Web management software

Web management software<@VM>These products have the tools to bring Web content to life

Behind every successful Web site is a good suite of content management tools

By Kevin Jonah

Special to GCN

Content. That's what the Web is all about. And government agencies have plenty of content to put on the Web. But the nature of that content has changed dramatically since the beginning of the Web age way back in the mid-1990s.

Once upon a time'maybe two years ago'your agency Web site probably was made up mostly of static pages with a few well-placed applets and perhaps even some script-driven pages and a search engine. And back then, managing all the content on a site was a challenge.

Now, without the proper tools, it's darn near impossible. Web sites increasingly are an application platform more than a home for static content, with dynamically rendered content and thousands of lines of back-end code in multiple scripting and programming languages.

Where once agency sites were primarily collections of useful documents in electronic form, they now are self-service centers, purchasing systems, executive support systems and personalized information portals'often all wrapped up into one.

For example, there's NASA's new NASA Technology portal. The home page, developed using software from Allaire Corp. and other companies, carries a wide variety of content, including dynamically rendered self-scrolling text fields and even embedded streaming video.

As a result, content management tools have evolved from essentially glorified link-checkers to suites that handle most of the tasks required to maintain a bleeding-edge site. They provide sets of integrated tools that cover at least some aspect of site development and deployment tasks.

The leading products in the content management field offer a consistent set of core features that handle the big tasks of content management: checking links, site deployment, versioning and rollback, site design and page authoring, controlling site access, change routing and notification, and other diagnostics such as site visualization.

Pulling its weight

In some cases, the software products are really complete Web development platforms that handle additional tasks such as personalization, workflow and process automation, and even the development of Web applications.

Of course, the core functions of any product claiming to be a content management tool are still things such as link maintenance and site diagnostics'the well-established domain of the webmaster.

But the broad range of skills required to develop and deploy sites, along with the varying content being brought to the Web, has spread the job around to software developers, database administrators and knowledge workers within the organization. And all of them need software tools to help them pitch in.

Tips for buyers
'Pick a tool that works with the authoring and development tools you have to minimize the learning curve for deployment. If you're building Active Server Pages, for instance, a Java-based tool will slow you down.

'Look for a tool that minimizes the steps required for nontechnical content providers to author and submit content for publishing. This will make content capture as painless and as complete as possible.

'Calculate how much content you'll be managing, how often it will be updated and how much of it will be dynamic data. If your content is almost all dynamic and the templates change infrequently, some application servers by themselves may be a better bet than a full-blown content management system. If most of the content is static, you won't need a content manager with an integrated application server.

'Know your supplier. In many cases, content management systems are complex integration projects and vehicles for consulting and integration services. Treat them as such when you evaluate them. Pick contenders with an infrastructure you can trust, including enterprise scalability and high availability, and test them to see if they deliver. Ask for references and check for independent testing results and audits. After selecting a tool, perform vigorous acceptance testing.

'Plan for the future. Once you've assessed current site needs, project your future Web application infrastructure. Will you be supporting wireless applications or personalized information portals? Make sure the vendor you choose supports Extensible Markup Language content and can apply Extensible Stylesheet Language to customize data presentation for any kind of client. If the vendor does not do that now, at least be sure it has a realistic road map to support those features when you will need them.

Many content management suites offer browser interfaces to reduce the problem of distribution and maintenance of client software, which is just what you'd expect from Web management software. But in some cases the browser interface is limited'and in other cases, browser-based administration of the site isn't supported at all.

Database connectivity has become a critical element of many Web applications; more and more content is generated dynamically from databases. As a result, database management has become a bigger part of the overall content management problem. To make the most of enterprise data, content management systems have to allow site managers to manage database connections just as they manage other components of the site.

A good example of this is the recently announced deal between the General Services Administration and Computer Technology Associates Inc. of Bethesda, Md., to upgrade the agency's GSA Advantage site with such capabilities as personalization based on a user's profile.

The site will use software from content-management tool vendor BroadVision Inc. to manage the user experience and software from Sybase Inc. to manage the back-end database connections.

It's important that your content management tool be flexible enough to handle a wide variety of content types'more than just good old Hypertext Markup Language and GIF and JPEG graphics. It should be able to handle JavaBeans, Perl scripts and other non-static content. And it's especially important that it handle Extensible Markup Language, which is becoming increasingly important as the reach of Web applications goes beyond traditional Web clients.

