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IBM - WebSphere Portal

29 September 2006

Christopher Harris-Jones
Table of Contents................................................................................................................1
IBM – WebSphere Portal....................................................................................................2
At a glance........................................................................................................................2
The Ovum verdict .............................................................................................................3
Product overview..............................................................................................................4
Product evaluation............................................................................................................6

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IBM – WebSphere Portal

At a glance
Product evaluated

IBM WebSphere Portal, version 6


IBM, Armonk, New York, USA.


WebSphere Portal combines IBM and Lotus software to deliver a comprehensive

workplace portal. The software is strong overall, but weak in business intelligence
(BI) and is reliant on portlets from third-party vendors for access to external

• Strong and flexible user interface (UI).
• Extensive collaboration fully integrated with the portal.
• Comprehensive development support through WebSphere Portlet Factory and
integration with Rational Application Developer.

Points to watch
• No data management capabilities within the portal.
• No cross-application integration for unstructured content sources.
• Very little out-of-the-box integration delivered by IBM for third-party

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Product rating

Workplace Information access

Portal functions

Little or no functionality Good functionality

Reasonable functionality Superior functionality

Source: Ovum

The Ovum verdict

IBM WebSphere Portal delivers a solid workplace, which has generated significant
mindshare and market share in the portals market. It is typically characterised as a
high-end portal offering, although IBM offers mid-market solutions designed for
organisations or departments with 200–1,000 users. The full enterprise offering is
usually sold through IBM’s salesforce and its Global Services channel, with the
Portal Express offering delivered through channel partners.

The software delivers strong workplace functionality through a good UI, good data
integration functionality through ‘Co-operative Portlets’ and a good search engine.
The Portal Document Manager (PDM) provides basic content management (CM)
facilities. The need to upload content to the PDM before viewing is a significant
disadvantage as is the absence of built-in BI functions.

The portal team within IBM is now part of the Lotus group, meaning it can become
more closely aligned with Lotus’s collaboration business. This is a promising move,
and will build on the integration work that has been done between the portal and
Lotus Workplace. The portal’s integration with other non-Lotus IBM products, such
as DB2 Content Manager and IBM’s data management business in general, has
been weak in the past, but is now improving slowly. However, it still has some way
to go.

When to use
• When your organisation is an established Lotus Notes/Domino or WebSphere
• When you are looking for an all-in-one portal solution.
• When you want to provide complex personalisation as part of your portal.
• When you want to buy your whole portal solution from one vendor.

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Product overview
IBM WebSphere Portal takes a people-focused, collaborative approach to the
portals market, as opposed to the portal infrastructure approach of some of its
database/application server competitors.

IBM has divided its offerings into two major groups – one that provides a simple,
out-of-the-box portal solution through Portal Express and Portal Express Plus, and
one that offers a more flexible, scalable, enterprise-focused solution. The latter is
divided into three levels – a basic portal that is named, somewhat confusingly, as
Portal Server, and then two higher versions with increasing levels of functionality –
Portal Enable and Portal Extend. This evaluation primarily covers the Portal Enable
and Extend offerings. All products use the same core portal services and you can
trade-up from one to another as requirements change

Product architecture
WebSphere Portal is built on Java and consists of a central portal framework, plus
a number of integrated components and products. The portal engine sits on a
runtime version of the J2EE-compliant WebSphere Application Server, which is
shipped with the product. WebSphere Portal also takes advantage of scalability
features built into the application server and third-party application servers.

Authentication and user management is controlled via another bundled IBM

product, the LDAP-compliant Directory. This can be substituted for the Lotus
Domino directory, or with the LDAP directory of third-party vendors Sun or Novell.
Microsoft Active Directory can also be supported.

User profiles, access control data, portlets and portlet-related data such as
discussion threads are stored in the portal’s relational database management
systems (RDBMS). WebSphere Portal ships with the IBM product DB2, but the
Oracle 9i and 10g, Informix and Microsoft SQL Server databases can also be used.
User data, such as group membership details, is stored in an LDAP directory.

WebSphere Portal is also integrated with several IBM products, including IBM DB2
Content Manager, Tivoli Access Manager, Lotus QuickPlace, Lotus Sametime,
WebSphere Commerce and WebSphere Process Server. Third-party tools such as
Netegrity Siteminder and RSA Cleartrust are also supported.

