I had a great conversation with Marshall Lamb yesterday about some work that he has been doing in the multi-tenancy portal space. This is really a fancy word for virtual portals, although it doesn't have to be implemented specifically using virtual portals. The approach is around providing Software as a Service (SaaS), but I think the potential goes much, much, farther. As he was walking me through the demo, I was thinking of several areas where this would apply to other end user scenarios, such as building user communities on the fly.
This takes virtual portals to the next level, really allowing for separation not only at the page and administration level, but also with separate content libraries, separation of user repositories using realms, and the option to provision external applications to provide separate functionality for each unique site. The approach is actually pretty light weight with extension points that allow it to be customized for the specific type of site you are trying to deliver. Site templates can be created and then parameterized which allow users to fill out an on-line form and have their site up and running with minutes (or maybe hours) depending upon the complexity of the site setup process.
I'm always concerned about making changes directly in production environments without strict control over what is going on. For enterprise customers who depend upon their portal this is an absolute requirement. This requirement sometimes conflicts with the marketing messages around WebSphere Portal that promotes the ease of administration through our admin console. Truly there is a place for both of these extremes, but what I like about the self-service portal is that end users or site administrators get the ability to create and modify their site, but only within the limits set by the templates created by the portal admin and developers.
The feature is built as a simple portlet. The portlet itself is pretty light weight, basically offering a set of options to the user to define their site. After choosing their specific site options, this information is passed to an asynchronous task that then goes about the process of building the virtual portal, copying libraries, and provisioning any external applications that need to be provided. This process is completely extendable so that it can be customized for your organization or set of users. I dug into this line of questioning fairly deep to be sure there were no hidden limitations that would hinder a customer trying to create complex sites. As always there are probably going to be limitations on the portal itself in the use of different APIs as administration come up with complex requirements, but overall it looks like a good start.
Marshall, hopes to provide the initial version of this portlet and documentation via the portlet catalog later this year, but there is a dependency on an update in WCM that may hold up his ability to make it available.
I found this article in developerWorks on building Secure multi-tenancy with WebSphere Portal Server. I think this is separate from what Marshall works, but I think the extensibility is there to even include this approach with for environments with Tivoli security products.
All things considered this may be one of the most interesting things I have learned this week, especially considering the possibility of a release in the near future. I'm hoping to provide some screen shots as it get's closer to release in order to explain things a little better.