IBM WebSphere Portal Express Stirs Up Market


Pressure is on pure-play vendor Plumtree


Since its release in October, IBM's WebSphere Portal Express has earned high marks for providing flexible delivery and application development options, said a solution provider who developed one of the first solutions using the product.

Perficient, Austin, Texas, recently used Portal Express to build a companywide portal to streamline employee communications for a 250-employee logistics provider in St. Louis, said Stuart Huels, director of business development at the solution provider.

Perficient said it also recently replaced its own Plumtree Software internal portal with IBM's WebSphere product.

 
>> Perficient's Stuart Huels say WebSphere Portal Express lets solution providers build a portal tailored to a client's needs.

 

This isn't such good news for Plumtree. As the last remaining pure-play portal vendor, the San Francisco-based company has seen a significant increase in competition, particularly from Java-based platform vendors, since the fall of 2001, said Laura Ramos, research director for enterprise portals and information management at Giga Information Group.

At that time, IBM and BEA Systems released revamped versions of their respective portal products and tied the portals, which previously had been sold more as out-of-the box applications, to more complicated J2EE application development, Ramos said.

And other companies, including Sybase, SAP and PeopleSoft, also have either updated existing portal products or launched new ones to compete in what has become a growing market, she said.

"The portal market went from one that could be mainly supported and supplied by pure-play or personalization-engine companies such as BroadVision, Vignette, Plumtree and Epicentric to being serviced now primarily by vendors offering some other platform software," Ramos said.

Research firm IDC said it expects the portal market to continue to grow over the next several years. In a report published last summer, IDC projected the market will grow to $3.1 billion in 2006 from $550 million in 2001.

To capture portal business in the small- and midsize-business market space, IBM purposefully packaged WebSphere Portal Express to be low-cost and easy to use, said Larry Bowden, IBM's vice president of portal solutions. The company even asked solution providers for feedback on how to build and price the product, he said.

Perficient's Huels noted that the pricing, which starts at $77 per user on a company intranet, gives customers greater choices regarding how and when they want to deploy a portal solution. He said the per-user pricing means that customers with tight budgets don't have to spend a lot of money up front to test-run the product. "It allows them to do a proof-of-concept [deployment] more cost-effectively," he said.

The pricing also allows customers to implement the portal in one department and then extend it across the entire enterprise if they choose, Huels said.

"WebSphere Portal Express allows customers to get into the portal technology, and if it takes off, they can upgrade very easily to server-based versions of the product," he said.

As for development choices, IBM hosts a repository of portlets that either the vendor or third-party partners provide for use with various editions of WebSphere Portal. But solution providers also can build a portal that's tailored to a customer's needs, Huels said.

For example, in the solution built for the St. Louis logistics company, Huels said Perficient developed a custom bulletin-board application that allows employees to view news and updates about the company when they sign on to the portal.

Now, Perficient can build that application into projects for other customers, he said.

Huels said the solution provider also is developing repeatable portal applications around WebSphere Portal Express to address other customer needs.

"We've learned things that other customers can take advantage of," Huels said. "Based on [previous] engagements, we'll go out and create applications that apply" across other customer segments, he said.