Iona iPortal Blasts Off, Moves to Higher Orbix

Enterprise portals are a hot commodity, and vendors from all corners of the IT universe are scrambling to position their products as portal-enabling solutions. Addressing this burgeoning space, Iona Technologies Inc. ( is shipping a new version of its Orbix Web application server as part of a new series enterprise portal products.

Iona's iPortal Suite, announced last fall, is targeted at the business-to-business enterprise portal market. The suite includes iPortal Integration Server, a standards-based environment for leveraging and integrating large-scale enterprise applications; iPortal OS/390 Server; iPortal Application Server, an Enterprise JavaBeans/Java 2 Enterprise Edition-based server for component-based business logic; and Orbix 2000, an e-business infrastructure that is the foundation of the iPortal Suite.

A fifth product, iPortal Server, which provides Internet integration in the form of a portal access and control platform, is scheduled to ship this month.

Iona found that much of its work at customer sites was evolving into portal development, says Ed Gaudet, vice president of marketing at Iona. "Customers were using our technology not only to integrate their back-end systems with a CORBA infrastructure, but were also using that to extend themselves out to the Internet and integrate their mainframe systems with front-end Web systems."

"IPortal suite is really an evolution for us," Gaudet continues. "We took what we had -- products under development -- and looked at where the market was headed. We realized that once the Y2K initiatives were completed, CIOs and organizations would be focused on e-business. We wanted to create an end-to-end, very comprehensive solution to address those requirements."

Iona has plenty of company. Numerous vendors are entering the enterprise portal space, says Gene Phifer, analyst at GartnerGroup Inc. ( Portal solutions with full functionality -- including application integration, metadata dictionaries, directory security, and personalization -- will soon dominate the market, Gartner's Phifer predicts. Iona faces fierce competition in this space from a plethora of IT vendors, ranging from IBM Corp. ( and Oracle Corp. (, to all the enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and business intelligence tools vendors.

"As with any new technology, enterprise portals are in a period of extreme hype," Phifer warns. He estimates that a majority of technology savvy companies will have enterprise portals in place within the coming year. "The key reason for deploying an enterprise portal is 'infoglut,'" he says. Enterprise portals let users handle infoglut via "effective categorization of information, searches that produce relevant results and personalization that only delivers information users want and does not bother them with information they do not want." In addition, a single portal provides a single user interface across an organization with a single sign-on for applications.

Phifer warns that portals have an Achilles' heel: security. "Because they must deal with multiple types of information repositories and databases, most of which with their own proprietary directory and security mechanisms, enterprise portals have an especially difficult issue in the area of security," he says.

Phifer urges companies to take action to deploying portals, especially those that are customer-facing -- "Competitors are probably experimenting with enterprise portals, and could quickly morph a customer-facing portal into a killer Internet portal," he warns.

Phifer cautions companies to prepare for unexpected costs when building enterprise portals. Costs will be exacerbated by initiatives to tie Web applications in with back-end applications, such as manufacturing, inventory management, transportation, and sales and marketing. Portals that front-end this array of business functions could rival Microsoft Windows as a front-end, he speculates. Typical development costs could soar into the millions of dollars, he estimates.

Orbix 2000, which is platform middleware that serves as the unifying architecture of the components of the iPortal suite, was revamped with a more modular architecture, Gaudet explains. "We like to say there's a lot of rocket science behind Orbix 2000. It supports SOAP, XML, and MQSeries."

Orbix 2000 is built on Iona's Adaptive Runtime Technology, a plug-in framework that allows developers to add standard CORBA services and custom code at runtime. These plug-ins can be changed without modifying or recompiling code, helping developers introduce new product features.

"Orbix 2000 has been redesigned and engineered from the ground up to leverage the expertise we've garnered from more than 4,000 Orbix customers over the last nine years," explains Michael Waclawiczek, product director for Orbix 2000 at Iona. "Orbix 2000's Integrated Code Generation Toolkit simplifies the process of developing C++ applications."

IPortal Server, which is still under development, incorporates XML technology from Watershed Technologies, a company recently acquired by Iona. "Watershed Technologies had a lot of technology that will be incorporated as plug-ins to this portal server," Gaudet says. "We were trying to develop this technology in-house, and realized it was much more efficient to buy it as opposed to trying to build it from scratch."

The Costs of Enterprise Portals

Entry level $30,000-$500,000 Includes company information, search engine
Content integration $200,000-$800,000 Includes personalization and directories
Workplace integration $1 million-$3 million Includes customer support, transaction support, workflow, data integration
Marketplace integration $2 million-$150 million Includes supply chains, e-procurement, real-time transaction processing

Source: GartnerGroup Inc.