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2/2/2007
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Put to the Test: IBM WebSphere Portal 6.0

This portal's best play is enterprise integration, but it's also suitable for intranets and workgroup collaboration. Implementation can be complex and confusing, but a new Portal Express offering is aimed at companies with fewer than 1,000 employees aims to speed and simplify deployment.

PROS
• Experienced partner channel and active developer community offer strong peer support.
• Designed for integration with other IBM systems as well as third-party applications.
• Well-integrated with Microsoft products, including Word integration for authors and drag-and-drop capabilities from Windows.
• Impressive Portlet Factory UI development tool with tight Eclipse IDE integration
CONS
• Claims open standards and SOA support, but runs exclusively on IBM software
• Requires substantial hardware investments and intensive caching configuration.
• • Overly complex for most departmental requirements and new Express offering has yet to be proven.
• Complete solution may require multiple IBM products and ample professional services to weave them together..

IBM's product portfolio is so vast, it can be downright confusing. As the name suggests, IBM's WebSphere Portal is a part of the WebSphere product suite, which includes an application server, a commerce server and solutions for enterprise integration. The current release, Websphere Portal 6.0, has been out since last July, and the version upgrade delivered a Portlet Factory, user interface improvements (including nifty usage of AJAX) and performance enhancements.

The best play for WebSphere Portal (WP) is enterprise integration, and it’s no surprise that it particularly excels at integrating with IBM products such as DB2 Content Manager, Lotus Notes and the DB2 OmniFind search engine. The distinctions among these different solutions are important, but it can be hard to tell which specific features come from which IBM product. Your software costs can easily exceed those of competing products when you look at the big picture.

Much like SAP Portal, WP can serve as a user interface that integrates legacy systems; it does so through the underlying WebSphere Application Server, using either MQ Series or available adapters for third-party products. WP is also suitable as a stand-alone product for less-complex scenarios, such as enterprise intranets or workgroup collaboration, but it’s overly complex for prospective customers with simpler requirements.

The good news is that Big Blue has finally woken up to portal competitors that have been busy innovating and stealing market share while IBM was preoccupied by multiple acquisitions and Byzantine user interfaces. In a repositioning announced in January, Microsoft is now targeted as the main competitor, with the popular SharePoint having carved out a surprisingly large market position with quite a simple solution. IBM has responded with a new Express Edition aimed squarely at SMB’s with fewer than 1,000 employees. Templates ease implementation and licensing/pricing parameters have been adjusted for small enterprises. It's all built on the same underlying code and platform as WP 6.0, so you can easily upgrade to the full edition as required.

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