Function availability

The five versions available deliver the following functionality:

• Portal Server: entry point offering that includes the user interface and
administration functions, portlet API, personalisation, several hundred portlets,
search, WSRP support, application templates, cluster support, WebSphere
Application Server, IBM DB2 database, and the IBM LDAP directory server

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• WebSphere Portal Enable: which adds Workflow Engine, Web Content

Management, and Portal Document Manager
• WebSphere Portal Extend: which adds instant messaging and online
awareness, as well as Team Rooms, Electronic forms and Workflow Builder
• WebSphere Portal Express: targeted at organisations with less than 5,000
employees looking for a simpler solution. It is more ‘out of the box’, with
simpler wizard-based user administration functions. It is deployed on a single
server, and a single CPU licence supports up to 2,000 users
• WebSphere Portal Express Plus: Portal Express with the addition of instant
messaging, collaboration, people awareness, team workplaces, calendaring,
task management, Collaboration Center and a document library.

Entitlement to the WebSphere Portlet Factory, Web Content Management and

Forms modules is based on the level of portal and the number of CPUs purchased.


Client platforms:
• Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, Firefox 1.5, Mozilla 1.7, and Netscape Navigator
8.1 or later.

Server platforms:
• application server – IBM WebSphere Application Server (shipped with the
• operating systems – AIX, Windows 2003, Windows 2000, Linux, HP, i5/OS and


IBM DB2 8.1 or 8.2, Oracle 9i or 10g, Cloudscape and Microsoft SQL Server.

WebSphere Portal is sold on a per-CPU basis. WebSphere Portal Express,
WebSphere Portal Express Plus and WebSphere Portal Server are also sold on a
per-user basis:
• Portal Server – $50,000 per CPU or $2,500 per 20 user pack
• Portal Enable – $95,000 per CPU
• Portal Extend – $130,000 per CPU
• Portal Express – $33,300 per CPU, or $1,700 per 20 users
• Portal Express Plus – $53,080 per CPU, or $2,700 per 20 users.

These prices include one year support and maintenance.

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Product evaluation
The workplace delivers strong UI functionality including mobile delivery. Search,
categorisation, integration and workplace management facilities are all good.

User Search and

interface categorisation



Little or no functionality Good functionality

Reasonable functionality Superior functionality

Source: Ovum

User interface

The portal provides a good ‘starter’ UI ‘out of the box’, and this has been
significantly updated since the last major release (version 5). Among many
updates some of the more notable changes include:
• use of AJAX technology to reduce the number of mouse clicks required
• ‘fly out’ palettes, which slide out from the right hand side of the screen
delivering, among other functions, lists of portlets available to ‘drag and drop’
onto the portal window, and the People Finder
• breadcrumb trails
• increased use of contextualised menus and right-click menus.

The structure of the page and the navigation areas are defined in page template
files, using JSP. The UI is constructed from ‘themes’, which are cascading style
sheets that determine the appearance of a page, and ‘skins’, which determine the
appearance of individual portlets. Different themes can be assigned to different
user groups to personalise access and provide different UIs. Themes, and general
changes to the UI, can be made using portal administration tools such as Theme
Builder, or standard development tools such as Rational Application Developer.
Different themes and skins need to be defined for the different devices from which
the portal will be accessed. Themes can be parameterised and personalised using
‘Theme Policies’ which are rules that determine how the page appears.

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Subscription capabilities are provided through the Portal Document Manager, and
are also available to provide notification of events in Lotus Team Workplaces.

WebSphere Portal can deliver content to WAP and i-Mode devices out-of-the-box
through JSP views or XSL style sheets created for each portlet for each device.
Support for additional devices, such as PDAs and mobile phones, is provided
through IBM’s WebSphere Everyplace Mobile Portal, which is available at extra
cost. Version 6 also has integration points to work with the next version of
WebSphere Everyplace, to support the deployment and synchronisation of offline
portlets to Eclipse-based clients.

Basic single sign-on (SSO) facilities for applications accessed via portlets are
provided through IBM’s Credential Vault. This does not handle password change
control and management – users are required to change their own password.
Further SSO capabilities are available through IBM’s Tivoli Access Manager product.
WebSphere Portal also supports integration with Netegrity and RSA for SSO.

