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6/19/2006
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Put to the Test: Sun Portal 7.0

New collaborative functionality and open-source licensing bolster Java System Portal Server 7.0.

Content Management

Sun doesn't have its own CMS (content management system), but has purchased unlimited distribution rights to FatWire's Java-based Spark PCM (Portal Content Management), which is bundled with the portal at no charge. This full-featured Web CMS lets you manage content ("assets" in Sun's parlance) with functionality, including previews, workflow, versioning, check-in and check-out, all integrated through the Sun portal interface.

Sun relies on other partnerships, so licensees should carefully evaluate the long-term implications of committing to these third-party products. Sun also has a close reseller agreement with Interwoven, for example. Sun salespeople will direct customers wanting to purchase a content or document management system to Interwoven's TeamSite and WorkSite products, rather than FatWire Content Server (the full version of FatWire Spark PCM). New licensees should consider which product is a better fit in their architecture. TeamSite may fulfill broader functional requirements, but the products from FatWire are Java-based, unlike TeamSite, and might be a better and cleaner architectural choice. There is a Java-based version of WorkSite, but integrations with the portal communities aren't available out of the box, which means that the document management and collaboration systems will be inconveniently separated. For organizations that have invested in other products, Sun has integrated other CMSs, including those from Documentum, Stellent and Vignette.

If all you need is file sharing and basic document management, Sun Portal's centralized repository might suffice. You can create folders, upload/download documents and share files with permissions, and all files and folders are searchable.

End-User services

If you're used to working with portlets or Microsoft Web parts, you'll have to get used to Sun's unique lingo. A Sun portal dashboard is called the "front channel," which consists of multiple channels, each with containers inside. Channels can be developed as JSR-168-compliant portlets using Java Studio Creator. You can adhere more closely to standards by employing cascading style sheets in the presentation layer, but Sun provides nothing to manage these style sheets, which makes even trivial changes more complex.

As with most portal products, Java System Portal URLs are quite ugly out of the box unless you employ complicated workarounds. A standard portal URL looks something like this:

http://servername/portal/dt?action=content&provider=JSPTabContainer

Unfortunately, this URL is both product- and technology-dependent, so existing links to your portal will break if you later change portal products. There's also an important, but oft-underappreciated usability deficiency with this sort of cryptic address--it can make bookmarking difficult.

The search engine included with the portal was developed by Sun Labs, and it offers more than simple Web search. Federated search capabilities let users submit a query to multiple repositories and search engines concurrently (including, for example, Google, LDAP directories using JNDI, and databases using JDBC). Search results are presented on a single page and scored across search engines. The engine also offers wizards for importing, building, maintaining and automatically generating taxonomies.

Sun's search technology deserves respect from an engineering standpoint, but it hasn't been broadly deployed, so it's a bit of an unknown quantity, particularly when it comes to indexing nonportal content. Thus, it may not be the right solution for broader enterprise search.

Unlike leading portal offerings, such as those from BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, Sun's portal doesn't natively provide much reporting on users and system activities. Reporting is available only through an arcane and technical interface or reading log files. Also, you won't find the built-in business intelligence features offered by the products from IBM, Oracle and SAP, so you'll need to rely on third-party integration--and here again there's not a lot of experience with this challenge in the market.

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