IBM pushes portal-app server link

Tapping its vast resources, IBM Corp. early next year plans to rev up its WebSphere Portal Server, creating tighter links to the WebSphere Application Server and integrating content publishing, search and Web services functionality.

Eyeing the portal framework as the solution to EAI (enterprise application integration) woes, WebSphere Portal Server Version 4.1 will do more to leverage the WebSphere Application Server it sits on, said Larry Bowden, vice president of e-Portals at IBM, in San Jose, Calif. “Portals are being seen as the answer to the integration problem across the enterprise. This is a CIO-[level] and CTO-level issue of how to solve the stove pipe problem,” he said.

In addition to easing back-end integration, IBM plans to exploit the app server link to bring Web services to the user-facing portal environment. “More companies are looking for back-end integration and that is where Web services will come through,” Bowden said.

Due in March or April 2002, the WebSphere Portal Sever Version 4.1 will be Web services-enabled, featuring Lotus Software collaboration components SameTime and QuickPlace boiled down to Web services.

Although IBM will continue to partner for advanced content management and search, basic content publishing, and an intranet-specific search engine will become core elements of the portal.

Additionally, the portal will include reporting and predictive analysis tools from Tivoli, enhanced personalization and customization features, event management functions and a copy of IBM’s Eclipse open-source toolkit.

To boost the portal performance, Version 4.1 will be integrated with the WebSphere Edge Server in an effort to bring content closer to users. IBM also plans to tap its Grid Computing effort next year to improve the portal availability. Similar to a utility grid, IBM’s Grid initiative could be used to shift computing resources to a portal on as needed basis, Bowden said.

“As the portal evolves to a mission critical site in the enterprise, performance, scalability, and guaranteed uptime become critical,” he said.

Downplaying the app server link, pureplay portal vendor Plumtree Software based its offering on an Internet architecture that allows users to run different components of their portal on different systems and connect them using HTTP and other protocols such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

“This is more important than whether [the portal] runs in [an] app server because the function of a portal is to unify applications,” said Phil Soffer, director of product management at Plumtree in San Francisco. “A lot of our customers don’t even have an app server. They are developing applications in different environments and rely on the portal as a neutral meeting ground.”

Another competitor, Epicentric, emphasizes its J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition)-compliance and years of product development. “The portal is an add-on for [IBM] – it is our focus. As a consequence the completeness of our portal offering is beyond what IBM ships in their portal,” said Ed Anuff, chief strategy officer of Epicentric in San Francisco.

But with the future promise of dynamic application assembly enabled by Web services, the race to construct the most function and feature-rich portal framework may be short-lived, said Larry Hawes, senior advisor at Delphi Group in Boston.

“The more functionality you can offer in the portal itself right now is an advantage, but the way computing is moving, particularly in the area of Web services, it won’t be for long,” he said.