Top takeaways from 2003 IBM Content Management and Portal Conference in Orlando

As the name suggests, the conference was divided into two major categories of sessions: Portal and Content Management. The Portal topics covered WebSphere Portal Server as well as Content Publisher, Extended Search, QuickPlace, SameTime, and Tivoli. The Content Management sessions were focused on IBM’s Content Manager product.

There were about 700 people at the conference. My impression was that about half of those people were IBMers from various parts of the organization looking to learn more about the product.

I had no problem getting a seat in any of the sessions I attended, probably because they had so many simultaneous sessions going on. The drawback was that it was hard to cover the conference with a small number of co-workers attending.

They had several hands-on workshops running concurrently with the sessions, but most of them were Content Manager-related with only one or two devoted to Portal. At the time I checked on the sign-up sheets, there were plently of spots available.

I need to review the presentations that were provided on the CD for the sessions I didn’t attend, but here are my top takeaways based on the sessions I did attend…

Disclaimer: The company I work for, Navigator Systems, Inc., partners with many vendors including IBM. We do not resell software. In addition, there may be information I am privvy to by virtue of this partnership or by working with clients who are under non-disclosure with IBM. The following includes only data publically available at the conference.

  1. IBM WebSphere Portal currently has the most market share according to Gartner, Dataquest, and IDC. IBM is also number one in collaboration and instant messaging.
  2. Internally, IBM has combined Lotus and Portal into one area called “People” or something similar.
  3. At the conference, we saw several examples of large companies with large implementations of IBM WebSphere Portal: 3M, USAF, FBI, Home Depot, Nationwide, Prudential, IBM. In IBM’s case, they simplified 8,000 sites that had a total of 11 million pages across 5600 domains. 76% of IBMers hit their intranet every day.
  4. Contrary to first impressions after using the WebSphere Portal Customizer–used to organize the portlets on a page–you can create page layouts with spanned rows as well as spanned columns. The trick is to start with a 1-1 page layout and then build from there.
  5. JSR 168 and WSRP will probably not be in WebSphere Portal Server 5.x. However, they did show a proposed feature list which included things like in-line editing of the portal page layout, “soft” groups based on LDAP attributes, improved search capability, porting of the C++ LikeMinds engine to Java, improved install, and several other items. IBM wouldn’t commit to a release date but the rumour at the conference was the end of August.
  6. There are lots of options for integrating collaborative components into WebSphere Portal. The options covered included: (1) out-of-the-box portlets, (2) using an iFrame portlet or Web Clipper for Domino applications, (3) helper portlets for accessing Domino through XML or JSPs, (4) building custom Domino portlets using WSAD and the Portal Toolkit, Domino Toolkit, or the Everyplace Toolkit, and (5) using portlet-building technologies like Bowstreet, IBM’s Portlet Application Integrator, or Conet. Lotus Workplace is a wrapper that provides QuickPlace, Sametime, and Directory Search portlets in a single interface out-of-the-box.
  7. Integrating WebSphere Personalization with content not managed by WebSphere Content Publisher seemed like it could be tough, but do-able. One of the steps is to create a resource file that tells the personalization engine about the content. That appears to be the key focus area for non-WCP-managed content.
  8. The best practice for portal developers is to give each developer their own full-blown portal install. Developers then check their code into SCM (ClearCase, CVS, etc). A build process (like Ant) is used to deploy code from SCM to the portal servers. In the best practice session, the presenters were using Anthill to automate the Ant builds. XMLAccess is a command-line tool for migrating portlets, page layouts, etc., from one environment (Staging, for example) to production.
  9. The presenter during the performance session said most problems turn out to be network-related. They recommended testing the WPS base install with no custom code before adding customizations, which made sense. They also recommended coding test scripts so that they select IDs randomly instead of sequentially to attempt to neutralize the optimization that a database will normally do when reading rows from a database.
  10. Portlets can communicate using “Click2Action”. An example would be a portlet that displays a list of customer IDs. A portlet user could then click a link that populates the selected customer ID in a text field in another portlet. In the next release, portlets can declare data they have and data they need and can then be “wired” together by administrators. Another item from the “no-coding-required” department is a tool called WebSphere Portal Application Integrator. It’s basically a portlet factory for creating portlet front-ends to enterprise applications like SAP, PeopleSoft, and even Domino.