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Commentary: Sun back on track

The announcement of Sun One Portal Server 6 is a necessary, positive move that should help maintain the product's competitive status in a crowded sector.

By Ray Valdes, Gartner Analyst

Sun Microsystems' announcement of Sun One Portal Server 6, formerly iPlanet Portal Server, is a necessary, positive move that should help maintain the product's competitive status in a very crowded sector.

See news story:
Sun adds shine to portal software
In its various incarnations, the Sun One Portal Server has been on the market a relatively long time and accumulated a solid track record in a wide range of deployments. However, during the past year it has struggled to maintain visibility and momentum in a portal market crowded with credible offerings from vendors like IBM, BEA Systems, SAP, PeopleSoft, Computer Associates International and Oracle, not to mention established products from pure-play vendors like Plumtree Software and Epicentric.

The complex three-way alliance between AOL, Netscape/iPlanet and Sun created the perception among some customers of organizational and product uncertainty. As a result, iPlanet's market trajectory flattened. By unambiguously folding iPlanet into the Sun organization early this year, Sun began the necessary steps to get the iPlanet product line back on track.

The announcement of Sun One Portal Server v.6.0 freshens Sun's portal product and provides some important product differentiation. Identity management will be key to the future of Web services, and Sun's integration of identity and directory servers into the portal positions it well in this strategic area. Also, this bundling leverages software assets that might otherwise be underused.

This bundling reflects a market trend: Large vendors with broad product portfolios are integrating multiple products into application platform suites that consist of an application server, integration broker, portal server and other feature clusters.

Sun's announced support for multiple application servers and operating systems clearly differentiates it from large, infrastructure-oriented vendors such as IBM, BEA and Oracle that market their portals to further their lock-in strategies. Sun pragmatically concedes that its application server has lost ground in that maturing market. Along with Sun's recent announcement that it would bundle its application server with the operating system, this bold move accepts market reality while attempting to change the rules of engagement.

However, Sun's timeline is long enough that competitors can respond with moves of their own. Sun can still back out if market conditions change enough that a conventional lock-in strategy becomes attractive once again.

(For a related commentary on an important competitive move by Sun, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.