IBM refines its WebSphere portal product

IBM Corp. recently announced it has upgraded its WebSphere Portal software for easier installation, more seamless integration with other applications and more collaboration capabilities.

“One of the challenges our customers have faced is the ability to access meaningful information quickly,” said Yvette Imbleau, national WebSphere Portal sales manager at IBM Canada Ltd., in Markham, Ont. “We already have the ability to gather information from different data stores, but what we’ve allowed [with the WebSphere v5.0] is for our customers to more easily distribute relevant information [to other users].”

For example, if a user wanted to move information from an HR application to a financial application, with the previous version of WebSphere Portal users were required to create their own portlets into other applications. Now these portlets can be built-in more easily – users can take advantage of a more sophisticated cut and paste between applications, or can consult WebSphere Portal’s Quick to Action catalogue to look for pre-built portlets.

“It’s easier and users can do it more quickly and with less technical skill,” Imbleau explained. “We’re very focused on allowing the business users, who are generally closer to the content and understand that nature of the content, perform content creation.”

WebSphere Portal v5.0 also sports extra collaboration features so users can search for colleagues by area of expertise and conduct virtual meetings. Users can also track document versions, manage the evolution of documents, and control who has access to them.

WebSphere Portal v5.0’s search engine has also been enhanced to search across a variety of data stores including databases, applications, Web sites and text documents. Search results are also now ranked and listed with summaries of their content.

Laura Ramos, analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., said WebSphere Portal 5.0 is not a radical departure from v4.0 but is a refinement release.

“It’s really focusing on the installation and integration issues around the portal and particularly around the component pieces of technology that make up IBM’s portal offering,” she said.

However, she said that IBM still has a ways to go in architecting components that make up its portal offering for seamless interoperability.

“You still get the sense there are components that have come from Lotus, there are components that come from DB2, and there are components that come from the WebSphere Application Server,” she explained.

Yet, she said that IBM still has the potential to become a leader in the not-yet-mature enterprise portal market where it competes against myriad vendors including BEA Systems Inc., Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Plumtree Software Inc.

“IBM offers the richest breadth of native technology,” Ramos explained. “If you’re thinking about a portal that are going to be more focused on application integration and transactions to a portal that’s more focused on users and communities and interactions, and content management, and knowledge management – that whole range – it offers the most native capabilities for solving problems across that range.”

WebSphere Portal v5.0 software is shipped with WebSphere Application Server which can run on Unix, Linux, and Microsoft Corp.’s Windows platforms.

IBM offers four different editions of WebSphere Portal that differ in the amount of functionality they offer.

WebSphere Portal Enable 5.0 is the basic version of the product and costs US$89,186 per processor.

WebSphere Portal Extend 5.0 includes all the features of WebSphere Portal Enable and tacks off collaboration capabilities, enterprise search functions and portal usage analysis. It costs about US$143,689 per processor.

WebSphere Portal Express 5.0 is designed for small- to medium-sized businesses and costs US$1,700 per 20 users with a limit of 2,000 users per Portal Server or costs US$33,300 per processor with a limit of four processors per server.

WebSphere Portal Express 5.0 includes all of the features of WebSphere Portal Express 5.0 plus some added collaboration features. It sells for US$2,700 per 20 users with a maximum of 2,000 users or US$53,090 per processor with a limit of four processors.