Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices

Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Sun ONE Portal
Server 6 Best Practices
Christian Candia—Sun Professional Services
Sun BluePrints™ OnLine—October 2003
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
4150 Network Circle
Santa Clara, CA 95045 U.S.A.
(650) 960-1300
Part No. 817-3836-10
Revision 06, 10/8/03
Edition: October 2003
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Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best
When proposing a technical solution for an specific problem, the first step is to
collect functional and nonfunctional requirements. Generally, these requirements fall
into the following categories:
Most of the time, especially in complex systems, such as portals where content is
aggregated from many different sources, these requirements conflict with each other.
Usually security and ease of use call for different approaches. A very secure site can
be hard to use because it requires complicated, hard-to-remember passwords, or
there are stringent session and inactivity timeouts. In addition, availability and
performance sometimes conflict. For example, to provide session failover, it is
necessary to keep the session in sync on all of the servers. This synchronization adds
some delay to each transaction.
The process of creating a solution involves understanding the trade-offs between all
conflicting requirements and deciding what is more important for a successful
implementation. This article presents some architectural guidelines that are
frequently applied to Sun™ ONE Portal Server 6 software implementations and will
help you to identify and understand potentially conflicting requirements on the
performance and risk categories. After you understand these categories, you should
be able to include the cost and schedule requirements when you define the final
This article presents the best practices for high availability, security, and scalability
that commonly have more impact on the success of a Sun ONE Portal Server
software solution. In addition, the article includes guidelines for creating a Sun ONE
Portal Server software solution that can be easily supported.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Before you read this article, you should have a detailed technical understanding of
the Sun ONE Portal Server 6 software and the Sun ONE Portal Server Secure Remote
Access components, such as the Gateway, the Netlet, the Rewriter proxies, and the
search engine. Also, an in-depth knowledge of the embedded Sun ONE software
products (for instance, the Sun™ ONE Directory Server, the Sun™ ONE Web Server,
and the Sun™ ONE Identity Server) is required.
High Availability
Delivering high services levels is a top priority for all Sun ONE Portal Server
software implementations. You can determine the availability of a system by using a
simple equation, as shown in FIGURE 1.
Availability =
(Uptime + Downtime)
* 100
Availability Equation
As the equation shows, if you decrease the downtime of the system, you can increase
the availability of the system. However, when you measure the downtime, you must
measure the total amount of time the system is unavailable, which should include
the planned downtime (for example, maintenance, backups, and repairs to the
system) and the unplanned downtime (for example, system or network failures).
Some studies show that planned downtime can account for up to 80 percent of the
total time a system is unavailable.
Thus, when you are architecting a solution, you must consider both the planned and
unplanned downtime to ensure that you create a highly available solution.
Availability is affected by all of the components in the system, such as the following
infrastructure components:
Operating system
In addition to these infrastructure components, availability is also affected by people
and processes, so when you are architecting a highly available solution, you must
ensure that the people who will be supporting the solution have the proper training
and skill sets, and you must ensure that clearly defined processes are in place to
support the system.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
For background information on the concept of availability, refer to “Availability What It Means, Why It’s Important, and How to Improve It” (Sun BluePrints™
OnLine, 1999).
In reference to availability, system types can be defined in four ways: noncritical,
task critical, business critical, and mission critical. The noncritical system type is a
basic system that has no requirements for availability. If the system goes down, it
can be repaired in a matter of days without affecting users. This type of system is not
important to the discussion of availability in this article.
Task-Critical Systems
Unlike the noncritical system, the task-critical system does have availability
requirements. If the system goes down, it would affect users, and the performance of
the system could be affected. The best way to achieve the availability levels required
for this kind of system is by using redundancy of services. To optimize the usage of
the system resources, all of the redundant components should be active (that is, they
should not be in standby mode). Replication, load balancing, and service
redundancy must be used to achieve this goal. FIGURE 2 shows the basic design of a
task-critical system.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Task-Critical System Diagram
Gateway Server Availability
As FIGURE 2 shows, in this architecture, there are at least two gateway servers that
are front-ended by a load balancer so that all of the requests are spread across the
gateways. The load balancer must also be configured to detect failures in the
gateways. If a gateway fails, then the load balancer sends all of the requests to the
surviving gateway.
