply exhilarating. A total of 140 companies were represented by the 550+ attendees at the Symposium, with a number of interesting presentations from keynotes to customer case studies to technical presentations covering architectural concerns, front-end development, DevOps, Cloud, Big Data and more. It was also a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends as well as form new relationships and have interesting hallway, food and bar conversations that ran the gamut.

Liferay is refactoring core pieces into modules. This will both shrink the monolith and create the possibility of a smaller Liferay runtime.

Here is a brief vignette that captures the top ten 2014 Boston Liferay Symposium takeaways:

1. Liferay Beats Out Microsoft and Oracle in 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ)

I had heard the week before the Symposium about the advances made by Liferay in the 2014 Horizontal Portals MQ and had been excited by it, but I could not believe my eyes at the partner meeting in Boston when I actually laid my eyes on it. To see Liferay ahead of Microsoft and Oracle and just below IBM in the Leaders quadrant, in both completeness of vision and ability to execute, is a great recognition of the enormous strides made by Liferay. This is good not just for Liferay  and its partners, but also for customers, as it will help accelerate the growth of the community and the overall pace of innovation. Do check out Bryan's blog post with Liferay's thoughts about the 2014 Gartner report.

2. Single Page Applications (SPA) and Liferay

There is a lot of buzz in the industry about SPAs and the benefits of that approach for both actual and user perceived latency. And that buzz has pervaded the Liferay community, with Xtivia at the forefront of that with our Liferay implementations. Liferay shared updates about how Liferay Portal will facilitate the delivery of SPAs as a complete application delivery platform in the next release (v7.0). Eduardo Lundgren from Liferay Brazil in his talk titled Single Page Applications Done Right talked about some of the key considerations involved in building a good SPA - SEO, bookmarkability, state retention, history navigation, cacheable screens, pending navigations (block UI rendering until data is loaded), UI feedback (when some content is requested, the app indicates to the user that something is happening), timeout detection, and more. Additionally, he announced Senna, a new blazing fast SPA engine for enabling SPA development on Liferay.

3. The Xtivia Integration Platform

Related to the concept of SPAs is the Xtivia innovation known as the Xtivia Integration Platform (XIP). Rex Petersen from Xtivia presented on the patterns that we see across our Liferay engagements, including growing interest in JavaScript-based applications. The focus of his presentation featured AngularJS application development on Liferay and the value proposition of XIP as a lightweight ESB. XIP provides an easy way to consume web services running outside of Liferay as well as to use JavaScript to script services within Liferay that can invoke Liferay APIs. Single Page Apps written in AngularJS or JQuery can then consume these services to rapidly develop full applications. XIP also facilitates a RAD approach wherein the JavaScript application code can be managed as Liferay Web Content and you can quickly prototype applications, all while staying within Liferay's Control Panel.

4. Modularity

Liferay introduced an OSGi container in Liferay v6.2 to enable Liferay to evolve architecturally from a monolith with tight coupling and lack of clear boundaries to a more modular architecture. However 6.2 was just the beginning and Ray Augé in his Modular Architecture session talked about how Liferay 7.0 will build upon this. Liferay is refactoring core pieces into modules that will shrink the monolith and also brings in the possibility of a smaller Liferay runtime by not deploying unnecessary Liferay modules, for example, do not deploy blogging functionality if that is not needed in a particular Liferay implementation. The vision is to have a Liferay core of essentials  alongside optional OSGi modules, resulting in a smaller physical and memory footprint, increased reuse, and easier configuration.

5. Liferay's Audience Targeting Plugin:

Portals have always held out the promise of personalization and bubbling up the right content and applications to the right users, and Liferay has had a personalization story in the past via its role based access control (RBAC) security model and the drools plugin. However, there was a gap in terms of ease of use in applying rules-based segmentation and running campaigns. The recently released Audience Targeting  app raises the engagement experience of your Liferay Portal to a whole new level. This app allows you to segment your audience, target specific content to different user segments, and create campaigns to target content to user segments. It also allows you to track user actions and generate reports that provide insight into the effectiveness of your campaigns. From my perspective, this release of the audience targeting app lays a foundation that can be easily customized to leverage your custom user data and behavior that is currently not available out-of-the-box. Liferay, its partners, and the community can create additional rules and user segment reports as OSGi modules and make them available through the Liferay Marketplace.

