IBM Brings New Workplace Portal to iSeries and zSeries
by Alex Woodie
IBM brought its iSeries and zSeries Web portal offerings to parity with Unix, Linux, and Windows servers last month when it started shipping WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms Version 188.8.131.52. The Lotus Workplace offering, which is a key component of IBM's service oriented architecture (SOA) strategy, delivers a common interface through which organizations can offer access to existing applications, data, and documents. This release brings new features in the areas of Web content management, virtualization, and application integration, among other enhancements.
In addition to supporting i5/OS and z/OS, WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms Version 184.108.40.206 runs on Windows XP, 2000, and 2003; Linux for X86, Power, and mainframe platforms; AIX, Solaris, and HP-UX Unix platforms. IBM is shifting focus away from the WebSphere Portal Enable for iSeries and WebSphere Portal Enable for z/OS products, and concentrating on the multiplatform edition with version 5.1, which shipped for Unix, Linux, and Windows in late 2004; the current version of this software is the 220.127.116.11 update.
Save for the previously released zSeries- and iSeries-centric WebSphere Portal offerings, there are four current versions of WebSphere Portal, which is not really a WebSphere product at all, but a key deliverable of the IBM Lotus Workplace group. The basic version of this product is called WebSphere Portal Enable for Multiplatforms. There is also a more expensive and feature-rich version called WebSphere Portal Extend for Multiplatforms, which adds additional capabilities in the areas of collaboration, search, and usage statistics. There are two Express versions, too: WebSphere Portal - Express for Multiplatforms, which delivers a more streamlined installation process for Enable; and WebSphere Portal - Express Plus for Multiplatforms, which does the same for Extend. The iSeries is supported on the Express products, too, but the Express product, which is currently at version 5, doesn't offer the same features as the current Version 5.1 release of WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms. Thoroughly confused yet by the product names? Good, let's move on to the new features.
Keeping Web content up-to-date should be easier with WebSphere Portal 5.1 as it includes a version of IBM's Workplace Web Content Management software, which is intended to be used by non-technical workers to update Web content. This release also comes with the DB2 Content Manager repository for storing unstructured data like Web pages, e-mail, documents, digitized paper documents, images, audio and video, and text messages.
The inclusion of Workplace Web Content Management in WebSphere Portal was a natural progression, says John Caffrey, program director for IBM's WebSphere Portal and Content Management products. "A portal is by definition a Web presence that constantly needs new, dynamically published content. So we include IBM Workplace Web Content Management in WebSphere Portal to let users create that content and deliver it to a portlet or portal depending on the user's role or the activity at hand," he says in this IBM story on WebSphere Portal.
Another new feature with WebSphere Portal Enable is the capability to create virtual portal sites on one instance of WebSphere Portal (Enable or Extend). Each "virtual" portal has its own URL, look and feel, pages and portlets, users and groups, and search index. For all intents and purposes, the portals can look and function like completely different sites. However, since they're all hosted on the same instance of WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Application Server, initial capital outlay and ongoing maintenance costs are lower.
IBM has included another nifty new feature with this release called click-to-action, or C2A. This feature is used to connect two applications together (or, put another way, to make them "cooperative" portlets) in such a way that information generated in one portlet is automatically processed by another portlet. The user accomplishes this by simply clicking on a data field in one portlet, such as a customer number, and automatically transferring it to another portlet.
Thanks to IBM's adherence to industry standards with WebSphere Portal, in particular the JSR 168 and Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) standards for portlets, WebSphere Portal can become the main way that users access business applications at work. IBM says hundreds of third-party products have been certified to work with WebSphere Portal. A list of them can currently be found at the following IBM Web site: catalog.lotus.com/wps/portal/portal. In addition to hosting the user interface for third-party applications, WebSphere Portal can pull data out of relational databases and enterprise applications, including J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP and Siebel, as well as Microsoft Exchange and Business Objects' Crystal Reports.
While early portals served as a central location for information as varied and critical as the local weather, sports scores, e-mail spam, and movie listings, the possibilities in enterprise portal programming are wide open. One of IBM's customers, Volkswagen, has hooked WebSphere Portal up to its supply chain application to provide procurement information to employees and partners. According to IBM, VW's procurement portal can alert the company about event that could cause parts shortages, and can trigger an automatic checking of parts inventories, alternative sources of parts, and the effect on vehicle production, as well as the overall financial impact on the balance sheet.
iSeries shops running WebSphere Portal on the iSeries include Washington County, Virginia, and Republic Indemnity, the Encino, California, insurance company. Washington County needed a way to make internal data, such as budget information and property information, available to users and schools over the Web. The solution to this problem was Host Access Transformation Services (HATS), which the county used to Web-enable 5250 green screens; WebSphere Server and WebSphere Portal Enable, which run on a Red Hat Linux partition on the iSeries server; and Lotus Workplace Web Content Management.
The combination of Workplace Web Content Management and WebSphere Portal provided a great benefit, says Mark Reeter, the county administrator, in an IBM case study. "Users can now go into the county's wealth of content, whether it 10 year's of minutes and agendas or county codes, and easily find what they are looking for," he says. "They can do keyword searches and be able to bring up those documents and instantly display them." (Although Washington County was using an earlier version of WebSphere Portal, we can see how the close integration of Web Content Management and WebSphere Portal with version 5.1 can benefit real-world customers.)
More recently, Republic Indemnity has reported productivity gains with WebSphere Portal. "Since we began running WebSphere Portal on our iSeries server we have had 99.9 percent uptime," says Dave Alton, the company's director of infrastructure services. "All this has meant tremendous gains in productivity and efficiency for our organization, and we are continuing to leverage the WebSphere Portal and iSeries combination to create additional value for our internal and external customers."
New collaboration features IBM has included in WebSphere Portal Extend are designed to help employees be productive working together. IBM, with just under 335,000 employees, relies on directories and diagrams of hierarchies to get work done, and so it's no surprise that it often puts directory functionality into its products (sometimes even a version of its own software, as it did with its internal BluePages directory). It has done the same with the new release of Extend, which now boasts an employee directory that includes reports-to information. Other enhancements make it easier for people and groups of people to collaborate in the searching, creation, conversion, and editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations stored in document libraries.
WebSphere Portal is an enterprise application, and as such, it requires an enterprise-strength server on which to run. For OS/400, WebSphere Portal Enable 5.1 requires the latest release of the operating system, i5/OS, and an iSeries server with at least 750 CPW of processing power, at least 4 GB of DASD, and at least 2 GB of main memory. This sort of processing power should be easy to come by with the new generation of i5 servers, but it may bog down older iSeries and AS/400 gear. No hardware or software requirements are provided for the Extend version of WebSphere Portal.
WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms Version 18.104.22.168 became available in June. Portal Extend costs about $144,000 per processor, while Portal Enable costs about $89,000 per processor.