The gateways are a stateless process, so if a gateway fails, all of the sessions
associated with that gateway can be redirected to the other gateway. Users will not
perceive any downtime because the Portal Server session is maintained on the Portal
Server nodes, not in the gateways.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
When you use gateways, it is likely that the resource servers that are being accessed
through the gateways will be on a private network that is protected by a firewall. In
this case, you might want to use a web proxy to access these resource servers so that
a single hole is open in the firewall. Even though the Sun ONE Portal Server
software includes a rewriter proxy, it is not a fully functional web proxy server. For
example, it does not support caching, the Internet Caching Protocol (ICP), and URL
filtering. However, the Sun ONE Web Proxy Server software is a reliable,
inexpensive, and highly configurable web proxy server, which in addition to these
features, provides generic protocol support for a firewall traversal by using
Portal Server Instances
In the architecture depicted in FIGURE 2, the Portal Server instances are installed on
the Sun ONE Web Server as web containers. The Sun ONE Web Server software does
not support replication of user sessions across instances, so when a Portal Server
instance goes down, all of the sessions maintained on that instance are lost. The
same is true if the web container used is an application server, such as the Sun ONE
Application Server Standard Edition, that does not support session failover.
To increase availability of the Portal Server, you can create multiple instances of the
Sun ONE Web Server on the same machine or have multiple instances on multiple
machines. In this way, the number of users affected by a Portal Server instance
failure is minimized. Users that are affected would have to log in to another server.
If an instance fails, the gateway detects the failure and reroutes the requests to one of
the surviving instances. If you are not using the Sun ONE Portal Server Secure
Remote Access software, you must have load balancers to perform the functions of
the gateways, and the load balancers have to detect the failure of a Portal Server
instance and send the requests to one of the surviving instances.
Directory Server Availability
Another important component of the Sun ONE Portal Server software solution is the
Directory Server where the user and services profiles are stored. To remove this
component as a single point of failure, you can use the Sun ONE Directory Server
software’s multi-master replication (MMR) configuration or the Sun™ Cluster
software framework. Because of the loosely consistent replication mechanism of the
Sun ONE Directory Server software, it is possible, albeit very unlikely, that an
update can be lost. If a system failure occurs right after a change has been accepted
by one master, but before the change is replicated to the second master, it is possible
that the change will be lost, and there is no easy way to detect this fact.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
In some very demanding environments, the possibility of losing an update might not
be acceptable. In this case, the best option is to use the Sun Cluster software to
achieve high availability of the Directory Server. The use of the Sun Cluster software
can increase the availability of the system, but the configuration, maintenance, and
monitoring of this environment require more specialized knowledge and very well
defined operational processes.
When you are installing the Portal Server software, you can only specify one LDAP
server, and this server must be a master LDAP server because the installation
process is affected by the propagation delay of the LDAP replication process. To add
multiple LDAP masters or to point the Sun ONE Identity Server to use a consumer
after the installation, you must edit the serverconfig.xml file and add a Server
element for each additional LDAP server. The following example shows the format
of the server entries:
<Server name=Server1 port=389 type=SIMPLE />
<Server name=Server2 port=389 type=SIMPLE />
The Identity Server uses the first entry as the LDAP server for all requests of service,
roles, organization, and user profiles. If that LDAP server fails, the Identity Server
fails over to the next server in the list. There is no round-robin or failback between
the LDAP servers, so if you want to design a solution in which all of the LDAP
servers are used evenly, you will have to use the Sun ONE Directory Proxy Server
software. A load balancer cannot be used because the Sun ONE Identity Server
software uses a pool of connections that are kept open and are reused. The same is
true for the LDAP and membership authentication modules and for the Policy
Configuration service. They can use primary and backup LDAP servers, but you
have to add the failover servers after the installation by using the administration
Planned Downtime
With the architecture shown in FIGURE 2 on page 4, there is redundancy of services,
so most of the unplanned downtime can be minimized or eliminated. However, the
planned downtime is still an issue. For instance, if the Portal Server software must
be updated, services could be affected. If the upgrade or patch includes changes to
the Sun ONE Directory Server software schema used by the Sun ONE Identity
Server software, all of the software components must be stopped to update the
information stored in the Directory Server.
In addition, the Solaris™ Operating System (Solaris OS) patch installation process
does not work if the application services are enabled. Thus, you must shut down all
of the services, patch the system, then bring the system back online. In some
environments, the downtime incurred during the patch process might not be
acceptable. But, with a highly available solution with duplicate services and
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
components, you can use a phased approach for maintaining the system. For
instance, you could remove one Portal Server node from the production
configuration and upgrade it. Then, you could remove one of the gateways from the
production configuration and upgrade it. Afterwards, you could integrate that silo
back into the production configuration and repeat the process for the other silo,
resulting in an upgrade with minimal interruption of service.
