Internet, Portal Services Converging

Portals' ability to present various applications and services to multiple users fits Web needs to a T.

As vendors laud corporate portals as the front end for next-generation applications, portals are also being eyed for what they can do for another emerging trend—Web services.

Users and vendors alike said portals are ideally suited for Web services because of portal technologys ability to aggregate disparate applications and services and present them to multiple distribution points through a single, easy-to-navigate interface.

"The concept of the Web services portal is something you are going to increasingly see," said Ed Anuff, co-founder of San Francisco-based Epicentric Inc. at the Enterprise Web & Corporate Portal Conference here last week. Portals "can combine these services rapidly at will. That is ultimately where the value of portals will be within corporate settings," Anuff said.

Portal vendor Plumtree Software Inc. has been supporting Web services for nearly two years, although under a different name. Plumtrees "gadgets" are essentially XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based Web services, said John Kunze, president and CEO of Plumtree, in San Francisco. The company is adding support for SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration).

While Plumtree can work with Web services built in Java or any language, the company partnered with Microsoft Corp. earlier this year on Microsofts .Net strategy.

At the JavaOne conference next week in San Francisco, iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, an alliance of Sun Microsystems Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc., is expected to announce additional support for Web services in its portal platform. Officials with iPlanet, in Palo Alto, Calif., said portals will evolve into "a vending machine for Web services," stocked and restocked with Web services that users can choose as they want.

iPlanets portal server will leverage Web services as iPlanet adds support for UDDI at the database layer and support for SOAP and ebXML at the application server layer, officials said. The company also will wrap portal services as Web services using the Java API for XML Messaging specification.

Current and potential users said the beauty of portals is that theyre intuitive and have easy-to-navigate interfaces.

"Primarily, we want for our associates a single entry point where they can log on one time, and the portal already knows what their role and job function is," said Eric Blackmore, senior multimedia development specialist for the grocery chain Hannaford Bros. Co., in Scarborough, Maine.

Hannaford is investigating setting up a portal to connect the companys 20,000 employees and 112 stores.

Partners Healthcare Systems Inc., a network of hospitals and practitioners, has two portals, one for physicians and one for embassies that refer patients to its hospitals.

Steve Flammini, director of application development for Partners, in Boston, said the portals have let Partners take information from a large number of heterogeneous systems and make it available through one spot.

The portal was an ideal solution, Flammini said, because in many cases, Partners doesnt own the machines on physicians desks and cant dictate what software they use. Partners hopes to launch a pilot of a new patient portal this fall and is looking into Web services because theyre well-suited for thin clients.