Iona to release first two pieces of iPortal Monday

Iona Technologies is to release the first two pieces of its four-component iPortal Suite Monday, according to the Irish middleware company's co-founder and chief technical officer.

The first two iPortal Suite components -- Orbix 2000 and iPortal Application Server -- will ship Monday and support the Microsoft Windows 2000, Linux, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX and Sun Microsystems Solaris operating systems, according to Annrai O'Toole, Iona co-founder, executive vice president and chief technical officer, speaking yesterday in a phone interview.

The two other pieces of the iPortal Suite are iPortal Integration Server and iPortal Server. IPortal Integration Server will ship on April 3 when the company's Iona World 2000 conference kicks off in Boston, while iPortal Server is likely to ship in June, O'Toole said. The four pieces of iPortal suite should be seen as "four individual strands that can be used without relying on each other," he added, though clearly Iona is keen for companies to use all the suite's components.

Iona first started talking about its planned iPortal Suite last October as the company's answer to the ongoing trend toward consolidation in the middleware industry, which is centering around business-to-business (B2B) computing, O'Toole said. "B2B takes a company's existing back-end information systems and exposes them on the Web so they can be accessed by different users," he added.

The users accessing such data fall into two main categories -- partners of the company looking to view information relevant to their business relationships and those users looking to engage in server-to-server or computer-to-computer computing, O'Toole said. "This is a new-age EDI (electronic data interchange), where you can start a transaction inside one company and then flow it over the Net to another," he added.

O'Toole refuted a suggestion that Iona is making a somewhat late entry into the enterprise portal market. "There is some portal play now, but it's mostly business-to-enterprise (B2E) where you aggregate data on intranets so that all company staff can see a common set of documents," he said. "That's basically (Lotus) Notes on steroids. It's not really sustainable and is not what portals are." Iona sees enterprise portals as offering "personalised access to external world," he added.

Portals -- Web sites that act as the first entry points to other resources on the Internet -- continue to be a hot commodity with companies scrambling to develop their own as rapidly as possible.

Orbix 2000, the latest release of Iona's flagship ORB, which is compliant with the Object Management Group's CORBA (common object request broker architecture) standard, is the basis of the iPortal Suite, O'Toole said. Iona has spent four years of development effort involving an average of 10 to 15 people per year working on Orbix 2000 and the ORB is "still where our serious investment is," he added.

Describing Orbix 2000 as "quite a considerable product upgrade" that supports the latest OMG standards, O'Toole said that Iona has put a new microkernel architecture into the ORB. The company has externalized a lot of the service pieces previously integral to Orbix, such as transactions, security and messaging, which can now be configured using plug-ins, he said. "Now, if someone wants to change a configuration variable, they don't have to go into the guts of the server and mess around," O'Toole added.

In terms of the other three iPortal Suite pieces, iPortal Application Server can be best thought of as a place to hold component-based business logic and is compliant with EJBs (Enterprise Java Beans) and J2EE (Java 2 platform, Enterprise Edition). IPortal Integration Server enables the accessing of back-end systems and pulls together all of Iona's messaging products, such as OrbixTalk and OrbixEvents, together with connectors from Visual Edge Software Corp., O'Toole said, describing the product as a "repackaging and rebranding exercise" of existing software.

Based on Iona's planned acquisition of U.S. XML (extensible markup language) specialist Watershed Technologies Inc., iPortal Server will tie together all the back-end data and expose it on the Net, O'Toole said. "This is the first Iona product not destined for developers," he added. "It's for Web masters so that they can configure the product in terms of the type of users and what they can see, like a traffic cop directing all the requests to the back end."

Iona announced plans to acquire Watershed late last month for US$13.2 million [M]. [See "Iona Banks On a Watershed Event for IPortal Suite," Feb 24.] Iona is in the process of productizing the Watershed technology and is adding features such as "fancy GUIs (graphical user interfaces)," O'Toole said.

Looking ahead, iPortal Suite will be Iona's main point of focus for the next 18 months, O'Toole said. "Large-scale deployment (of iPortal Suite) will keep us very busy. It's a fairly large undertaking we've got here of making this fly," he added. However, O'Toole said that Iona also has a quite a lot of interest in the open-source movement, describing it as "a big piece of where we're going," but declined to provide any further details on the company's future strategy.

Iona has about 4,000 sites worldwide for its products being used by around 80,000 developers, according to O'Toole. Iona employs 650 staff and its software is available in English and Japanese.

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