Suns the ONE for Georgia Portal

Interview:State's CIO Singer discusses why Georgia chose Sun's platform over Microsoft's .Net for its portal initiative.

Sun Microsystems Inc. opened its JavaOne developer conference on Monday in San Francisco with the goal of pushing Java technology further into the Web services arena. As the space quickly evolves, its becoming more apparent that the competition will be between Suns SunONE (Sun Open Net Environment) platform and Microsoft Corp.s .Net.

Late last month the state of Georgia, through its Georgia Technology Authority, awarded a contract to Sun to build and deploy the states enterprise portal and interoperability architecture project. The portal initiative leverages the integration of the iPlanet Portal Server, the iPlanet Directory Server and the iPlanet Application Server running on the Solaris 8 operating system and Sun servers, with Sun Professional Services performing the systems integration.

Larry Singer, Georgias chief information officer, said Sun also will help Georgia use Web services to extend the life and capability of existing systems and delay or avoid the costs of wholesale systems replacement. Singer spoke with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft about the states selection process, what Georgia expects from its deal with Sun and the portal itself.

eWEEK: Why did you select Sun for this portal interoperability architecture?

Singer: This was as complex an RFP [request for proposals] as the state has ever issued. We had 21 different categories that we asked vendors to respond to. One of those was the category of being the integrator for the whole portal architecture project. One of them was price. One of them was operating system. And all the rest were functions of a software architecture, including the portal operation.
Before we did any price or other value-based comparisons, Sun was No. 1 in 16 of those 17 categories from a pure technical standpoint. So that was one of the reasons we went with them. I would say at a higher order, the major reason was the solution they gave to us was what I would call "integratable."
They talked about how in their offering all the products they pitched were integrated. But in each category that they bid a product, they said, "Heres how ours work with all the other products Sun bid, and heres how it would work with other vendors products," so that we could pick an all SunONE environment or we could pick and choose. So in each category we evaluated just that category not compared to all the others.

eWEEK: How did the various offerings stack up?

Singer: Microsofts offering, for example, in each category they said, "When you pick this product, you also have to pick our operating system." First of all, that told us they had an integrated environment, but we interpreted that as "pick them all or pick none." And although Microsofts .Net vision was as in line with our architectural vision as Suns was, the fact that we were locked in, if we made a Microsoft solution, to an all-Microsoft environment—not only now but in the future—was scary.
And when we ended up picking an all-Sun solution with a couple of exceptions in areas they didnt bid in—like Vignette for content—we know that if Microsoft or IBM or somebody else comes out with something thats standards-based in the future that meets our needs better, we can unplug that component from the Sun environment and plug in the competitors. Microsoft didnt give us that option.
IBMs didnt seem to be a very architectural solution. They had a bunch of different projects and basically had just a terrific services offering in their integration services. It was the best services offering, but the integrity of the architecture just didnt seem to be there. The individual products looked pretty good. And the operating system they bid was the RISC 6000 [AIX] operating system. And that was actually one of our top operating systems.
[Hewlett-Packard Co.] actually was second place overall in value, and they made a real valiant effort. We were very surprised because we didnt even know HP was playing in this market, but they had an outstanding response. Theirs was based around the HP-UX operating environment.
Compaq [Computer Corp.] bid as an integrator but they just didnt even show up.
Then we had some strong individual functional offerings from Computer Associates [International Inc.], from Oracle [Corp.] and from other vendors who bid only in one category or another. But at the end of the day, the benefit of an integrated environment, and the risk reduction of having a vendor who understood all of the product offerings, carried the day.

eWEEK: What will the finished product look like?

Singer: It will be a drivers license renewal system that will allow Georgians to renew their drivers license either online or via IVR [interactive voice response] on the phone, or by mail with a bank partner that well have, and itll take roughly 400,000 Georgians out of line each year and put them online. Thats the prove-it project that will prove the portal architecture works. And it proves it by connecting to the backend MVS COBOL system that is the current drivers license system using the portal architecture, by connecting with the bank system for the mail-in, by connecting with the IVR all with the same application structure.

eWEEK: What about other agencies? What else are you going to put under this portal infrastructure?

Singer: Immediately following drivers license renewal, well start working on a lot of drivers applications to expand that out, like allowing people to take sample tests and other things related to drivers licensing, [such as] traffic conditions.
But immediately following this, there will also be the next major effort, which is the Health and Human Services portal. This will allow people, instead of having to go to 12 or 13 different offices when they find themselves in need, to allow an integrated eligibility process, allow people who receive child support payments who have the state doing the collections on their behalf to be able to identify the status of their payments. There will be a whole variety of health and human services functions—like aging systems, where you can bring the different programs the state offers to the aged through one locus.
Each agency will begin using the portal for a variety of activities, like issuing fishing licenses and hunting licenses, and making camping reservations through our department of natural resources. Or taking online classes through our K-12, university and technical college system. Theres a whole variety of state services that will be modernized through here.
And because we picked the Sun environment, people will be able to do things other than what we project by using Web services to construct their own way of doing business with the state.

eWEEK: Do you mean vendors?

Singer: No, not just vendors, but customers. One of the reasons we went with a Web services environment is as we begin using the architecture to enable Web services from our back-end systems, even if we dont build a Web site to do something specific, using UDDI [Universal Description, Discovery and Integration] and the Web services interface, people will be able to define what it is they want to do through the portal. As long as the back-end application has been connected to the portal theyll be able to use the new Web services structure.

eWEEK: But you still couldve done yours with a Microsoft solution? The Web services part, I mean.

Singer: Absolutely. Their architectural vision was as closely aligned to ours as was Suns. It was just the fear of being locked in. And our technical people had security concerns and scalability concerns with the Microsoft operating system. They didnt win the operating system section, which kind of destroyed them in every other section that said it required their operating system.

eWEEK: How big of an issue was security?

Singer: In government, people want great access to online services as long as we fully protect all their information. We are continuously having to balance it out. To us, there are two sides to one coin. Web services and security cant be separated. All the high-profile problems we and others have been having with the Microsoft environment, including Nimda and other security exposures, have caused our technical people to be a little cautious. But Microsoft has been doing yeomans effort in trying to close it up and we applaud what theyre doing by putting so many of their people on security, but a public sector RFP is a point in time, and the day we evaluated it they hadnt implemented these changes.

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