Portal progress and KM: Sun ONE Portal Server
By Joseph M. Firestone
Sun ONE Portal Server 6.0 from Sun Microsystems represents the first example I’ve discussed of a comprehensive portal platform strategy targeted at constructing an enterprise computing system. In this strategy, the portal is viewed as the delivery mechanism for a much more comprehensive system I call a Distributed Information Management System (DIMS). A DIMS strategy is the weapon of choice of larger vendors against the smaller companies whose entry into the portal space was more timely, but more focused on specific functionality in the decision processing, content management or collaborative areas. I’ve explained previously that Plumtree Software and Computer Associates, early entrants in the space, have been moving toward the DIMS vision themselves. Sun began with the vision of an integrative system for enterprise computing. Its approach to its portal product has been to locate it within a comprehensive architecture, rather than to evolve an architecture out of its product.
Vision, architecture and components
The Sun ONE vision is a services-on-demand model in which your software Internet infrastructure is able to provide information, data and applications to anyone, anytime, anywhere, on anything.
That vision is coextensive with the currently popular Web services model. In it, all data, applications, reports and transaction information are made available as Web services. Sun’s high-level architectural expression is depicted in the diagram on this page. (The Portal Server is only one component of a much more comprehensive system. It is that system that I evaluate here, rather than the portal alone.)
The Sun ONE Portal Server is not unusual in its delivery of a portal framework enabling the aggregation of personalized and role-based content, data and applications, and the easy connection of portlets. But it is unusual in the comprehensive nature of its centralized identity management services. Those store and manage identity information and provide user security, single sign-on and precise, policy-determined access management for individuals and communities for the whole enterprise system.
In addition, Sun ONE Portal Server is unusual in its search capability. It is based on Sun technology and offers commonly available features, but also offers tight integration, a common look and feel relative to other components of the portal, and “passage search” and retrieval. The last feature removes the need for users to examine the whole of returned documents to find the passages that best match their queries.
Servers bundled with the Portal Server include Sun’s Web Server, an Identity Server and a Directory Server. The combination of those four servers creates a powerful backbone for identity management and content aggregation in the enterprise. But the integration capability of Sun’s platform can’t be appreciated without considering the companion products and what they contribute to the DIMS. Those include the Sun ONE: Application Server, Integration Server, EAI Edition, Messaging Server and Calendar Server. The fully J2EE-compliant application server is an end-to-end Web services platform that supports both their development and execution. It integrates with all other major components in the Sun ONE architecture and is one of its central, integrative components.
The other is the Integration Server. It can integrate packaged, custom, legacy and Java applications, and also data messaging, data transformation and business process management (including workflow). It also supports Web services integration through SOAP messaging. The Integration Server communicates with the Application Server through Java Messaging, and the two servers together provide a formidable artificial information management capability, allowing dynamic integration of changes in the enterprise computing system.
Sun ONE’s Messaging Server has a long history and is one of the leading products in its category. It adds robustness to communications and enterprise collaboration within the Sun ONE architecture, by providing a scalable and “centralized location for sending and receiving messages."
The Calendar Server manages schedules, shares resources and supports collaborative scheduling of events or appointments.
Sun ONE’s basic platform for distributed service-oriented information processing is not strong in specific decision processing, content management or collaborative functionality. In the last category, there are two application packs that greatly increase collaborative capability. The first of them, the Sun ONE Portal Server Personalized Knowledge Pack (PKP), classifies and organizes documents automatically according to rule, allows users to set up personal profiles and subscribe to content, provides the capability to search by category, and enables collaboration on (discussing) content and on rating it for importance and quality. PKP simplifies searches by providing the ability to construct category trees. Using those trees, automated searches may be carried out on general topics, not just specific words or phrases. PKP can also search based on document ratings.
The Instant Collaboration Pack (ICP) provides collaboration services, including instant messaging and chat for one-on-one communication and group collaboration, expertise location, virtual teams, file sharing, conferencing, polling and team chats for project-based collaboration. It also provides news channels to access published information on a subscription basis, and integration with the Portal Server to incorporate community management, single sign-on and secure remote access capabilities. The combination of PKP and ICP with the Sun ONE architecture produces a fairly potent, collaborative portal with great capacity for comprehensive integration of other services into the framework.
Sun ONE knowledge processing and KM
In considering my ratings comparing Sun ONE support for knowledge processing with the ideal enterprise knowledge portal, please keep in mind that there is little in Sun’s communications that suggests it is targeting the KM market. Sun is clearly concerned with providing decision support through information management. Except for some claims about knowledge sharing made in connection with the PKP, it uses little of the terminology of KM to characterize its products or services.
Sun ONE provides some appreciable support for information acquisition, knowledge claim formulation, information sharing, broadcasting, teaching and searching/retrieving. But, like the products from Plumtree and Computer Associates previously reviewed, it provides little support for knowledge claim evaluation, and, therefore, for knowledge production or individual and group learning. Also, there is no specification in Sun ONE for the kinds of activities that comprise knowledge management. Consequently, few of the nine classes of KM activities distinguished in our KM framework are supported by it. As was the case with the other two products, the foundation provided by Sun ONE—although it is one of a leading examples of an integration portal with great potential for enhancement and customization—inadequately supports knowledge processing and knowledge management in the enterprise.
Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D, is co-CEO and executive VP of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (kmci.org) and CKO of Executive Information Systems (dkms.com), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of "Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management," KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2002