In theory, you would not have downtime; however, because of the architecture of the
Portal Server software, it is not possible to just remove one Portal Server instance
from the active configuration without affecting some users because there is no way
to prevent a user from logging in to the server and to keep the active sessions
untouched. Thus, you must create a mechanism to prevent users from logging in to
the server while the gateways still process request from the already-authenticated
users. This can be accomplished by using a custom-developed authentication
Business-Critical Systems
The third type of system is the business-critical system. For this type of system,
availability is a critical requirement because if the system goes down, it could lead to
lost revenue, lost productivity, and customer dissatisfaction. FIGURE 3 shows the
typical configuration of a business-critical system, which builds on the architecture
described for the task-critical system and includes all of its benefits.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Business-Critical System Configuration
To enhance the availability of the system, an application server is used as a web
container for all of the Identity Server and Portal Server services. This configuration
is needed to use the HTTP session failover features of the Application Server. This
maintains a database of all of the sessions that are created in the system, and that
database is accessible to all of the Portal Server instances in the configuration. Thus,
if one Portal Server instance fails, the gateways redirect all of the requests to the
surviving Portal Server, and that Portal Server will be able to validate that the
session is still valid so that the operation will continue to work smoothly.
In the architecture depicted in FIGURE 3, the availability of the system is much higher
than the architecture discussed in the “Task-Critical Systems” section. However, it is
not possible to achieve absolute session failover. Depending on how an application
server instance fails and how and where user sessions are stored and replicated,
newly created individual user sessions might not have been written to the common
database, so they might be lost.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
The Sun ONE Portal Server software, version 6.2, supports BEA’s WebLogic 6.1 and
the Sun™ ONE Application Server 7.0 Enterprise Edition for session failover. When
using BEA’s application server, the WebLogic Cluster software is required to create
an environment in which the sessions are replicated; however, the Sun ONE Portal
Server Secure Remote Access software does not work with the WebLogic Cluster
software. Thus, it is not possible to implement a highly available solution with the
WebLogic software if the gateways are also required.
For the business-critical system, upgrades have a minimum impact. Either Portal
Server node can be taken out of the production configuration without affecting the
users because the sessions are in the shared database and because requests will be
handled by the available Portal Server node.
Mission-Critical Systems
The fourth type of system is the mission-critical system. For the mission-critical
system, failures could have catastrophic results for an organization (for example, loss
of life or serious injury, significant loss of money, serious inability to conduct
business, or serious operational chaos). Most mission-critical systems are usually
custom built using special hardware such as fault-tolerant computers and software.
Data loss, electronic snooping, hacker attacks, unauthorized access, stolen
passwords, and denial of service are just a few of the security issues a portal solution
can face. Protecting the integrity and confidentiality of information is critical. To do
this, the networking environment in which the portal resides must be secure. This
section includes descriptions of how security should affect the configuration of each
component in a Portal Server system.
Security is not just about the infrastructure of a system, it is also about the people,
processes, policies, and architectures. System administrators must be trained in
security-related issues. The processes must account for security issues, and the
policies must include directives that will help to prevent security attacks. Finally, the
architectures must be secured against both external and internal attacks.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Hardening and Minimization
Minimization is especially important in an environment that is exposed to the
Internet or any untrusted network. This is the case on most implementations of the
Sun ONE Portal Server software. In these environments, it is very important to
reduce the Solaris OS installation to the minimum number of packages necessary to
support the hosted applications. This minimization in services, libraries, and
applications helps increase security by reducing the number of subsystems that must
be disabled, patched, and maintained.
Solaris Security Toolkit
The Solaris™ Security Toolkit software, also known as JASS, is a tool designed to
assist in the development, deployment, and maintenance of a secured Solaris OS.
The Toolkit includes a set of shell scripts that implement the recommendations that
are outlined in “Solaris Operating Environment Network Settings for Security:
Updated for Solaris 9 Operating Environment” (Sun BluePrints OnLine, June 2003).
For detailed information about the Toolkit, refer to Securing Systems with the Solaris
Security Toolkit (Prentice Hall, 2003). Used in conjunction with a JumpStart™
software server, the Toolkit can be used to install, minimize, and harden a Solaris OS
server. The Toolkit is used during the OS installation process by using JumpStart
software finish scripts. These scripts are executed after all of the software packages
are installed.
Required Solaris OS Packages
The Sun ONE Portal Server software framework requires only an small subset of the
Solaris OS packages to work properly. For Sun ONE Portal Server software, version
6.1, in addition to packages bundled in the Solaris OS Core software group
(SUNWreq), only SUNWlibC, SUNWadmc, and SUNWadmfw are required to support most
of the Sun ONE Portal Server software components. In addition, if the web container
used by the Sun ONE Portal Server software, version 6.1, is the Sun ONE
Application Server 7 software, a number of extra packages are required (see TABLE 1).
