Sun moves to open up its portal software

Sun Microsystems last week announced that the next version of its portal server software will work with rival application servers...

Sun Microsystems last week announced that the next version of its portal server software will work with rival application servers and support operating systems other than Solaris, although those features will not be in the initial release.

Part of the strategy behind the portal move is some realpolitik marketing by Sun. BEA Systems and IBM dominate application server sales, and each had a 34% share of that market last year, according to a report released in March by Giga Information Group.

"Pure and simple, we need to sell into those installed bases," said John Fanelli, director of product marketing for Sun's communications and portal products.

Links to the application servers developed by IBM and San Jose-based BEA are due to be added to the upcoming Sun ONE Portal Server 6 release by the end of the year.

Sun's own application server, originally part of its iPlanet line and renamed the Sun ONE Application Server in April, was a distant third in market share, with 7% last year, according to the Giga report.

Sun is trying to boost usage of its application server by bundling the software with its new Solaris 9 operating system [QuickLink: 30070]. But Fanelli said the company now plans to compete in the software market on a product-by-product basis instead of treating the Sun ONE line as a suite.

Robert Lerner, an analyst at Current Analysis, called the plan a smart move on Sun's part. "Customers are not going to be locked into proprietary solutions, and Sun seems to be getting the message," he said.

Giga analyst Laura Ramos agreed that multi-platform support is a necessary step for Sun, at least in the portal server business. "It will certainly help them close deals," she said. "It's not going to come up as a disqualifier anymore."

Sun said it plans to make the portal server available on Linux and Windows 2000 next year. The software, which provides end users with a common Web-based launching pad for different applications, now runs only on Solaris.

Other features include an identity server that will let users restrict portal access, along with Java tools that maintain end-user session information between a portal and various application and Web servers to allow single sign-on capabilities. Web services support will also be part of the offering.

Lerner said IBM has already added multi-platform support to its portal software. He noted that IBM, BEA, Sun and, to a lesser extent, SAP, have managed to muscle into the portal market at the expense of smaller vendors that focus solely on that technology.

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