Corporate portals dig deeper into infrastructure layers

Corporate portal vendor Plumtree Software Inc. this week at its Odyssey 2002 conference introduced a new strategy designed to beef up its infrastructure presence, taking dead aim at swatting back growing competition for the portal space from infrastructure heavyweights such as IBM Corp. and BEA Systems Inc.

As part of its Enterprise Web strategy, Plumtree on Monday introduced a content management server, an updated collaboration server, and a bundling agreement with identity management provider Oblix Inc. San Francisco-based Plumtree also plans to further extend its portal offering with a business process engine, code-named Fusion, due for release in 2003.

Plumtree’s move to tightly wrap related infrastructure elements into an integrated framework is a good idea, according to David Yockelson, executive vice president and director at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. Enterprise Web “is the right thing for Plumtree to be doing, saying a [portal] framework needs to be close to related things like content management, identity management, and collaboration capabilities. People tend to look at those technologies together anyway,” he said.

As the portal becomes more tightly fused to its surrounding infrastructure elements, including the application server and security functions, software offerings such as Plumtree must attempt to broaden out, Yockelson said.

“The portal framework is a core function, very close to being infrastructure,” he said. “Plumtree has to diversify. If the portal is an infrastructure play, they can’t go up against IBM without a [broader framework].”

Another trend gathering momentum among portal framework vendors is tying in identity management as a core capability. Plumtree kick-started its efforts this week with security vendor Oblix, announcing a deal to bundle Oblix NetPoint Access System with Plumtree Authentication Web Services for synchronizing the portal’s security system with other user directories.

IBM, meanwhile, recently purchased Access 360 and in the future will push its Tivoli provisioning services and meta directory capabilities down into the infrastructure level to the portal and application server, according to Yockelson.

While many vendors look toward the emerging standards in the portal space to level the playing field, standard connection points will shift the battleground to value-added capabilities such as business process automation and event management powered by Web services, Yockelson said.

“This is the evolution of the portal framework with Web services and the ability to manage them and provide an integrated development environment to hang a bunch of components together and trade information among them and execute a business process,” he said.

“Process automation in the portal is where the portal framework has been heading for awhile,” he said.

IBM and BEA are naturally well positioned for this trend, SAP AG is moving in this direction with its xApps initiative, and Epicentric Inc. is pushing toward basic Web services management capabilities in its portal, Yockelson said.

One Plumtree customer, aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, sees the increased linkages among infrastructure elements as suited to its portal vision.

“The Enterprise Web is the logical culmination of what we’ve been doing, to be able to use [the portal] for secure and high-performance access to all our business processes from anywhere. That is the holy grail,” said Colin Karsten, manager of infrastructure services program at Pratt & Whitney, based in East Hartford, Conn. “We want to leave the complexity on the back end. Let the IT guys deal with it.”