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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.

Portal Services

More than just a window into legacy applications, enterprise portals typically provide a broad slate of services as well, including collaboration, search, content management and navigation. Across its many product lines, IBM can muster strong offerings in the realm of collaboration, although this is one of the areas where it’s hard to identify in which IBM product any particular feature lives. When IBM demos WP, typically it’s fronting either IBM’s Java-based Workplace collaboration suite or Lotus Notes (note that IBM revealed in January that it will be moving away from the Workplace name in favor of Notes and just plain "WebSphere" in the coming months). If you aren't using Notes or Workplace, the collaboration features offered natively in WP may seem comparatively thin, depending on which portal edition you choose.

In another area that can quickly become confusing, WP ships with a simple, homegrown search engine that’s designed exclusively to index and retrieve portal content. For more advanced search requirements, including enterprise search, IBM offers a wide array of its own system, OmniFind, as well as third-party integration to the FAST search engine. In 2005, IBM acquired natural-language search vendor iPhrase, and that technology is now embedded in the Discovery Edition of OmniFind. IBM has also announced that Google will provide desktop search in conjunction with OmniFind.

For Web content management, WP is integrated with IBM Workplace Web Content Management (WWCM). This is a broadly-capable tool (also upgraded in the current release) that excels in pushing content through WP, but users say WWCM is buggy and IBM does not seem to have put substantial support and development muscle behind it. IBM acquired the enterprise content management vendor FileNet last fall, but IBM is maintaining it as a separate product line while improving integration across DB2 Content Manager and the FileNet P8 platform. Integration with FileNet WCM components and third-party WCM systems is possible, but IBM is clearly banking on WWCM going forward.

The new Portal Express Edition includes built in content management capabilities (both document and Web content), collaboration features and templates for intranet and extranet sites. These built-in features combined with competitive pricing will surely be compelling for those considering the old Microsoft SharePoint 2003, but it remains to be seen if it will go far from enough to combat the new and largely improved Microsoft SharePoint 2007.

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