EIPs More Compelling Than Ever

Six portals gain flexibility, functionality as market continues to consolidate.

While interest in many enterprise applications has cooled in the last few years, companies remain hot on enterprise information portals. And why not? Portals provide the much-needed ability to integrate and unify access to a companys applications, back-end systems, data sources and content repositories. And unlike many other pricey enterprise applications, EIPs continue to show an excellent return on investment.

However, although the attractiveness of portals hasnt changed much, the applications themselves—as well as the companies that provide them—have changed a great deal.

In eWEEK Labs last big comparison of EIPs almost two years ago, many of the products we reviewed were moving toward greater use of XML and Java. Based on the products we review here and on other recent stand-alone portal reviews, that move now appears to be complete.

In fact, all six of the EIPs we tested this time around are based on Java server technology and use XML heavily in their data structures. Not surprisingly, then, they all did a good job of consuming and creating Web services during our tests.

For this eValuation, eWEEK Labs tested many of the major EIPs, which have all been revised during the last few months: Art Technology Group Inc.s ATG 6.0, BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic Portal 8.1, Computer Associates International Inc.s CleverPath Portal 4.51, Plumtree Software Inc.s Corporate Portal 5.0, Sybase Inc.s Enterprise Portal 5.1 and Vignette Corp.s Application Portal 4.5. We decided not to include in this review portals that are tightly tied to specific back-end applications, such as SAP AGs MySAP.

This list of products, while long, is not intended to be comprehensive. There are many other choices in the EIP market, including IBMs WebSphere Portal, which is expected to be released later this year.

The choices in the EIP area are about to get more limited, however. Many analysts and industry observers expect to see more consolidation in the portal market. Epicentric Inc., for example, whose portal did well in previous eWEEK Labs tests, was acquired late last year by Vignette (which based its portal on the Epicentric offering).

Portal consolidation may be easier now, given that all the systems are similar in their underlying architecture. These similarities will also prove to be a boon to companies implementing EIPs: Just a couple of years ago, implementing portals often meant learning new portlet languages and dealing with unfamiliar server applications. Now, expertise in Java and XML is enough to develop for any portal application.

Still, these things are far from commodity products. Companies need to answer questions such as the following to ensure that the portal theyre buying will meet their needs. Does the portal make application integration simple? Can multiple portal implementations work together? Does the portal integrate well with existing security infrastructures? Can portal systems be easily managed and monitored?

When doing a large comparative review such as this one, one product sometimes jumps clearly to the fore—either through superior capabilities in all areas or a high level of innovation.

In our EIP review, no one product was clearly superior to the others, and all of the products did well in our tests. However, several of the products we tested excelled in specific areas.

In development of portlets and Web applications, BEAs WebLogic Portal and its WebLogic Workshop provided one of the best environments weve seen for creating these applications. Plumtree Corporate Portal offered very high levels of customization and design flexibility. And Vignettes Application Portal provided the best and most detailed portal administration interface weve seen.

Click here for a list of portal-readiness and -return questions. eWEEK Labs will follow up this portal eVal later with reviews of other EIPs, as well as an evaluation of all the portals based on the real-world criteria of members of eWEEKs Corporate Partner Advisory Board.

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East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.