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Get a New Window on Your iSeries with a Portal
Author: Kevin Larsen - IBM

A portal is a secure, single point of access on the Web where you can access information, applications, business processes, and people. A portal can be personalized to a particular type of user in a business or virtual organization to give them the tools and resources they need in an easy to access environment. Figure 1 illustrates an IBM hosted WebSphere Portal demo.

Figure 1

A Web portal can be conceptualized as a desktop much like a Personal Computer provides, with various applications available within 'windows' displayed on the desktop. These browser-based windows are called portlets. They act as visual components that bring applications and information to the portal.

In technical terms, portlets are customizable Java Servlets that can access existing resources such as ERP systems, collaboration products such as Lotus Domino, other Web applications deployed in the enterprise, or Web Services hosted within or outside a business. Portlets within a portal are either provided by a third party or custom built to unique requirements.

IBM's WebSphere Portal family of products is middleware that helps you build and deliver a portal to your users. IBM has extended WebSphere - Express to include WebSphere Portal. Designed specifically for small to medium sized businesses, the Express WebSphere products are entry-level solutions that help you get your business on the Web. With WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5, you can:

  • Develop, test and deploy a portal with WebSphere Studio Site Developer, Version 5.1 and the IBM Portal Toolkit application development tools.
  • Integrate collaboration capability into a portal using Lotus collaborative portlets that access various applications hosted on Lotus Domino servers such as Mail, Calendar, TeamRoom, and Discussion.
  • Enhance custom portlets by seamlessly integrating your existing Lotus Instant Messaging (Sametime), Lotus Team Workplace (QuickPlace), and Lotus Discovery Server assets using the Lotus Collaborative Components APIs.
  • Serve the portal to users with the WebSphere Portal framework and supporting WebSphere Application Server.

It also includes the following:

  • Restricted use licensing for the Lotus Domino Enterprise Server, Sametime, and QuickPlace products.
  • Collaboration Center, an environment that offers integrated collaboration capabilities among a set of defined users, such as virtual presence monitoring, organization structure and user information, instant messaging, Web conferencing, and team workplaces.

Although it is part of the WebSphere Express family of products, WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5 is not compatible with WebSphere Application Server - Express, Version 5.0. However, WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5 includes its own restricted-use license of WebSphere Application Server, so you don't need to buy WebSphere Application Server separately.

With WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5, an administrator makes portlets available for end users, who may then customize them. And with single sign-on technology, users only need to authenticate once with the portal rather than individually to each individual portal resource.

Portlets also can share information and collaborate with WebSphere Portal's Click-to-Action. This feature allows an action in one portlet to have an effect on the information displayed in another portlet. For example, suppose a portlet lists stock prices for a variety of companies. By clicking a company in the list, the portal can instruct a second portlet to display detailed information on the selected company.

To reap the benefits of a portal environment, you need a strategic analysis. Among other things, this analysis involves a determination of the portal's architecture and the portlets it will provide. For iSeries customers, a potential first portal is a consolidation and integration of existing key iSeries assets, such as RPG and COBOL applications and DB2 data, into an Intranet portal for corporate employees.

These assets are traditionally accessed through a 5250 green-screen or client-server interface. However, they must first be accessible from a Web browser before they can be incorporated into a portal. You can:

  • Portal-enable all of your host 5250 applications with the latest version of iSeries Access for Web. The iSeries Access for Web 5250 emulator has a portlet that integrates into WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5. The other functions in iSeries Access for Web can also be used in this environment as iFrame portlets.
  • Modernize your 5250 applications using enterprise-modernization products from IBM such as WebSphere Host Access Transformation Services (HATS), or The IBM WebFacing Tool, each of each which provides a supporting portlet.
  • Consult your Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) on their plans for providing WebSphere Portal support for their application suite.  

WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5 licensing only lets you deploy portlets. If you want to create hosted Web applications that are accessed by portlets you must buy another WebSphere Application Server, such as WebSphere Application Server - Express for iSeries, Version 5.

After you define the technical aspects of a portal, you must ensure that the iSeries server is configured appropriately for best performance. WebSphere Portal - Express, Version 5 requires a minimum of 750 CPW and 2GB of available memory, however, this configuration may not give you enough resources for your intended portal.

To help define an appropriate iSeries configuration, IBM provides the eServer Workload Estimator. This no-charge, Web-based tool gives you an estimate of an iSeries configuration that will support the performance requirements of one or more iSeries workloads, such as traditional 5250, WebSphere applications (such as IBM WebFacing, WebSphere Commerce, and WebSphere Portal - Express), Lotus Domino, and more. For help in estimating your configuration needs, contact your IBM Business Partner or IBM Sales Representative.

If you want, a virtual environment that empowers employees, customers, and partners with tools they need to more effectively leverage business information and IT assets, a portal may be the answer. WebSphere Portal - Express Version 5 offers new capabilities for iSeries customers and their existing iSeries investments. For additional information, consult the following Web resources:

Kevin Larsen is an Advisory Software Engineer at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota. For the past 5 years, he has educated IBM eServer iSeries customers on WebSphere products and technologies, architecture design and implementation. Kevin can be reached at