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A Tale of Two Migrations

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My first portal migration project was not originally expected to be a migration; it was scoped and planned as an upgrade. The expectation of an upgrade was well-founded given the high-level scope of moving from one version to the next. Those involved with WebLogic Portal at the time know the move from 7.x to 8.x was in fact a migration rather than an upgrade. While there were some bridge APIs to allow the use of old code it was poorly suited to anything that was even slightly customized, which is to say every implementation in production. The project had been expected to take 4 – 6 weeks with one developer and actually took 10 weeks and 2 developers. It was the first of two migration/upgrades for the same customer and the lessons learned from the first move allowed the second move to be completed in 3 weeks with a single developer.

Fast-forward a decade and enterprises with WebLogic Portal are once again faced with a migration. This time we know up front that it will be a migration and IT managers along with their business customers are hesitant to move forward without a clear path to follow. While the last ten years have seen all J2EE-based portal products move to standard APIs for their foundation, they still have unique frameworks that serve as (from the vendors point-of-view) market differentiator and (from the customers perspective) a new form of vendor lock-in. In the case of WebLogic Portal, the vendor remains the same (albeit through acquisition) yet there is still no easy way to switch to the newer version, and a risk to staying with the old as it has been feature-frozen since 2010 and is slated for “sustaining-only support”.

The migration path from WebLogic Portal (WLP) to WebCenter Portal (WCP) is unclear for many reasons. Perhaps the most common and least-realized barrier to an “automated” migration is that WLP in his current form has 10 years of layered patches and deprecated-yet-still-in-production APIs supporting features that are a broad amalgam of proprietary solutions and customized integrations with standard APIs fueled by a demanding customer base for a (relatively) small vendor where WCP’s current form is currently a little over 3 years old and managed by a company that believes in setting the standards and letting the market follow.

Another source of great confusion is the mixed messages over time and between messengers as to whether a staged migration is practical or if it must be done in either a parallel phase out or big bang approach. To make that even more confusing, all of those options are equally the “best” approach, though the true determination of the correct approach is specific to a combination of the enterprise time-to-market needs, development skill sets, ability to maintain multiple environments and maturity of the enterprise architecture.

Given all these contributors to the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding a move off of a long-lived portal platform to a new, unfamiliar technology landscape I am currently in the process of acting as guide down this winding path for a company where all the various factors pointed mostly in the direction of a staged migration.

Like that first move to WLP 8.x, the approach from the 20,000 foot elevation looked very simple and straight-forward. Build the header, footer and navigation components in WebCenter and consume all of the legacy WebLogic Portal-produced portlets over WSRP. Where the WLP application had a backing file at the desktop-level that assembled user and account information at log-in, the backing file would be modified for use at the portlet level and the rest would be easy-peasy. This original understanding was entirely correct except the last phrase, i.e., no easy-peasy.

To be continued…

References for Historical Release Dates

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle_WebLogic_Server

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle_WebCenter

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