Portals pack integration punch

As portals continue to emerge as the standard client interface for delivering data, a collection of vendors is gathering to standardize the integration layer between portals and other applications.

The Java Community Process (JCP) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) are working cooperatively to standardize the Java and XML technology needed to link portals to disparate applications.

“There is a cooperative process in the Java community itself (between JCP and OASIS),” said Steve Nathan, vice-president and general manager of portals communication products at Sun Microsystems Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., during a briefing with InfoWorld (US) last week. Nathan suggested Sun will reveal further details about the standards effort at the Java One conference in March.

Portals have rapidly emerged as a major enterprise priority as they become the nucleus for the delivery of search, CM (content management), and collaboration, formerly piecemeal technologies that addressed separate needs in the enterprise.

The portal is also emerging as a strategic element in Web services, promising a user-facing framework for linking to back-end applications and housing Web services.

Last week, Chicago-based divine Inc. acquired Northern Light Technology Inc., bringing search and classification in tight integration with CM and portal technology. Other vendors, including IBM Corp., Plumtree Software Inc., Vignette Corp., Corechange Inc., and Computer Associates International Inc. are packing more diverse functionality into their offerings as well.

The push to blend these once distinct offerings makes sense because the technologies are inextricably linked, said Pat Turocy, an analyst at Doculabs Inc., a consulting company in Chicago. “They are all related technologies, and it often has been difficult to say where one ends and the other starts,” she said.

Also pushing forward with an integrated story is IBM, which in coming months plans to release a new version of WebSphere Portal Server. Version 4.1 will tighten links to the application server, will include basic CM and search functionality, and will offer Lotus collaboration components as Web services. The integration of Lotus collaboration products with IBM architecture will be discussed this week at Lotusphere in Orlando, Fla.

Portal software player Plumtree this year will unveil two new offerings designed to extend collaboration and CM in its portal. The first product, Plumtree Collaboration Server, will enable users to check documents into the portal to create task lists, threaded discussions, and projects around documents and other information sources, said Nils Gilman, product marketing manager at Plumtree in San Francisco. Plumtree Content Manager will add the ability to create and populate document templates through the portal and stage content to a page inside the portal.

“The No. 1 thing our customers are asking for in the portal is more CM and collaboration tools,” Gilman said.

Meanwhile, Boston-based Corechange last week integrated Microsoft’s Content Management Server with its Coreport enterprise portal offering. The deal aims to unify data, applications, and content within a single framework, said Sarah Bassett, director of product marketing.

Portals are poised to play a key role in Web services, providing a unified interface to reach users. Eyeing this opportunity, Computer Associates this spring plans to update its CleverPath portal and business intelligence portfolio to support Web services.

For its part, Austin, Tex.-based Vignette is aiming to develop complementary relationships between its CM system and major application server vendors’ portal offerings. The next major release of its CM system due at the end of the year will require a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) app server to run, allowing Vignette to take advantage of the app server functionality and tie into Web services, said Bill Daniel, senior vice-president of products at Vignette.

Meanwhile, Sybase Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., updated its Enterprise Portal with a content management interface and portlet framework. Enterprise Portal 2.5 provides a platform that includes Power Designer 9.0 and Business Process Integrator Suite to provide a presentation layer, business logic and integration services.

Business intelligence vendors also are entering the fray. Business Objects SA in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday will announce three modules for supply-chain and operations intelligence within its suite of applications. The modules and applications provide business managers with insight into customers, products and operations.

Aiming to integrate data stored in Oracle applications so it can be viewed from a central portal location, Cognos Inc. on Monday will announce its suite of analytic applications is now available for Oracle Corp.’s eBusiness Suite.