Required Packages for Use With the Sun ONE Application Server 7 Software
Perl 5.6.1 (core)
Iconv modules for UTF-8 Locale
Iconv modules for UTF-8 Locale (64-bit)
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
The Sun ONE Portal Server software, version 6.2, is part of the Java™ Enterprise
System, which uses a common installer for all Sun ONE software applications. To
install version 6.2 of the Sun ONE Portal Server, the packages in TABLE 2 are
Required Packages for Use With the Sun ONE Portal Server 6.2 Software
System administration (core)
System and Network Administration Framework
Sun Workshop Compilers bundled (libC)
Sun Workshop Compilers bundled (64-bit, libC)
The GNU Zip (gzip) compression utility
Federated naming system
Federated naming system (64-bit)
GSSAPI V2 (64-bit)
The Zip compression library
The Zip compression library (64-bit)
Source compatibility (usr)
Netmail is a Java™ technology-based applet that implements a GUI that serves as a
front end to an IMAP4-compliant mail server. The applet uses a servlet to interface
with the mail server. This servlet is installed on the same web container that
supports the Sun ONE Portal Server and Sun ONE Identity Server software. The
servlet uses JNI and the AWT graphic toolkit that is part of the OpenWindows™
software and Motif windowing environments. Consequently, the Solaris OS
packages that contain the AWT libraries and its dependencies also must be installed
on the system if Netmail is used. TABLE 3 lists the required Solaris 9 OS packages.
Required Packages for Netmail
X Window system platform software
X Window system Inter-Client Exchange (ICE) components
Motif runtime kit
Netfile is a Java technology-based file manager application that enables users to have
remote access to FTP, SMB, and NFS based file servers. For Sun ONE Portal Server
6.1 software, to access Microsoft Windows file servers, Netfile uses the smbclient
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
program that is included in the SAMBA open source software suite. For
convenience, a version of SAMBA is included in the Sun ONE Portal Server software
third-party CD in the SUNWsmbac package. Version 6.2 of the Sun ONE Portal Server
software uses the jCIFS toolkit of the SAMBA suite, so there is no need for this
additional package.
To access NFS servers, the Solaris OS packages that contain the NFS client
application and libraries must be installed on the system. TABLE 4 contains the list of
required packages.
Required Packages for NFS Support
NFS client support (root)
NFS client support (usr)
NFS client support for 64-bit systems (root)
Application Ownership
By default, the installation of the Sun ONE Portal Server software is done as the
system superuser (root). All of the components of the Sun ONE Portal Server are
installed and configured to run as root. Unfortunately, there are some security
implications for having the processes running as root. An application bug can be
exploited to gain root access to the system. root access is required to maintain the
Sun ONE Portal Sever software application. This raises potential security concerns
because this responsibility is typically delegated to non-system administrators who
might pose a threat to the system security and integrity.
The Sun ONE Portal Server software documentation contains instructions on how to
change the user ownership of the Sun ONE Portal Server software processes and
files. The document assumes that the same UNIX® user will run all of the services. In
general, it is not recommended to run any application service as the nobody user. A
better approach is to run the different applications under different users. This
ensures that the maintenance of the different components will be done by different
groups of administrators. Instead of creating dedicated or functional users for each
application, it is better to assign the applications to different UNIX roles so that users
can be assigned and removed from the role as needed.
While the traditional UNIX security model is generally viewed as all or nothing, there
are tools that can be used as an alternative to provide additional flexibility. These
tools provide the mechanisms needed to create a fine-grained access control system
in which users can be selectively granted access to individual resources, such as
different UNIX commands.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
The Solaris 8 OS and the Solaris 9 OS support Role-Based Access Control (RBAC),
which provides the ability to package superuser privileges and assign them to user
accounts. RBAC enables separation of powers, controlled delegation of privileged
operations to other users, and a variable degree of access control. This feature of
RBAC enables you to configure the system using default ports (389 for the Directory
Server and 80 for the Portal Server) and have a non-superuser role dedicated to the
management of the application.
Secure Shell
As part of the Solaris Security Toolkit software minimization process, the common
network access protocols, such as Telnet and FTP, are disabled because there is no
way to prevent passwords and data from being transmitted in clear text. Thus, these
protocols are susceptible to eavesdropping. The Toolkit also disables the rlogin,
rcp, and rsh commands. The recommended tool used to provide remote access to a
server is Secure Shell.
