A new version of Sun Microsystems' Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Portal Server is in the works, featuring bolstered security and identity management features and support for application servers and operating systems from Sun's rivals.
Sun plans to unveil details of the Sun ONE Portal Server 6.0, which is now in beta testing and scheduled for worldwide release in August. The update will be the first new version in two years of Sun's recently renamed portal server, following the iPlanet Portal Server 3.0 release in May 2000.
The new version of the software will support BEA Systems's WebLogic application server and IBM's WebSphere application server, as well as Sun's own Sun ONE Web server and application server products. It will also support multiple operating systems, including Linux and Microsoft's Windows 2000, in addition to Sun's Solaris.
Earlier versions of Sun's portal server ran only on Solaris. Besides potentially helping Sun to reach more customers for its products, the move to multi-platform support comes in response to requests from users, said John Fanelli, director of product marketing for Sun's communications and portals products.
"We've been hearing back from our customers that while they're happy they selected J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) as they deployed, they're starting to feel a lack from the vendor they chose for their application server. They say, 'If I picked WebSphere, does that mean my portal decision is already made for me?' They're not too comfortable with that," Fanelli said. "We're offering them an open portal environment that runs across multiple systems."
Sun is also targeting BEA and IBM through a direct assault on their leadership positions in the market for application server software: The company recently said it will bundle its own application server with its Solaris 9 upgrade.
Multi-platform support won't be in the first release of Sun's updated portal server, however. Compatibility with the application servers from BEA and IBM is scheduled to be added to the Sun ONE Portal Server in December, and support for Linux and Windows is planned for release in the first half of 2003.
Also new in the 6.0 update is an emphasis on embedded identity management capabilities, allowing enterprise-wide single-sign on to applications and centralised user administration and policy management. Version 6.0 will tap into the Sun ONE Directory and Identity Servers, which should reduce data redundancy and the need for add-on software, Sun said.
Two industry analysts said the Sun ONE Portal Server's new security and identity management features are its key differentiator from other products in the crowded portals market.
"I think the folks at Sun understand directory better than anyone else," said Laura Ramos, director of Giga Information Group's Enterprise Portals and Information Management group. "This is another good release from (Sun) in terms of moving their portal forward."
Yankee Group senior analyst Rob Perry said the updated Sun ONE Portal Server will most likely appeal to security-conscious companies interested in single sign-on and application integration features and seeking ways to safely implement them. But Sun faces a tough market, he cautioned.
"The biggest differentiation right now is the (portal) pure-plays versus the infrastructure offerings, and right now, pure-plays face an easier selling environment," Perry said. Plumtree Software, Epicentric and Corechange have focused on marketing portals as tools for increasing business value, a pitch to which the market is responding, he said.
Both Perry and Ramos said multi-platform support was a necessary step for Sun.
"It will certainly help them close deals. It's not going to come up as a disqualifier any more," Ramos said.