While flexibility is key, it doesn't help if the content management tool you choose does not integrate well with Web site development tools your developers use. Many products work across a number of servers and content types, but it's important to pick the one that integrates best with your development tools so developers can be part of the Web site workflow.

If your site, for example, relies heavily on Microsoft Corp.'s Active Server Pages technology, you'll want a content management tool that integrates with Microsoft Internet Information Server and handles ASP files. On the other hand, if you're using a Web application server that supports Java, JavaServer Page support is more important.

Some content management tools go even further to include integrated development environments, such as BroadVision's One-To-One, Allaire's Spectra, and NetObjects Inc.'s Collage. These products take a nearly complete approach to producing pages as well as to managing content.

All of these platforms also directly support a wide variety of third-party Web page development tools.

As content generation becomes more of a distributed task, workflow and routing becomes another critical content management system feature. Some tools provide for the assignment of tasks to various content team members, the routing and approval of new content, and e-mail notification of team members to alert them when items have moved to their part of the workflow.

BroadVision's One-To-One also provides a workflow tool, with a graphical workflow design interface.

Get a grip

Perhaps the most important function of any content management tool is version control. When a new component of the site is rolled out, version control ensures that it is applied consistently across the site'and that it can be rolled back to a previous version if there's a problem. Often, these tools allow you to roll back a single element of the site, or roll back a page, set of pages, or even the whole site itself if necessary.

There are different levels of versioning available. Some tools, such as Running Start Inc.'s ArticleBase, provide element-level versioning that allows webmasters to control deployment of graphics and other page components. Many others provide only page-level versioning granularity.

Managing deployment goes hand in hand with workflow and versioning. The best content management tools allow you to deploy new content to multiple target servers'first to test servers, then to test the full site, and then to Web and application servers.

Good content management tools allow you to schedule content deployment so sites are updated at a predetermined time, usually at the time of the lowest level of site traffic or at the beginning of a day, and can happen unattended.

Another feature linked to deployment is content aging. The best content management systems can assign a lifecycle to each part of a Web site and automatically remove or archive stale content. This both saves storage space and cleans out obsolete data'an especially important feature if you have a dynamic site.

With the tasks of content management becoming more decentralized, the importance of access control has been increased. This is especially true when members of the content team are off-site, gaining access through a browser or other remote network connection.

Some content management systems provide roles-based security, limiting access to the functions and content of each team member's authority. Depending on your preferences and the profile of your content management team's organization, you may want a system that integrates with your organization's authentication system or directory service.

Most of the major tool vendors offer several options: a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol interface for user authentication, an operating system-based user authentication or a standalone access control list separate from the system's database and the operating system.

If you have remote users, you'll definitely want a system that supports secure Internet protocols such as secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol or Secure Sockets Layer as well as Data Encryption Standard or RSA encryption and possibly certificate-based authentication.

In the end, the biggest part of making a decision on content management software is whether you want a point solution'one that picks the best individual tool for each function of site management'or a top-to-bottom integrated solution.

Products such as BroadVision's are broad-based solutions; they're effectively application server solutions more than content management systems, and they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to deploy.

On the other end of the spectrum are products such as Watchfire's Linkbot Pro and Macrobot, which take on smaller chunks of Web publishing while leaving the development platform choice to the user. These products cost considerably less than broad-based suites.

No matter how complete the product, you'll still need tools to test your site before deployment, and often you'll need still more tools to monitor site usage and log files. But at least you'll have the content under control.

Kevin Jonah, a Maryland network manager and free-lance writer, writes about computer technology.

