Sun moves to open up its portal software

Sun Microsystems Inc. announced that the next version of its portal server software will work with rival application servers and support operating systems other than Solaris, although those features won’t be in the initial release.

Part of the strategy behind the portal move is some realpolitik marketing by Sun. BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp. dominate application server sales, and each had a 34 percent share of that market last year, according to a report released in March by Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc.

“Pure and simple, we need to sell into those installed bases,” said John Fanelli, director of product marketing for Sun’s communications and portal products. Links to the application servers developed by IBM and San Jose-based BEA are due to be added to the upcoming Sun ONE Portal Server 6 release by year’s end.

Sun’s own application server, originally part of its iPlanet line and renamed the Sun ONE Application Server in April, was a distant third in market share, with 7 percent last year, according to the Giga report.

Sun is trying to boost usage of its application server by bundling the software with its new Solaris 9 operating system. But Fanelli said the company now plans to compete in the software market on a product-by-product basis instead of treating the Sun ONE line as a suite.

Robert Lerner, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va., called the plan a smart move on Sun’s part. “Customers are not going to be locked into proprietary solutions, and Sun seems to be getting the message,” he said.

Giga analyst Laura Ramos agreed that multiplatform support is a necessary step for Sun, at least in the portal server business. “It will certainly help them close deals,” she said. “It’s not going to come up as a disqualifier anymore.”

Sun said it plans to make the portal server available on Linux and Windows 2000 next year. The software, which provides end users with a common Web-based launching pad for different applications, now runs only on Solaris.

Other new features include an identity server that will let users restrict portal access, along with Java tools that maintain end-user session information between a portal and various application and Web servers to allow single sign-on capabilities. Web services support will also be part of the offering.

Lerner said IBM has already added multiplatform support to its portal software. He noted that IBM, BEA, Sun and, to a lesser extent, SAP AG have managed to muscle into the portal market at the expense of smaller vendors that focus solely on that technology.