Limited EIP Suits Smaller Shops

SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - Remaining nimble in the Information Age is no easy feat. Witness the ever-expanding EIP (enterprise information portal) market.

Geared toward helping companies access buried enterprise resources and quickly sift enormous volumes of information, enterprise information portals aim to improve a company's decision-making aptitude by improving resource availability.

The newest entry in the enterprise information portal class is Hummingbird EIP 1.0 from Hummingbird Communications Ltd. EIP builds on Hummingbird's flagship information management product, DOCSFulcrum, to provide a secure means of searching and retrieving enterprise data via centralized Web-based access.

With taxonomy indexing and flexible search capabilities, Hummingbird EIP can quickly expose data from a variety of sources, structured or otherwise, including groupware, e-mail, business applications, file systems, and Web sites. This lets employees and business partners make proactive, informed decisions more efficiently and productively.

Hummingbird EIP delivers better extensibility, taxonomy generation, and native integration into existing security models than competitors such as DataChannel.

However, with steep start-up costs, its lack of distributive load balancing, and platform availability limited to Windows NT, Hummingbird EIP imposes a programming burden to reach enterprise standards. This will likely relegate Hummingbird EIP as a good solution for small or midsize organizations looking to improve data availability.

Healthy heartbeat

When users log on to Hummingbird EIP, they gain aggregated access to the sundry information resources existing across an enterprise -- including multiple e-mail accounts, Microsoft Exchange Server stores, file systems, databases, and Web sites -- consolidated and available for review from within their Web browsers.

At the heart of Hummingbird EIP's capabilities is the DOCSFulcrum engine. The Knowledge Server, part of the software suite, automatically analyzes data content and develops a server-based index of your resources. The process greatly enhances the response times to search queries.

The capability of brokering out queries to external search engines, such as AltaVista and InfoSeek, further extends the reach of available information.

Hummingbird EIP returns results that can be viewed in native format or as HTML, even if the native application does not exist on the local workstation. There are reportedly more than 200 recognized formats supported, including Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, and Lotus Notes.

The auto-taxonomy builder let me quickly build a hierarchical view of my existing document base, separating resources into categories to improve browsing and search times. Hummingbird EIP automatically updates the taxonomy as new documents are added.

Security is implemented using Hummingbird's Common Authentication Proxy. The server provides single sign-on access across portal resources and natively supports common authentication schemes, including LDAP, NTLM (NT LanManager), and NDS.

Hummingbird EIP's Web-based administrative interface was somewhat clumsy.

Although it provided remote access for defining items such as users' access rights, I found using a text-based interface for new user setup and paging through descriptionless plug-in lists to be less than intuitive.

Once set up, however, Hummingbird EIP delivered top-notch performance and one of the lowest search latencies I have seen to date.

Users can access the portal using the Java servlet to search resources and flexibly display data. Users can even customize their portal pages to best suit their needs.

On the downside, I found Hummingbird EIP's search capabilities could benefit from a subsearch to better narrow returned results. Also, administrators would prefer the ability to lock specific items on a portal page to prevent users from accidentally removing important information.

Extensible framework

Hummingbird EIP's Java-based design uses XML for data interchange, enabling connectivity to any application or data source via its pluggable architecture, called e-Clips. Although I found the quantity and practicality of e-Clips bundled in EIP lacking, a Hummingbird representative indicated that a Web-based e-Clip community is forthcoming to help foster development.

The XML DTD (Document Type Definition) specifications and open API are also included with the package, allowing custom solutions to be programmed for extended availability to almost any existing information source. Furthermore, Hummingbird offers a large variety of portal-enabled add-ons that can integrate into EIP.

All told, easy setup, solid caching control, and fast search capabilities make Hummingbird EIP a good entry-level choice for smaller organizations. However, it lacks the out-of-the-box bells and whistles that enterprise administrators require.

Frequent contributor James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart .com) is director of IS at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

Hummingbird EIP 1.0

Business Case: This enterprise portal improves decision-making throughout the enterprise by providing an easy-to-use, personalizable gateway to core business data. Additional costs for custom Java programming will likely be required.

Technology Case: Built with Java and XML, EIP channels information to employees and business partners without necessitating changes to existing technology investments.

Pros:

+ Fast search engine

+ Automated taxonomy development

+ Good security integration

Cons:

- Windows NT only

- No load balancing

- Requires custom programming

Cost: Starts at $100,000; $150,000 per 500 usersPlatform(s): Windows NTHummingbird Communications Ltd.; Toronto; (877) 359-4866; www.hummingbird.com.

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