The proliferation of enterprise portals has pressured IBM into reducing the complexity of its WebSphere product.

The company Tuesday relaunched the application server line with a set of add-on features that will allow companies to analyze the surfing and buying habits of their customers and potentially scale their portals more quickly to take on other tasks within an organization.

Three tiered solution packages include Enable, Extend and Experience. Based on open standards like J2EE and through the open sourcing of some APIs, IBM said each version will be built on the same code, allowing enterprises to make changes to it without rewriting.

IBM e-Portal Solutions vice-president Larry Bowden said the WebSphere revamp comes in response to consolidation within the portal space. While vendors have often offered a solution for a specific kind of portal, Bowden said many companies want a single means of managing business-to-employee (B2E), business to business (B2B) and customer relationships.

“In the next few months, there won’t be a portal in the marketplace that can afford to exist without being on an application server,” he said. “Many were introduced independently, but the investments, the scaleability and the reliability just cannot be maintained.”

IDC Canada analyst Warren Shaiu agreed that many enterprises are mired in complexity issues.

“They’re trying to put together so many things, and there are so many vendors involved,” he said. “This isn’t just a one-vendor strategy. BEA is concentrating on producing middleware, or Sun’s talking about their server OS and Siebel is talking about CRM applications. You can look at it as pulling together everything over multiple platforms and multiple vendors.”

Although there was a time when organizations were hesitant to manage some of their business relationships through the Internet, Bowden said the adoption rate in the last two years has increased corporate dependence on portals.

“They’re no longer glitzy interface with some stove-pipe connections back to various applications,” he said. “These are becoming mission-critical environments; people need the tooling associated with it. They want to really do work within these portal environments.”

Some of the new WebSphere features are designed to facilitate collaboration capabilities and the ability for the portal to manage the media being used to display and to interact with the applications as well as content management tools. “Many customers told us they have let their Web servers get out of control,” he said.

Shaiu said IBM’s strategy is consistent with its customer’s need for a set of packages that would allow them to migrate from the low end to the high end. “It was a necessity,” he said. “It’s not suprising that IBM would make some sort of efforts to maybe in some cases reduce the complexity or offer a clear path to customers.”

The list price for WebSphere will be US$55,000 per processor for the Enable Solution and US$95,000 per processor for Extend. The Experience Solution is only available in a minimum four-processor bundle for US$580,000. Worldwide release for the product line is scheduled for next month.

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