By Jennifer Mears
Network World, September 3, 2001
SANTA CLARA - Many corporations are considering portals as a means of organizing the vast amount of digital information and resources they have. But how to be sure critical information gets where it needs to go?
That's a question BackWeb thinks it can answer with push technology. This week BackWeb will unveil the Proactive Portal Server at the Enterprise Web and Corporate Portal Show. The Proactive Portal Server is the first product to be released since BackWeb announced a strategic shift to focus on the portal market in June.
Last year, BackWeb announced a partnership with Viador to add BackWeb's Polite push technology to that firm's portal offering, and BackWeb also has agreements with firms such as IBM, SAP and Epicentric.
The Proactive Portal Server, however, is BackWeb's first product in the portal arena, giving users a version of its software that can be integrated into any existing portal framework, says Bob Braham, a BackWeb vice president.
The partnership with Viador focused on the Polite push technology, which organizes content in packages that are delivered to users as bandwidth is available. The technology lets the pushing pause when bandwidth is needed for other content, and resumes where it left off when the bandwidth becomes available again.
Hewlett-Packard is using BackWeb's Polite push technology to send software updates and other information to its Pavilion home PC users without negatively impacting the performance of those computers. But HP isn't using the technology in conjunction with a portal product.
That's where BackWeb believes its technology will be most useful, Braham says. A survey of technology executives by Bain & Company found that the executives find push technology useful but not as a stand-alone product. About half said they would consider adding the technology to a portal.
"They're saying, 'If you can find ways to make . . . our portal more effective, then we'll talk with you,' " Braham says.
The use of enterprise portals is growing as businesses seek ways to handle vast amounts of digital information and resources. A key component of the next-generation portal will be the ability to get that organized information where it needs to be, says Gene Phifer, research director at Gartner.
"So when certain things happen that demand my attention, I can have something pushed to me proactively notifying me wherever I am, whether I'm at my PC, at my desk or on the road," he says.
Push technology been criticized as being too obtrusive. But BackWeb uses a subscription approach that lets users define who should get what information. The software includes an "escalation" feature so that if an alert isn't received at its first destination, say a user's PC, it is then sent to that person's cell phone or pager.
The BackWeb technology uses a client/server architecture. The client polls the server on a dynamically set polling schedule to retrieve appropriate content. The server runs on Windows NT and Solaris, and the BackWeb client is supported on Windows 95 machines and higher.
The Proactive Portal Server is available now and costs $100 per user.