Secure Shell encrypts all network traffic, provides strong authentication, and
monitors the integrity of the network session. It provides equivalent replacements
for common commands such as telnet, ftp, and rcp. A description of the features
and different configuration options for Secure Shell can be found in Secure Shell in the
Enterprise (Prentice Hall, 2003). The Solaris™ Secure Shell software is a bundled
component of the Solaris 9 OS, and it is part of the companion CD in the Solaris 8
Secure Socket Layer (SSL)
To increase the security of the Portal Server, HTTP over SSL (HTTPS) can be enabled
on the Portal Server nodes. The Sun ONE Web Server 6 software supports multiple
listening sockets that can be associated with the same virtual server. These listening
sockets can be configured to use either HTTP or HTTPS protocols. Thus, it is
possible to configure the Portal Server to user only HTTP, only HTTPS, or both at the
same time on different ports.
The best option to create a portal site that will use SSL is to do it during the software
installation. The installer will configure all of the Sun ONE Portal Server and Sun
ONE Identity Service software services to use HTTPS. After the software is installed,
everything is configured to use HTTPS, but the X.509 certificate for the server and
the security for the listening socket on the Web Server must be manually enabled
using the administration console on the Web Server.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
LDAP over SSL (LDAPS) can also be used to guarantee integrity and confidentiality
in the access to the information stored in the Directory Server. The Sun ONE
Directory Server software can be configured to listen on both LDAP and LDAPS
default ports simultaneously (ports 389 and 636, respectively).
Setting the LDAP port to 0 completely disables the non-SSL access. This is the
recommended configuration because it guarantees that all LDAP requests will be
protected by the SSL protocol. In this configuration, the Directory Server
administration server also must be configured to use LDAPS to access the directory.
At the same time, access to the administration server should be done using HTTPS.
SSL version 2 and 40-bit and 56-bit ciphers are disabled by default because of known
deficiencies in the protocol implementation and the poor security that those weak
ciphers provide. Most browsers use RC4 as the default cipher for encryption because
it is the fastest cipher and because at the time SSL version 3 was published, RC4 was
fairly secure. However, since its release, some vulnerabilities have been discovered
that might make it theoretically possible to recover the encryption key from the
encrypted data. The 3DES cipher is slower, but it is more secure because it has no
known vulnerabilities. You will need to take the customer’s need for performance
versus the customer’s need for security into account when you decide which cipher
to enable or disable.
Usually, firewalls are configured to drop connections that have been idle for some
predefined time, which varies from minutes to hours. This can cause a problem for
Netlet connections if a firewall is between the user’s browser and the gateway. To
avoid this problem, the Netlet keep-alive attribute must be set to a time shorter than
the firewall timeout. This will force the gateway to send a package to the Netlet
applet that will reset the idle timer of the firewall.
The same problem can occur if there is a firewall between the Sun ONE Portal Server
software node and the server that hosts the Directory Server. The Sun ONE Identity
Server software uses a pool of open connections to access the LDAP server. If any
connection is idle for a longer time than the idle timeout of the firewall, the
connection will be closed. The Identity Server will believe the LDAP server is down
and will failover to the next LDAP server if it is configured. To prevent this problem,
you should set the maximum connection time in the LDAP server.
In previous versions of the Sun ONE Portal Server software (prior to version 6.2), the
Netlet used a proprietary protocol that mimics the SSL semantics, but did not
implement the SSL handshake protocol, which is required for some firewalls to keep
track of the valid SSL sessions. Because of this reason, the Netlet component did not
work with proxy firewalls. These firewalls analyze every protocol encapsulated in
the network packet, and because the Netlet packet did not have a valid SSL session
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
ID, a proxy firewall would drop the packets. This limitation has been removed in the
latest version of the Sun ONE Portal Server Secure Remote Access software. In this
version, the Netlet uses the SSL protocol as a transport.
Identity Server Administration Console
The administration console in the Sun ONE Identity Server software is used to
configure every aspect of the Identity Server software. It is used to create
organization, users, and policies and to modify services. In most cases, it is not
desirable that ordinary users have access to the administration console. The best
option is to completely disable the administration console on the servers that will be
accessed from the Internet and to install it on a dedicated server on a protected
network. In version 6.1 of the Sun ONE Portal Server software, there is no option
during the installation to not install the administration console. To disable the
administrative console, it was necessary to remove the administration console
application (amconsole) from the web container. In the Sun ONE Web Server 6
software, this can be done using the following command:
# /opt/SUNWam/servers/bin/https/httpadmin/bin/wdeploy delete u /amconsole\
-i https-<Server FQDN> -v https-<Server FQDN> soft
The delegated administration and self-service features of the Sun ONE Identity
Server software are also accessed through the administration console URL.