Automatic personalisation is provided through WebSphere Personalization. This

uses two methods for personalising content:
• Web Content Personalisation, which is a rules engine defined in Java or JSP
through the rules editor within Workplace Web Content Management, which is
the web content authoring and publishing component of WebSphere Portal.
This can also be used to create ‘campaigns’, which target groups of users
• a recommendation engine, which uses collaborative filtering and ‘market
basket analysis’ technologies to make suggestions about what may be of
interest. The engine is powered by LikeMinds technology acquired from

The personalisation rules can also be used to control which portlet and which
navigation tabs are displayed to users. The rules can be created and selected from
the page layout screen to hide or show portlet and pages, depending on the rule

The WebSphere Portal product software is available in 26 languages and the

documentation in ten languages.

Search and categorisation

The Portal Search engine is provided with all the WebSphere Portal offerings. This
provides the capability to crawl and index web content and attachments, and to
optionally categorise indexed content. All content managed by the portal is

IBM embeds the Stellent ‘Outside In’ technology to enable indexing of file
attachments within web pages and over 250 different document formats.

The Portal Search engine can use a categorisation facility to classify web pages it
has indexed. This can be used to deliver a predefined taxonomy that can be

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extended by users, or as a rules-based taxonomy that allows customers to create

their own taxonomy and classification structure.

Additional search and classification capabilities are provided through integration

with IBM Information Integrator OmniFind Edition, available at extra cost. Third-
party search engines can also be used, including Inktomi (now owned by Verity),
Convera, Autonomy, Verity, FAST Search and 80-20 Software.


Structured data integration is provided through Co-operative Portlets. This is set

up when the portlet is created by selecting various options. Clicking on a button
attached to a field in one portlet will automatically cause other portlets to use that
field as the key to retrieve information. This uses a hard-wired ‘master and slave’
concept, with the slave portlet configured to respond to actions performed in the
master portlet. This may be a one-to-one relationship, or the slave portlet may be
able to display different types of information depending on the user’s choice from a
drop-down menu. For example, the options may include ‘display personal data’ or
‘display benefit details’. Depending on the action chosen by the user, the slave
portlet will process the request and display the relevant information. This linking
can be automated rather then requiring the user to click on a button. This can be
pre-set by the administrator or selected on an individual basis by the user, so that
related data is shown automatically.

A significant update for version 6 is the ability to deploy ‘composite applications’

via application templates. Application templates are intended for personnel in a
business unit of the enterprise who understand the business model and business
processes. Application templates promote the rapid assembly and reuse of
composite applications. Business analysts and application designers can create and
manage templates for composite applications. Application managers and business
users can create composite applications from templates and, when appropriate,
save new applications as templates for reuse by other users. This provides a high
degree of customisation, while allowing IT departments to control the core
application logic and deployment.

Data that is identifiable as a name (through metadata) can be made clickable.

Clicking will check for presence and give options such as initiating an
IM/SMS/email/teleconferencing, or obtain additional information about that

The ‘Workflow Builder’ module provides a graphical modeller for developing

workflows, and forms for providing workflow information to use within the portal to
create ‘composite applications’. This generates standard BPEL output. A small set
of portals for managing the active workflow area is also provided.

Production-scale workflow and more complex process integration tasks are

available through the separate IBM products, WebSphere Process Server, IBM
WebSphere Integration Developer and WebSphere Business Modeller.

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Workplace management

The WebSphere Portal supports role and group management. Seven hierarchical
role types are identified and can be attributed to users and groups. Group
structures are also hierarchical. Users can belong to more than one group and both
users and groups can have multiple roles.

Rules can be attached to each portlet on a page to determine when it should

appear. These are created through menus and can have relatively complex sets of
conditions attached.

Administration is carried out through portlets. IBM provides a number of standard

administration portlets, but these can be enhanced and split further using the
Command API. Each of these portlets can be delegated to different user groups to
allow distributed management of pages, portlets and users.

Reporting facilities are provided through third-party product Crystal Reports.