6. The Liferay Product Roadmap

Ed Chung, Liferay's VP of Product Management, presented on the key themes of Liferay 7.0 where the focus is shifting from feature development to building cohesive experiences for end users, power users, and developers. From an end-user perspective, the big change is to enable Single Page Apps and incorporate that behavior into out-of-the-box features. Additionally, there are upcoming features around improved integration of communication tools such as web meetings and video conferencing as well as presence awareness. Power users will have a personal launch dashboard in 7.0 to access the assets they manage across Liferay sites, and improved forms support. And I already talked about modularity which is a big win from a developer perspective. And the story around evolving into a complete application delivery and interaction platform that supports both web and mobile experiences becomes even more compelling in the 7.0 release.

7. Mobile Enablement

Liferay continues to focus on enabling website and application delivery to mobile devices through innovations such as Liferay Screens which is a collection of visual components for mobile developers consuming Liferay APIs from native mobile apps. The Liferay Mobile SDK which has been available for some time now is a lower level layer on top of the Liferay JSON API, while Liferay Screens translates back-end programming to a slick easy-to-use visual interface. Liferay Screens is geared towards native app developers, and is currently only available for the iOS platform though work is underway to support Android. Depending on your use case, your cross-platform compatibility needs, and your team’s skill set, you may actually want to take the hybrid mobile app development route that is enabled by a platform like PhoneGap, a route that many of Xtivia’s customers have taken.

8. Getting involved with the Liferay Community

James Falkner, the Liferay Community Manager, had an interesting presentation titled 21 Ridiculously Simple Ways to Contribute to Liferay – and Why it Matters!  In his talk, James encouraged all of us to contribute back to the community without taking on an onerous burden - stuff as simple as voting on a JIRA issue to creating a feature request on Liferay’s community ideas site to downloading a Liferay Marketplace app and reviewing it to filing a Liferay bug when you hit one to translating a word or phrase to writing a new Liferaypedia term. And when you are ready to do more, you can write a community blog or fix a starter bug or download a milestone build and provide feedback or answer a forum question. James’ talk really hit home with me and reminded me that despite our busy schedules, there are ways we can contribute back to the community, and do so easily.

9. The Other Liferay Presentations

There were too many interesting presentations at the Symposium for me to list all of them individually in a "top ten reflections" list, so let me cheat and call out a few more here.

Eduardo Garcia shared some real world examples that leverage Application Display Templates - a feature introduced in Liferay 6.2. ADTs allow you to customize portlet look-and-feel, add new features, apply changes to specific portlet instances rather than all instances of the same portlet, and offer online editing with zero deployments (this is a double-edged sword). Eduardo showed an example of a music site displaying top rated songs, albums and artists in list format as well as responsive photo galleries of the same; he also brought in charts and maps via ADTs - truly powerful stuff from my perspective.

James Falkner talked about Hybrid Mobile Apps backed by Liferay's CMS. Hybrid apps fall between responsive websites and fully native apps in terms of capabilities and total cost of ownership; the Liferay Events app is a good example of a cross-platform app that leverages Liferay content, offline access, cross platform UI and native hardware access.

In his Big Data and Liferay - Getting Value from your Data session, Miguel Pastor discussed how we can analyze all the information available in your Liferay installation using big data techniques to make better and faster decisions and improve the user experience via applications such as recommendations, future prediction, and reputation analysis.

And then there were best practices talks on Liferay DevOps, Liferay 6.2 Staging, and Securing, Minimizing and Hardening Liferay - all good reasons to attend the Symposium.

10.  The Xtivia Awards

Last but not least, I want to highlight Xtivia, where yours truly is privileged to work, with an outstanding team. Liferay recognized Xtivia for the third year in a row as the North American Partner of the Year - this is a remarkable achievement by the Xtivia team and a great honor that places even more responsibility on our shoulders to keep up our standard of excellence in project delivery and continue to meet and exceed client expectations. Additionally, our many community contributions were recognized with the 2014 Community Excellence award, and David Nebinger, one of our senior Architects, was recognized as one of the three individual community contributors of the year.

One of the highlights of each Symposium for me is to hear the keynotes from Brian and Bryan - while I missed Brian Chan at this year’s symposium, Bryan Cheung had a closing keynote that had a significant emotional impact on me. His transformational message was to show up - show up and make a difference in somebody’s life and see how that transforms your own life! Liferay is just a different company, and its executives really embody the difference - their sheer humility coupled with a strong desire to make a meaningful difference touch a nerve with me. Ciao until the 2015 North America Symposium when I hope to see an even larger turnout and Liferay and Xtivia scaling even greater heights. As Bryan said, show up not just at the Symposium in 2015 but also in the community.


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