Removing the administration console will also remove these features from the
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Penetration Testing
It is common for companies to perform penetration testing to verify that the system
complies with all of the security policies and that there are no exploitable security
holes. Penetration testing involves intentional hacking into a system to find failures
and/or misconfigurations that enable users to open a valid session on the Portal
Server or to gain illegal access to the system. This testing must be done by someone
who is very familiar with hacking tools and is able to analyze the output of the tools.
Even though most, if not all, of the tools are available on the Internet, the planning,
execution, and result analysis must be done by a certified UNIX security consultant.
Intrusion Detection
Despite the use of firewalls, a second level of defense is needed. Firewalls are
usually configured to allow common Internet traffic (for example, SSL, HTTP, and
SMTP). Network attacks can still be made using one of these protocols. For example,
HTTP is being used as a transport not only for HTML, but also for SOAP, SAML,
and other protocols that can be used to interact with applications. These protocols
can be exploited to carry some specific attacks to try to exploit software
Intrusion detection involves detecting network security attacks within the system.
Specific tools are used to detect the intrusions, and after an intrusion is detected,
additional tools are needed to conduct intrusion forensics, nonrepudiation, and
selective logging. None of these tools are provided with the Portal Server software.
When any of these attacks occur, the intrusion detection system will notice them and
will stop the attackers before they can reach systems and data.
In maintaining a secure system, it is important to monitor the system to ensure that
files have not been changed. You can use Tripwire to check every file on the system.
Tripwire ( can be used to monitor file changes, verify
integrity of data, and notify the system administrator of any violations. Tripwire
makes it possible to establish network policies that detect intentional tampering,
user error, software failure, malicious software, and open-door systems.
In addition, the Solaris OS Software Fingerprint Database (sfpDB) is a free SunSolve
OnlineSM service that enables users to verify the integrity of files distributed with the
Solaris OS. The checksums of the system files must be updated after the system is
modified by patch or software installations. The issue with existing tools has always
been verifying that the files used to generate the baseline checksums are correct and
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
The Fingerprint Database addresses the issue of validating the base files provided by
Sun. This includes files distributed with the Solaris OS media kits, unbundled
software, and patches. The Fingerprint Database provides a mechanism to verify
that a true file in an official binary distribution is being used and not an altered
version that compromises system security and causes other problems.
Scalability is described as how well an architecture will perform when the size of the
system increases. Scalability is usually divided in two types: vertical and horizontal.
Vertical scaling basically means putting more resources into the system to increase
performance. Horizontal scaling basically means adding more servers to the
For solutions based on the Sun ONE Portal Server software, scalability is one of the
factors that will define an architecture. This section describes how each component
of the Sun ONE Portal server scales and what the common problems and limitations
to overcome are.
Portal Server Instance Scalability
The Sun ONE Portal Server software can scale up to four CPUs for a single instance.
This limit is due to the garbage collection system of the underlying Java VM, which
becomes a bottleneck under heavy loads. If the Sun ONE Web Server is used as a
web container, the Sun ONE Portal Server software can support multiple instances of
the web server on the same machine. In this way, it can it can scale vertically.
When an Application Server is used as a web container, multiple instances on the
same machine are not supported, so the only way to scale is horizontally by adding
more servers to the configuration. In both cases, a load balancer or gateway servers
should be used to provide a single system image.
The Sun ONE Portal Server software distribution contains a tuning utility that
automates the tuning of a Portal Server node. The perftune script tunes the Solaris
OS kernel and TCP parameters, and it modifies the Sun ONE Web Server software,
the Sun ONE Directory Server software, the Sun ONE Identity Server software, and
the Sun ONE Portal Server software configuration files.
The script implements two tuning strategies:
Production optimum for a high level of user requests from a small number of
Production large for a low level of requests from a large number of users
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
The perftune script changes the application’s configuration parameters to values
that had been found to generally increase portal throughput, but it is possible that
further tuning will be required to achieve optimum performance. These changes
must be tested and validated on each portal installation. Such tuning should be done
by someone who has an in-depth understanding of the Portal Server component
Gateway Scalability
The gateways can scale both vertically by running multiple instances of the Java
technology-based process that implements the gateway and horizontally by adding
more servers to the configuration. The best option is to use multiple small servers
with up to four CPUs for the gateways, accessed through a load balancer. In this
way, not only is it easy to scale the system if more power is required by adding
another server to the configuration, but the load balancer can also failover requests if
the gateway server goes down. The same applies to the Netlet and Rewriter proxies,
except that a load balancer is not required because the gateways will distribute the
connections in a round-robin manner among all of the available Netlet and Rewriter
The only case in which it is recommended to use multiple gateway instances on the
same server is when the gateway must be accessed through different URLs. In this
case, each URL can have its own X.509 certificate associated with it. The only way to
implement this is with multiple gateway instances because each instance uses a
single certificate.
