Put to the Test: Sun Portal 7.0

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

Administration concerns

As you would expect, Sun has substantial experience with large installations that feature sizable clusters. Java System Portal supports various hardware and application server combinations, but most of the high-availability experience with the product comes from running on Sun hardware with the Sun application server. Test performance carefully if you plan to run the software on something else.

The portal server comes bundled with Sun Java System Access Manager, which is a security foundation that enables standards- and policy-based authentication. This lets you secure remote access with "VPN-on-demand" (as Sun calls it). Various authentication models can be used, including Windows NT, Active Directory, X.509 certificates, LDAP, RADIUS and SecurID. In addition, advanced features such as Multi-Level Security can be set up, whereby a user who is logged in with LDAP and wants to select a special portlet would be required to meet a higher authorization level, such as SecurID.

Single sign-on is included with the Access Manager, as well as federation across trusted networks of partners, suppliers and customers. The product is tightly integrated with Sun's LDAP server, so you can support administration within the portal itself.

Java Studio Creator, the IDE for portal projects, is targeted at developers familiar with simple languages (such as Visual Basic). The focus is on ease of use, and there are plenty of drag-and-drop features. More experienced developers might be disappointed to find no plug-ins for Eclipse, though portlet projects can be created and deployed from Sun's new NetBeans IDE. The features of Java Studio Creator are expected to migrate into NetBeans 5.5 later this year, according to Sun.

First-Mover Hiccups

Version 7.0 is still less than six months old and not yet fully battle-tested. Be sure to talk to implementation partners to avoid problems encountered to date. As you would expect in any new product, there are bugs. By default, for example, Java Studio Creator will associate themes--graphical layout templates--with every portlet, but those themes might clash with those associated with other portlets on your page. What developers may really want is to create portlets without any themes associated, so layout can be applied later on a page-wide basis. According to Sun this will be fixed in a future release. Meantime, developers must make HTML changes to move around style sheet references.

Despite these glitches, Sun's community-oriented tools and open-source positioning are welcome departures for the portal market. Like Oracle, Sun is clearly trying to take on Microsoft, albeit with an emphasis on Java-based development. But it will take more than free software and a fresh coat of Web 2.0 to win over the masses.

Sun Portal 7.0 Currently licensed at no charge, but Sun has announced a move to open source. Maintenance and support purchased separately from Sun starts at $4,000 per CPU, per year0.

Janus Boye and Tony Byrne are lead analyst and publisher, respectively, of the Enterprise Portals Report, which critically evaluates 13 leading portal solutions. The report is published by CMS Watch .