Multiple ‘virtual’ portals can be constructed to run completely independent portals

from a single instance of the software. All data for the separate portals is managed
in separate databases to provide an additional degree of data security. These
multiple instances are controlled through policies.

Portal resources can be managed using policies to specify and apply common and
specialised settings that determine how portal resources function for different
classes of user. A policy is a collection of settings that influences the behaviour of a
portal resource and the experience that users will have when working with the
resource. Policies simplify and accelerate the management of portal resources
because the policy settings for a resource type can control the behaviour of the
resource for different classes of users rather than having to specify behaviour for
individual users.

Policies can be directed towards:

• users and groups
• composite applications
• client types
• page themes.

When used with the upcoming version of WebSphere Everyplace Deployment, the
portal can be used offline and will automatically synchronise content when re-
connected to the network.

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Information access
Structured information access is reasonable, although portlets developed using
RAD can access only one database table. The Portlet Factory allows this to be
increased. The need to upload unstructured content to the server before it can be
displayed is also a significant disadvantage.


Structured Unstructured
info access info access

Little or no functionality Good functionality

Reasonable functionality Superior functionality

Source: Ovum

Structured information access

Databases can be accessed via ODBC and JDBC. The database metadata is used to
identify the fields available and create a picking list. Users can select those
required and these fields can also be identified for use in Co-operative Portlets, or
as names to include presence awareness. Data can be retrieved and updated.
When complete, the system generates a portlet that is placed into the catalogue.
When executing the portlet, it is not necessary for users to know the source of the
data. These portlets can access data from one table only. Portlets developed using
the Portlet Factory can access any number of database tables.

The portal supports full CRUD access, but it is not possible to write SQL directly or
execute multi-table joins.

The WebSphere Portal Search Engine can index and search Lotus Domino and file
system content from the portal via HTTP.

Unstructured information access

Content stored on network file systems must be uploaded to the Portal Document
Manager before the server can display the content.

Content from a range of newsfeeds, including RSS, can be accessed through the
portlets provided. A clipping portlet allows particular parts of a web page or entire
web applications to be displayed through a portlet.

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Portal functions
The portal delivers strong facilities for creating and editing portlets. There are no
significant BI functions in the portal beyond spreadsheet management, although
the IBM DB2 Alphablox portlets can be accessed with a separate licence. The portal
delivers both web CM and basic document management facilities, and strong
collaboration services through the use of Lotus Workplace functionality.

Portlet Business
development intelligence


Portal functions

Little or no functionality Good functionality

Reasonable functionality Superior functionality

Source: Ovum

Portlet development

An addition for version 6 is the WebSphere Portlet Factory and WebSphere Portlet
Factory Designer which came from the acquisition of Bowstreet at the end of 2005.
This delivers substantial development facilities that complement the existing
facilities to provide one of the most comprehensive portlet development facilities
available inside a portal package.

For business analysts and line-of-business managers, IBM WebSphere Portlet

Factory Designer includes Portlet Builders for creating or configuring portlets.
These allow users to connect to a wide range of business applications (such as
SAP) and select the data and functions required. There are also builders for adding
AJAX capabilities to your portlets. Portlet Factory Designer plugs into the Eclipse
development environment or into Rational Application Developer.

Developers familiar with Java can also write portlets using Rational Application
Developer (RAD), which delivers a J2EE and HTML environment. RAD includes
wizards for developing web-services-based portlets based on Struts and support
for JSR168. IBM also provides a Java-based portlet API that is independent of the
portal engine, which includes an interface for portlet writers. WebSphere Portal
provides sample portlets with their source code to assist in portlet development.

IBM WebSphere Portal ships with a selection of portlets, including news, stocks and
weather. Additional portlets are available for download on the IBM website.

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WebSphere Portal portlets can be sent out to a UDDI registry as web services and,
conversely, web services can also be pulled into the portal from a registry,
wrapped in a local portlet proxy, and then displayed as a portlet. This capability
does not require programming – it can be achieved via a simple wizard. It is
currently not possible for the portal to read a WSDL-defined web service and
automatically create and deliver a UI within a portlet.

A large number of portlets are available on the IBM website for users of the portal.
These are a mixture of portlets from IBM and a large number of third party

Business intelligence

Users can create, import and edit spreadsheets within the portal using the forms-
driven Spreadsheet Editor in version 5.0. New spreadsheets are stored in the
portal database.