The gateways have been tested with most commercial load balancers, such as
Alteon, Cisco CSS, BigIP, and Central Dipatch. However, the load-balancing
requirement for the gateway is very basic: load balancing should be based on the
SSL session ID. There is no need for the load balancer to analyze the HTTP header or
use complex content management operations. The most cost-effective solution is to
use an inexpensive load balancer that supports persistence based on the SSL session
ID. The use of a software load balancer is probably the best option because it can be
installed on the same server that is supporting the gateway; thus, there is no
requirement to purchase, monitor, or maintain additional hardware.
Directory Server Scalability
To avoid a bottleneck in the access to the Directory Server, especially when multiple
Portal Server instances are used, you should use a Directory Server instance installed
on each Portal Server node. Without it, the requests from the Identity Server to the
LDAP server could saturate the network connection between the Portal Server and
the Directory Server. If a consumer is used, the replication protocol will be more
efficient than pointing the Identity Server to use an LDAP server on a different
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
machine. The only caveat is that the Identity Server administration console must be
used against an LDAP master server because the Identity Server is affected by the
propagation delay of the replication protocol.
SSL Accelerators
SSL encryption and decryption can use a lot of processor cycles, limiting the number
of SSL transactions per second that the system can sustain. To increase the ability to
handle SSL transactions, as well as to reduce processor overhead, it is common to
offload SSL processing from the server to a dedicated board installed on the system
(internal SSL accelerator) or to a network device (external SSL accelerator).
External SSL accelerators, such as Cisco’s CSS SSL module, are not supported on the
Portal Server instances. Internal SSL accelerators, such as the Sun™ Crypto
Accelerator 1000 board, will only accelerate the establishment of an SSL session, not
the bulk encryption. Thus, SSL accelerators are a good option for portals for which
there are a lot of short-lived sessions (that is, sessions lasting only a few minutes). If
sessions are kept open for long periods of time, the accelerators will provide very
little relief.
The Netlet component of the Sun ONE Portal Server software also does not support
external accelerators, but you can use internal SSL accelerators. However, because
the Netlet is used to proxy TCP sessions that tend to be of long duration, it is very
unlikely that an SSL accelerator will provide significant gains in performance.
The sizing of a Portal Server is an extremely difficult task because it is impossible to
test and benchmark all of the applications that can be sent through the portal
solution. Sizing is also difficult because each customer might want to integrate
applications in different ways, possibly using their own customizations. There is a
Sun internal Portal Server sizing tool, as mentioned in the Sun ONE Portal Server
Deployment Guide. This sizing tool was built using benchmarks that simulated a
limited number of possible scenarios.
To adapt the results from the tools to the reality of a given Portal Server, the sizing
tool requires you to use a SHARP factor to propose the number of CPUs that are
needed to support the Portal Server software. The SHARP factor summarizes in a
single number the differences between your environment and the environment used
as the baseline for factoring the sizing tool. Because the performance details of the
desired production environment are not known and the scenarios used to build the
sizing tool are not fully disclosed, a certain amount of guesswork is needed to obtain
a final configuration using this tool.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
A more scientific approach is to use the concept of building blocks, as explained in
the Sun ONE Portal Server Deployment Guide. You can use the sizing tool to determine
a building block size (that is, what kind of servers should be used as the Portal
Server nodes). Then, you can use that building block size to implement a pilot that
integrates most of the applications that will be accessed through the Portal Server
and test this configuration with a limited number of real users.
The usage patterns of the users can be collected and used to create a load test script
for any commercial load-testing tool. The test script enables you to obtain a detailed
load curve for the building block. With this information, you can size your
production architecture, based on the applications to be integrated and the expected
number of users of the system. You can also use the load curve to predict when a
building block needs to be added to the production architecture or when the number
of users reaches a certain limit.