CompanyProductPlatforms and requirementsThird-party tools with supported integrationContent supportWorkflow/ routingVersioning/ rollback?Site visualization?Integrated development environmentAccess controlSecure remote connections?Price
Allaire Corp.
Cambridge, Mass.
Allaire Spectra 1.0.1NT or SunSoft Solaris; ColdFusion Enterprise Applications Server, Microsoft IIS 4.0; Netscape Enterprise Server 3.5.1 and 3.6, Apache Web Server 1.3.6 and 1.3.9, O'Reilly WebSite, ISAPI or CGINo specific integrationYesYesIn next releaseYesYesLDAP user authentication, OS user authentication, standalone user list authentication, access control listsYes$15,000 up GSA
BroadVision Inc.
Redwood City, Calif.
One-To-One Publishing Version 5.0 and One-To-One EnterprisePublishing: NT 4.0, Oracle 8i database; for Enterprise Application Server: NT, Solaris and HP-UX, and Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, Oracle or Informix databaseMicrosoft Word and PowerPoint; any content creation tool that can generate valid XMLValid XML contentYesYes (element level-XML managed unit)No; done with Design Center (separate product)"Yes: Iona Orbix RSA Bsafe RogueWave Tools.h++ and dbTools.h++NT user groupYes$410,000
eBusiness Technologies
Providence, R.I.
EngendaNT 4.0 with Service Pack 3, 4 or 5; Solaris 2.6 with required patchesNo specific integrationDepends on content supported by app serverYesYesYesNoIntegration with directory serversYes$70,000 up
Eprise Corp.
Framingham, Mass.
Eprise Participant Server 2.6Solaris with Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6.2 and Oracle 8.0.6 or 8.1.6; NT 4.0 with IIS 4.0. SQL Server 6.5 or 7, or Oracle 8.0.5 or 8.1.5 (8i)No specific integrationHTML, script files, binary files, graphicsYesYes, page levelN/AYesBuilt-in, or by LDAP or NT securityYes$60,000 up
Fatwire Corp.
Port Washington, N.Y.
UpdateEngine v. 5Java-based, runs on any system with Java VM, including NT, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX and Linux; runs with Apache, IIS, Domino/Go, Netscape, and Sun JavaWebServer; Integrates with Oracle, DB2, SQL Server and SybaseIntegrates with most third-party toolsYesYesYesYesYesLDAP, or standalone user listYes$100,000 up
InfoOffice Inc.
New York
InfoOffice Red Dot Professional 4.0Server: NT or Win 2000; client runs in standard Web browserNo specific integrationHTML and associated files in the file systemYesYes, page levelYesNoLDAP, NT, NDSBased on Web server configuration$27,500 up
Inktomi Corp.
Fister City, Calif.
Inktomi Content Delivery Suite 3.5SunSoft Solaris 2.6, 2.7; NT 4.0, Win 2000, HP-UX v. 11OEM with Eprise Participant Server; Vignette integration soon availableAny files in an NT or Unix file systemNoOne version file rollbackYesNoSingle shared secretYes, via VPN or SSL tunelContent Distributor, $50,000; Content Manager, $50,000; CDS Agent, $4,000
IntraNet Solutions Inc.
Eden Prairie, Minn.
Xpedio 4.0For NT: NT 4.0, Win 2000; IIS 4.0 or 5.0, or Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6 or 4.0; supports Microsoft Access, SQL Server 7.0, Oracle8 and 8i; For Solaris: SunSoft Solaris 2.6 or 2.7; Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6 or 4.0; supports Oracle8, 8i and Sybase 11No specific integrationNative and scanned files, images, audio, video and graphicsYesYesNoNo (development server license is included)LDAP, NT, Netegrity, NDSYes$40,000 to $180,000
Mortice Kern Systems Inc.
Lombard, Ill.
Web Integrity 3.0NT, SolarisTight integration with macromedia content creation products, as well as Microsoft FrontPage 2000, Visual Interdev and Office 2000Any Web server type, including HTML, JSP and ASP, SSI, MP3, JPEGYesYes, page levelNoNoOS user authentication, standalone user list authentication, access control listsYes$75,000 up
NetObjects Inc.
Redwood City, Calif.
NetObjects CollageFor Collage Server: NT and IBM WebSphere or BEA Weblogic; for deployment servers: NT or SolarisDreamweaver, FrontPage, Fusion, scripting toolsHTML, XML, file-based content, custom codeYesYes, page levelYesYes: TeamFusion ClientIntegrated user modelVPN connections$100,000 up
Running Start Inc.
Tucson, Ariz.
ArticleBase 3.0OS: NT 4.0, Mac OS X, Solaris; For servers: Microsoft IIS, Netscape Enterprise 2.0 or higher, Apache; For database: Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase; WebOpjects Enterprise 4.5 or higherCustom integration availableHTML, XML, Microsoft Excel and Word, C, Javascript, database queriesYesYes, page levelYesYes, WebObjects includedRole-based access to specific functionsYes$100,000 up

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