Sybase upgrades portal server

Sybase Inc. recently released a new version of its portal software, Enterprise Portal 5.0, which offers updates intended to make the product easier to use for both developers and end-users. The company also introduced two lower-end editions of the product.

Portals are Web sites that can be customized to provide access to business applications or content from the Web for employees, customers and partner companies. Sybase has about 200 customers for its portal software, making it a relatively small player in the market. It competes with IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Plumtree Software Inc. and others.

New features in the Sybase product include Portal Studio, which has wizard-driven tools that are designed to make it easier for developers to create portlets, the reusable content elements that make up a portal. In cases where integrating applications isn’t required, developers can build portlets with a few mouse clicks using content from Web sites, internal databases and existing JSP (Java Server Pages) applications, according to Haridas Nair, Sybase director of product management and marketing.

“One of our goals with this product was to get to the point where you can build most portlets without having to write code,” he said.

Portal Studio can be installed on a desktop or hosted on a server where it can be accessed through a Web browser. This allows a group of developers to log in to the software and work together simultaneously on a portal project, Nair said.

Another feature, Portal Framework, includes a tool that’s intended to make it easy for end users to add their own content from around the Web to a portal. The tool uses technology that Sybase gained through its acquisition of OnePage in April.

Starz Encore Group LLC, which operates television channels in the U.S. including BET and Encore, deployed the beta version of the product among 50 of its 500 employees in Inglewood, California. It’s using it to provide staff with access to internal applications that hold customer information, and was attracted in part by security features built into the product, said Linda Gonzalez, director of IT development at the company.

The Starz employees are also using Portal Framework to add job-related content from around the Web to their portals, she said. In the past, IT staff did this using Macromedia Inc.’s Dreamweaver and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) coding, which took a lot more time and effort, she said.

The beta program went smoothly, though Starz had a Sybase employee onsite to help work through any issues, she said. That’s a luxury most customers probably won’t have. It also had the benefit of some “very enthusiastic designers and developers” at Starz, she said.

The product is priced at US$85,000 per processor, the same as the current release, and includes a copy of Sybase’s database and application server products, Nair said. It is available now, and the company will launch additional editions for application servers from IBM Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. by the end of the year.

Sybase also introduced two lower end versions: An Application Edition, priced at US$10,000 for up to about 100 users, is for deploying basic applications and doesn’t come with a database. An Information Edition, priced at under $10,000 for use on a single server, is intended to help companies get started with basic portal development. It comes with the open source TomCat application server.

Sybase’s customers for the product include government agencies and manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies, Nair said. It runs on popular flavors of Unix and on Microsoft Corp.’s Windows NT 2000, Nair said.