You're not just dreaming if you think your NT server can support everything from the Internet to mainframe apps-server suites like BackOffice can extend your network's reach.
By Ram Tackett
Funny thing about a network-once you get everyone in your organization connected and talking to each other, it doesn't take long before they want to do more. Like hooking up to other computers, accessing the Internet, tapping into a variety of databases ...
To beef up your NT network, you could sift through an array of third-party offerings and cobble together a set of add-on packages that extend your network's capabilities. Or you could take the easy route with an all-in-one solution. In fact, server suites are a network administrator's dream come true.
Integrated, server-based software suites that offer services such as support for communication with mainframes and minicomputers, Internet protocols and formats, and a soup-to-nuts collection of data formats-SNA, ODBC, SQL, SMTP/MIME and HTML-are available from industry leaders like Microsoft, IBM and Netscape. While each vendor puts a different spin on its suite, they all offer something-if not a complete solution-for an NT network.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft's BackOffice is the most entrenched of the NT server-based suites. First shipped in 1994, BackOffice 2.0 has been available since May, and the next revision, version 3.0, is expected by early next year.
BackOffice, like its competitors, was initially brought to market as a family of individual applications. It has since become available as a single integrated product. You can choose to buy the individual BackOffice components separately or purchase all of them as a single package.
All components of the BackOffice bundle must be installed on a single server, making it more appropriate for small companies or branches of large corporations rather than an enterprise. Larger network installations with multiple servers might be better off buying BackOffice components individually and installing them on separate servers.
BackOffice 2.0 includes NT Server 3.51, Exchange Server 4.0, SQL Server 6.5, SNA Server 2.11, Internet Information Server 1.0 (IIS) and Systems Management Server 1.1 (SMS). NT Server 4.0 (the latest version of NT) includes the Microsoft Proxy Server (once code-named Catapult) and the Microsoft Index Server.
BackOffice's backbone is, of course, NT Server. NT handles file and print services, as well as applications services, and was designed as a scalable, portable network operating system, so it can grow with your organization. NT can run on single-processor or symmetrical multiprocessor (SMP) machines, and on several CPU platforms, including Intel, Mips, Digital Alpha and PowerPC.
In addition to NT Server itself, two other BackOffice components have been updated. The recently refurbished Exchange is a client-server messaging system with built-in group scheduling. Exchange supports X.400 and Internet mail standards (SMTP/MIME), and includes tools to migrate data from several other e-mail systems including Lotus cc:Mail, IBM PROFS, Digital's ALL-IN-1 and Verimation Memo.
The other revamped BackOffice component is SQL Server, NT's client-server relational database management system. SQL Server is one of the fastest databases available for NT-at least according to Microsoft, which claims it's about 25 percent faster than the competition. SQL Server offers interoperability, so you can replicate its data to other database systems, such as Oracle, Sybase, Access and DB2.
To hook up to a legacy application running on a mainframe or midrange system, you use BackOffice's SNA Server. SNA Server's client-side independence lets your PCs talk to the big iron, as long as they can talk to Windows NT via protocols like TCP/IP, IPX and NetBEUI. These communications hookups include dial-up connections via NT's Remote Access Service (RAS), as well as ODBC drivers. All of this adds up to Windows PCs that can access host-based databases such as DB2 for MVS, DB2 for VM and DB2/for OS/400.
IIS is the only Web server that is fully integrated with NT Server 4.0. It includes ftp and gopher services for the Internet and corporate intranets, and supports Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) communication, which permits the exchange of encrypted data between clients and IIS servers. Besides connectivity, BackOffice offers network management tools. SMS helps you manage networked PCs with features like hardware and software inventory, software distribution and installation, and remote diagnostics.
You can also use SMS to track network and computer performance using Network Monitor in conjunction with a promiscuous-mode (PMode) network interface card (NIC). Setting a LAN card into PMode forces it to examine all frames on the network, rather than just broadcast frames addressed to that specific NIC. You can find a list of PMode NICs at http://mucha.vse.cz:8080/home/novlabs/infosys/10047.htm.
Microsoft Proxy Server provides Internet caching and security. It straddles firewall and proxy capabilities, serving as the middleman between requests from client PCs and the Internet. Proxy Server supports most Internet protocols, including HTTP, ftp, RealAudio (streaming audio), VDOLive (streaming video) and IRC (real-time chat), in addition to mail and news protocols. It also supports Novell's IPX/SPX transport, so you don't have to deploy TCP/IP on your private network to give your enterprise Internet access.
