Dashboard: Sizing Up the Survivors in a Competitive Portal Hothouse

The independent portal market, so promising in the mid-90s, appears to be dead. With a few exceptions, infrastructure vendors like BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Sun dominate today's portal market. What happened?

The independent portal market, so promising in the mid-90s, appears to be dead--nearly every pure-play portal company has been acquired or gone out of business. With a few exceptions (Vignette is one), today's portal market is dominated by infrastructure vendors like BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Sun. What happened to the portal?

It's evolving into third-generation software that meets newer requirements by including enterprise search, Web content management, workflow and composite apps, services-oriented architecture (SOA), and integration with Microsoft and IBM/Lotus apps.

In BEA's case, until recently, WebLogic was its main portal. The acquisition of Plumtree and Fuego, however, has led to the new BEA AquaLogic product set. AquaLogic is application-platform independent and includes a portal, an SOA and service-bus architecture, business process workflow, and a data services facility for federated data access. It supports Java and Microsoft .Net environments. Its new SharePoint Console allows multiple Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services sites to be accessed from a single portal.

IBM has enjoyed success with WebSphere Portal Server. Version 6, which ships in the third quarter, will include better integration with Workplace (especially for content management and electronic forms), the WebSphere Portlet Factory (acquired from Bowstreet), offline portal access, and a workflow builder.

Microsoft's Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) provides workgroup team collaboration; SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) offers a full portal environment, including search, personalization and application integration. SPS is also used to manage multiple WSS sites. The release of SharePoint 2007 in October and Office 2007 early next year will have a big impact on the portal market. Office 2007 is tightly integrated with WSS, which means that most corporate users of Office will ultimately employ WSS. SharePoint has major enhancements in document management, records management and Web content management. The challenge facing Microsoft WSS users is whether to use Microsoft SPS to manage the portal and WSS environments, or to use a third-party portal. The announcement of BEA's SharePoint Console is well timed.

Oracle Portal 10g, a component of Oracle Fusion Middleware, supports content publishing and management, integration with collaboration tools, integration with Fusion, composite applications and support for other Oracle products in areas like business intelligence and business process management.

SAP's NetWeaver includes a portal, collaboration, content management, business intelligence, application integration and an application server. The portal supports non-SAP as well as SAP content and packaged applications. The issue facing SAP users is what to do if they have a portal from another infrastructure vendor.

Sun has had difficulty selling its Java System Portal Server, facing competition from other infrastructure vendors and open source solutions. Its Version 7 product is intended to remedy this. Key upgrades in this release include Web content management (OEM'd from FatWire), application integration and Web 2.0 capabilities like Wikis, RSS and Ajax. The proliferation of such Web 2.0-style delivery mechanisms will be the next challenge for portal vendors as they figure out how to manage these new tools and technologies. --Colin White