The DB2 Alphablox portlets can be used to access an extensive library of

components (called Blox) to deliver analytical functions. Their use requires a
licence for the Alphabox server.

There are no other formal BI functions available within the portal from IBM.
However, there are a large number of portlets available from third party vendors
for accessing third-party BI tools.

Content management

WebSphere Portal provides template-based web content creation and publication

through the Web Content Management feature. Web Content Management
provides check-in/check-out and versioning capabilities storing the content in a
JSR170-compliant content database. Content can then be viewed and accessed
using portlets. This includes a basic linear workflow functionality for approval,
which cannot be edited. With appropriate rights, content can be edited directly
from the portal pages or by using a richer authoring interface for creating,
changing and managing web content.

Basic document management facilities are provided through the Portal Document
Manager (PDM). This uses a hierarchical folder storage model and allows users to
store and share documents. Each user has their own private folder, and can access
shared folders based on access rights. PDM provides basic routing and approval, as
well as simple versioning capabilities. New documents are automatically indexed.
Content can either be stored in the WebSphere Portal database, or in the IBM DB2
Content Manager repository (licensed separately). Portal-managed documents can
also be viewed and accessed via Microsoft Explorer or Microsoft Office applications
as though they were network files.

Where content is stored in third-party content management systems, there are no

out-of-the-box provisions to deliver location/repository transparency to the user.

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WebSphere Portal includes a rich-text editor (which can edit Microsoft Word
documents) and a presentation editor for creating and editing presentations.

Forms Management is available through PDM and can be embedded inside portlets
for collecting data. Complex forms can be presented by the portal in pixel perfect
format or via forms wizards that walk a user through a form. If forms require an
electronic signature or need to be accessed offline, a separate rich client is
required. Forms are stored and managed in the PDM.


The portal provides two common personal information management (PIM) portlets:
Common Mail and Common Calendar. The Common PIM portlets allow
administrators to configure them for different back-end systems and protocols,
such as Domino, Microsoft Exchange or POP3/iMAP servers.

Instant messaging is provided in the WebSphere Portal Extend and Portal Express
Plus products. The instant messaging service is available with any portlet that
shows a user’s name and presence.

The portal delivers collaboration features through ‘Domino and Extended Products
Portlets’, which provides preconfigured portlets to access existing Domino
applications, including:
• People Finder – searches for people. It stores and displays information,
including their name, job description and management chains
• Lotus Notes View portlet – which displays any Notes database
• My Lotus Team Workplaces – displays all the team spaces of which the user is
a member, and provides searching and the ability to create new places. Users
can be notified of new content and assigned tasks in their workplaces. If users
are online, they can be notified through instant messaging.

A portlet is available to deliver access to Lotus Web Conferencing, which is licensed


External applications
The portal delivers a reasonable level of access to third-party business applications
and CM systems, but relatively little for external BI applications and collaboration.

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Content BI
management applications


Little or no functionality Good functionality

Reasonable functionality Superior functionality

Source: Ovum

Business applications

Access to business applications is provided through portlets. Portlets (or portlet

builders) are available for a wide range of applications and back-end services, from
companies including:
• PeopleSoft
• Siebel.

Each portlet generally provides a subset of the application’s content, and multiple
portlets are available for each application. However, it is possible to display the full
functionality of an application or the functionality of multiple applications through a
single portlet.

In addition to the WebSphere Portal portlets, WebSphere Portal also supports the
display of SAP Portal iViews via the Application Access feature.

WebSphere Portal integrates with third-party vendor Citrix’s nFuse Classic product
for viewing non-web applications through a browser.

BI applications

IBM does not supply any BI portlets out-of-the-box, but uses third-party portlets
where available.

Content management

IBM does not supply any CM portlets out-of-the-box but uses third-party portlets
where available.

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Integration kits are available for Documentum, Vignette and Interwoven. These
provide guidelines and samples to help developers create portlets and integrate the
CM systems with the portal.


The messaging portlet provides access to Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise

and any IMAP or POP3 standard client.

IBM does not supply any other collaboration portlets out-of-the-box but uses third-
party portlets where available.

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