Microsoft Index Server (code named Tripoli) is now bundled with NT Server 4.0. Working in conjunction with IIS, it content-indexes HTML and Office documents, so users can build more accurate and selective search queries.
BackOffice noses out its competition because of its ease of use and integration. Early versions started this trend by packaging all client and server installations onto a single CD with a unified installer routine; in recent iterations, the installer has been improved, with features like automatic detection for required service packs.
The addition of simplifying procedures like SQL Server's DBA Wizard gives BackOffice a more user-friendly feel. A boon to companies without a dedicated database administrator, DBA Wizard makes it easy to back up databases and pull out stored procedures.
Microsoft's integration philosophy ensures a tight fit between an NT network and the services it provides or provides access to. Each product is tightly integrated with NT Server using common directory and security models, as well as common administration tools. And products in the BackOffice family integrate with Microsoft Office apps. For example, SMS Server stores its network inventory database with SQL Server, and you can query the database using Excel, Word or Access. Finally, BackOffice integrates with other systems, working with products that haven't trotted out of Microsoft's stable of apps, such as Oracle, UNIX, Lotus Notes and many others.
The next release of BackOffice will feature updates to virtually all of its applications. But expect the revisions to be incremental (SMS will go from version 1.1 to 1.2, for example) rather than major product overhauls.
Exchange will become more Internet-aware, opening Exchange public folders to Web browsers. The app will also add support for Internet newsgroups hosted within Exchange public folders.
Security will also be improved. NT Server 4.0 added increased Internet security with point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP). This creates multiple-protocol virtual private networks (VPNs) that afford users a low-cost, private connection to a corporate network via the Internet. Authentication of users is accomplished through existing NT RAS authentication protocols. You'll need PPTP software on both client and server, or an Internet service provider with PPTP-capable access.
Microsoft's Internet commerce product (code-named Merchant) won't be ready in time for BackOffice 3.0, but it will arrive soon after. A Media Server that provides streaming video and audio, and Microsoft's version of a TP monitor (code-named Viper), are also expected soon.
As the BackOffice bandwagon gains steam, look for more integrated, third-party products. Microsoft's "designed for BackOffice" program certifies third-party offerings; a list of vendors participating in the program is available at http://www.microsoft.com/backoffice/designed.
You can find more information about BackOffice itself at http://www.microsoft.com/backoffice/.
While Microsoft is positioning BackOffice for dominance in the NT server suite market, it's not without competition-and that competition comes from a couple of formidable players. The old hand in the suite fray is IBM, and the new kid on the block is Netscape. Both offer packages that provide similar services to those of BackOffice, but given those companies' roots, their products reflect their particular strengths.
IBM's Software Servers-debuted last March as a repackaging of existing products. The seven pieces of IBM's collection are Lotus Notes 4, IBM Internet Connection Server, IBM DB2 Database Server, IBM Communications Server, IBM Directory and Security Server, Tivoli Systems Management Server and the IBM Transaction Server. These products are only available la carte so don't look for a bundled package.
Communications Server offers gateways for exchanging information among different computer systems. DB2 Database Server is a powerful relational database management system based on IBM's DB2 technology. This program Server can store, manipulate and retrieve a wide variety of data types using SQL.
A powerful, scalable set of services for distributed computing environments comes in the form of Directory and Security Server. This part of the package includes directory or location services, as well as a secure method of access. Another component, Internet Connection Server, enables a server to provide information over the Internet or an intranet.
Groupware and messaging functions are covered by Lotus Notes. Notes supports information from various sources, including relational databases, transaction systems, e-mail, desktop applications and the Internet.
Systems Management Server is a set of tools for managing client-server systems. It includes performance and real-time usage monitors. The latest version of this component is called the SystemView Server.
You can manage application and data resources across the network with Transaction Server, an enterprise-wide server coordinator and integrator. It manages application and data resources across the network. Use Transaction Server to create a distributed client/server environment for online transaction processing and other critical applications.
You can learn more about IBM Software Servers at http://www.software.hosting.ibm.com/is/sw-servers/index.html.
Only three of the components-Lotus Notes, Internet Connection Server and DB2 Database Server-currently run on NT. The rest require OS/2 or AIX, although NT versions of the remainder of the suite are expected in the first quarter of 1997. Right now, however, CICS for Windows NT is available, and the company's NetFinity brand of products for NT offers some of BackOffice's SMS functionality.
The IBM Software Servers integrate with larger systems running on AS/400 and MVS platforms as well as OS/2, NT and AIX. But there is a drawback to this cross-platform approach: Its security isn't based on the Windows NT model. Security features are available through the IBM Directory and Security Server, based on Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) initiatives.