Supportability of the Sun ONE Portal Server software is critical to achieve the
required performance levels of the proposed solution. To achieve this, you must
consider the establishment of a preproduction environment, the creation of
organization-specific directories to contain the templates and pages that are used to
implement the look and feel of the organization, the use of a well-defined process to
install customizations on every production server, and the creation of a
comprehensive set of customer-ready documents that describes the implemented
Preproduction Environment
To test and plan the installation of patches and customizations to the different Portal
Server components, you must create a preproduction, or staging environment. This
environment must be identical to the production environment. Many customers fail
to realize that this system is critical to achieve the levels of availability, security, and
supportability that they require. Before a patch or fix can be put into the production
system, the proper installation process needs to be defined, tested, and documented.
This build document should also include how to roll back changes if necessary, and
what the expected downtime of the system is. After the patch is installed on the
staging server, it must be tested to ensure that there are no new security holes
associated with this change.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
Look-and-Feel Templates
You should create organization-specific directories that contain the HTML and
JavaServer Pages™ (JSP™) technology templates that are used to implement the look
and feel of the organization. This is a good practice, even for a server with a single
In the Sun ONE Portal Server 6.2 software, the default desktop templates and JSP
technology templates are located in the /etc/opt/SUNWps/desktop/default
directory. You can copy the contents of this directory to a new directory under
/etc/opt/SUNWps/desktop and modify the files that are used to implement the
desired look and feel. To have the Portal Server to use this directory instead of the
default directory, change the desktop type attribute in the organization’s Desktop
service by using the administration console.
In addition, you should remember that the look-and-feel templates that are included
with the Sun ONE Portal Server software are just samples of what can be done with
the Sun ONE Portal Server framework. You do not have to use them. In some cases,
it will be more efficient to create a complete new and simple set of templates. If this
is the case, there is an option during the installation to not install the sample portal.
Even if the sample portal is used, the JSP technology templates need to be cleaned
up to remove unused elements. The sample desktop includes several channels and
containers just to show what is possible to do. Most of the time, a small fraction of
the elements defined in the sample portal are actually used. Streamlining the
desktop templates will make the desktop more manageable and easier to maintain.
This is also valid for the display profile, which is used to manage the user’s visible
containers and channels. The default display profile, which is installed with the
sample portal, should be trimmed to contain just the necessary definitions.
The HTML and JSP technology templates used during the authentication process are
stored in the /opt/SUNWam/web-apps/services/config/auth directory. By
creating a subdirectory underneath this directory with the modified copies of these
templates, you can create a specific look and feel for each organization.
Installation of Customizations
To apply a new set of customizations or patches to a system in production, it is
necessary to create a well-defined process to install these customizations on every
production server. Often these processes are defined in the Run Books for the
system. The processes should define what to do in case the customizations need to
be backed out.
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
It is a good practice to automate the installation process as much as possible through
the use of custom installation scripts and to avoid manual steps in the installation
process as much as possible. In addition, the installation process should include very
detailed installation instructions.
Although they are more complex to create, the best approach is to create custom
Solaris OS packages that can be applied, removed, and patched using the standard
Solaris OS tools, such as pkgadd(1M) and pkgrm(1M). This also enables you to
quickly verify what version of the customizations are installed by querying the
Solaris OS package database.
It is also important to maintain a good tracking system to keep track of changes on
the customizations. This enables you to easily roll back changes if regression
problems are found. The preferred tools for change control systems and to build
applications are the open source tools CVS and ANT.
One of the most important mechanisms to increase the supportability of a system is
to create a comprehensive set of customer-ready documents that describe the
implemented solution. Unfortunately, because the documentation has to be done at
the end of the project when time and money are usually running low, the
documentation phase is usually reduced to the absolute minimum. The areas that
must be documented to create a supportable solution are:
System architecture
Software installation and configuration
Operational procedures (also known as Run Books)
Software customizations
Custom code
Third-party product integration
Third-Party URLs
Third-party URLs are referenced in this document and provide additional, related
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
Note – Sun is not responsible for the availability of third-party Web sites mentioned
in this document. Sun does not endorse and is not responsible or liable for any
content, advertising, products, or other materials that are available on or through
such sites or resources. Sun will not be responsible or liable for any actual or alleged
damage or loss caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such
content, goods, or services that are available on or through such sites or resources.
About the Author
Christian Candia has been with Sun Microsystems for more than eleven years in
different roles in Engineering, Professional Services, and Sales and Support
organizations. Over the last five years, he has focused on customer implementations
of the Sun ONE software stack, with special dedication to the Sun ONE Portal Server
software and related components. Currently, Christian works as a Solutions
Architect for the Sun Professional Services Vertical Solutions Expertise Center where
he focuses on creating reference architectures, implementation guides, and best
practices to support Sun ONE Portal Server software solutions.
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Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices
Sun ONE Portal Server 6 Best Practices • October 2003
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