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SAP's Enterprise Portal: much more than a pretty face

Gone are the days when every application software vendor had to have its own portal.

SAP has done some fairly significant tweaking to its portal product line, including adding the ability for the...

various portlets to communicate with one another, which is also the subject of a standards drive within the industry at present.

The company is one of the leaders in the portal space, and its product is considerably more than just a user interface on top of its existing applications. By comparison, portals without the ability to have their components communicate with one another offer only 'eyeball integration' -- meaning the user is doing the integration by looking at data from different applications at the same time.

Technology

By using something SAP calls 'eventing,' SAP Portals has enabled the various portlets -- which it calls iViews -- to communicate both on a single page and across portal pages. For example, when a user updates an employee record in one window, that same record in another open window will automatically be updated. It's an application messaging issue and, as such, would not appear to be that complicated. Even so, it has eluded many portal vendors until fairly recently.

SAP is able to do such things because it has made a commitment to have Java work alongside it's own proprietary ABAP platform. Because it uses Web services communications standards, such as SOAP, SAP's applications will also communicate with .NET applications, but will not be deployable on Microsoft .NET servers. This version runs on SAP's own J2EE application server, called In-Q-My, and Macromedia's JRun. SAP will support the more popular J2EE applications servers in the future.

As the451 has already mentioned, Sun and IBM will announce their portal API specification at next week's JavaOne conference. The specification will attempt to define interoperability between different portal vendors and, at a lower level, define how one data source can affect the display of another data source. SAP is one of 17 companies lined up to support the spec.

Knowledge management

SAP is also including with this release what it calls knowledge management tools. These enable companies to not only publish, organize and build their own taxonomies of data, but also to import sets of 'business packages,' which are bundles of pre-built content components aimed at specific business tasks, such as employee self-service, product sales, the needs of consultants working off site and so on. SAP has about a dozen of these bundles available now at its iViewStudio site, with more to come. It also has built-in adapters to Lotus Notes and Exchange to enable companies to manage their own data, and a single search tool that will work across all data, regardless of its origin, the company claims. SAP also claims that the use of these packages involves no extra integration effort.

SAP has already announced the integration of all its business intelligence tools into one bundle that is integrated with its portal, so that data generated by the reports can be saved as 'iViews' and viewed through an iView window. SAP has always preferred to coin its own terms for common technologies.

Competition

Competition comes mainly from IBM, which is also a licensee of SAP's portal technology. It also faces Sybase, BEA and a whole bunch of stand-alone portal vendors such as Epicentric, Plumtree and Viador, most of which must be looking to get bought by a major player that doesn't have a portal strategy yet. Only problem is, there really isn't one anymore. Some of them have some vertical expertise that could be valuable, however. SAP bought stand-alone portal vendor TopTier a year ago.

The merger of the SAP Portals and SAP Markets business is still ongoing, but, according to Peter Graf, it's not an issue anymore, even though it has a ways to go. His title is still vice president of marketing of SAP Markets.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that SAP likes to dress up its technology with fancy terms, what the company is doing here makes sense, and is also part of a large movement within the industry. Gone are the days when every application software vendor had to have its own portal. They are now lining up to support the leaders in this space in order to have their technology integrate as portlets. SAP looks set to remain one of the leaders in the area. Microsoft's near-silence on the issue -- it launched its fairly basic SharePoint portal server just under a year ago and is expected to make more noise about it later this year -- probably won't prevent the likes of Plumtree and Viador from constantly looking over their shoulders.


the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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