Large enterprises, particularly those running customer transaction systems, should be interested in IBM's Transaction Server, a product based on IBM's CICS technology.
Netscape's playfully named SuiteSpot is also new to the scene and, like IBM's suite, is a bundle of existing products. The SuiteSpot smorgasbord includes Enterprise Server, LiveWire Pro, Mail Server, News Server, Catalog Server, Directory Server, Certificate Server and Proxy Server. You can buy each server separately, or get LiveWire Pro and any combination of five servers at a discounted price.
Catalog Server provides indexing, searching and browsing of content and services on an intranet, while Certificate Server issues and manages public-key certificates (based on the X.509 standard) and security keys for users and servers to provide intranet security.
A universal directory service for enterprise-wide management of user, access-control and server configurations is available in Directory Server. It's based on the LDAP Internet standard. Enterprise Server provides the foundation of an intranet by publishing content and running online applications.
LiveWire Pro is a visual development environment for creating live content and applications that can connect to legacy database systems. Open-systems e-mail is enabled across an intranet and the Internet by Mail Server, which is based on SMTP and MIME Internet mail standards.
You can set up secure discussion groups based on the same format as USENET newsgroups with News Server. Newsgroups allow team collaboration and easy information exchange. Proxy Server replicates and filters content, thus improving performance and network security.
You can read more about Netscape's current and planned products at http://home.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/white_paper/intranet/vision.html.
SuiteSpot for NT runs on Intel, Alpha and Mips platforms; there are also UNIX versions of the suite. All NT versions support threads and asynchronous I/O, and make use of NT's built-in performance and event-monitoring capabilities.
While other vendors are scrambling to add Internet connectivity to their feature sets, Netscape is expanding its current feature set based on core Internet technologies. Plans for SuiteSpot's software distribution model stand out from the rest of the server-suite crowd, allowing downloadable upgrades. But the suite lacks SNA connectivity, so 3270 terminal emulation and features must be provided by third-party apps.
Microsoft's BackOffice is out in front of the NT server suite pack, but Netscape and IBM's collection of server products bear watching. Because Microsoft provides the operating system, it's natural to assume it'll grab the lion's share of this market.
Even so, IBM-with its cross-platform strength-and Internet-savvy Netscape should have some say in how the server pie gets divvied up. Both of the newcomers are expected to own healthy slices of the market within their areas of expertise.
|Product||Company||Complete suite price|
|IBM Software Servers||IBM Corp. 800-IBM-CALL, 520-574-4600 http://www.software.ibm.com/||Separate product pricing||Lotus Notes 4, $495 (single processor); $2,295 (SMP) per server; $69 per client|
|Microsoft BackOffice 2.0||Microsoft Corp. 800-426-9400 http://www.microsoft.com||$2,199 (5 users, not including site licensing); BackOffice Client, $4,179 (20 users) Exchange 4.0, $999 (5 users)||Exchange|
|Netscape SuiteSpot||Netscape Communications Corp. 415-937-2555 http://home.netscape.com||$995 per server component; Suite, $3,995 for LiveWire plus any 5 servers; client license, Navigator 3.0, 49||Mail Server; News Server|
|Product||Groupware||Network protocol support||Database||SNA|
|IBM Software Servers||Lotus Notes||APPC, IPX/SPX, NetBIOS, TCP/IP||Database Server, $999 per server, $149 per client; Transaction Server, $699 per server, $299 per client||Communications Server, $699 per server|
|Microsoft BackOffice 2.0||Exchange||Appletalk, ADSP, DECnet, IPX, NetBEUI, TCP/IP x||SQL Server 6.5, $999||SNA Server 2.11, $409|
|Netscape SuiteSpot||News Server; Mail Server||NT (Intel, Alpha and Mips), UNIX, TCP/IP||LiveWire Pro, $695||Available from third-party vendor|
|Product||Network security||Management||Internet/intranet||Server OS|
|IBM Software Servers||Directory and Security Server; prices not available||Tivoli System Management Server; price not available||Internet Connection Server (NT), $99 or free download||NT (Intel-based), OS/2, AIX|
|Microsoft BackOffice 2.0||NT Server 3.51, $699||SMS Server 1.1, $649||Internet Information Server 1.0, $99.95 or free download; Index Server and Proxy Server (part of NT)||NT (all versions by early 1997)|
|Netscape SuiteSpot||Certificate Server; Directory||Server; Enterprise Server||All will support SNMP; LiveWire Pro manages Java-based software distribution||Enterprise Server; Catalog Server; Proxy Server|
Ram Tackett is an industry analyst with Currid & Company. Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.