Site Server, IIS Round Out Internet Offerings
When Microsoft Corp. first released Site Server in 1996 as part of the BackOffice suite, it was basically a tool to manage intranets. It had no substantive features to facilitate e-commerce. That same year, Microsoft acquired E-shop, an online mall that had its own e-commerce technology. With the new technology, Microsoft created Site Server, Enterprise Edition version 2.0, which evolved to Site Server, Commerce Edition, with the release of version 3.0 in 1997.
"In the 3.0 product our primary focus was to extend the capabilities in the business-to-consumer space," says Rebekkah Kumar, Site Server product manager at Microsoft. "We made a more compelling way to engage customers."
There have been no widely reported problems with Site Server 3.0, Commerce Edition, but there is a Service Pack available and a hotfix for people running Site Server 3.0, Commerce Edition, with Membership authentication operating and connecting to an ODBC database.
Kumar says that the advances made with 3.0 were substantial enough that developing another version is well out on the horizon. In the meantime, add-ons will emerge between releases.
Three already released add-ons are the Commerce Interchange Pipeline (CIP) Manager, Auction Component and the Advertiser Report.
The CIP Manager is a snap-in to the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) and eases the operating of CIP, which enables various vendor’s applications within an e-commerce framework to communicate with each other.
With the Auction Component, administrators can run live auctions on a Web site. Users can set reserve prices, minimum bids, start and end dates, bid increments and resolve bid conflicts with user-defined rules. Administrators can also notify auction participants of important news via DHTML, HTML, or e-mail at any interval.
Advertiser Report is an add-on to Site Server 3.0’s release of the Ad Server. Advertiser Report is a self-extracting program that allows you to create logon accounts so advertisers can view real-time performance reports.
In the future, Kumar says customers should look for Microsoft to focus on three key areas. First, the Site Server team will work on XML as the data choice for business data. Second, Kumar wants to make it easier for business people to attain data and integrate it with elaborate features. Finally, Microsoft will heavily invest in personalization by making it easier to track site users and what they do at a specific site.
"We want to make data more a part of the daily routine for each site. [Administrators] may go and begin a promotion based on daily data. That data will be more integrated with the components that will allow you to make business decisions on the site," Kumar says.
She also points out Commerce Edition isn't for everybody. The real advantage of using Commerce Edition is when you need Web site data on a daily basis and want to use that data to change and maintain the site on a regular basis. "There's nothing to stop you from building Active Server Pages and COM on top of IIS," Kumar says. "But we provide not only a service that makes that easier, but add services to help along the way."
Microsoft says the current version of Internet Information Server (IIS) is comprehensive enough that drastic improvements to the product will not be made for some time. Unlike Site Server, IIS 4.0 is bundled with Windows NT Server and manages the lower end tasks of Internet administration.
IIS acts as an integration tool, says Michael Stephenson, Windows NT Server product manager, so a database can be hooked up to the Web without having to redevelop the environment. IIS lets browser users access the front end with one logon and access the back end without having to reauthenticate.
A slightly modified IIS, tagged with version 5.0, will be released with Windows 2000, however, the pending version’s acronym will stand for Internet Information Services rather than Internet Information Server.
Just as IIS 4.0 integrated with COM, IIS 5.0 will integrate with COM+, allowing users to take components running on the middle tier and pass the parameters to the Web server, making them visible via a browser.
Also in IIS 5.0, Microsoft will include dynamic load balancing as opposed to static load balancing, which the company gained with the acquisition of Convoy Cluster technology. Stephenson says this will make scaling Web services easier. "Imagine you have five servers running components and the load is distributed equally across those servers," Stephenson explains. "You can now add another server and the load will automatically distribute to the new server."
Keeping with industry standards, Microsoft announced at Fall Internet World in October that it would support the Internet Engineering Task Force (www.ietf.org) standard WebDAV, or Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning. WebDAV permits users to share and work with server-based documents regardless of the authoring tools, platforms or types of Web servers on which they are stored. "WebDAV will make the Web environment more like a file environment," Stephenson says. So now Internet Explorer will look more like Windows Explorer. This innovation is expected to make Web browsers more viable as workstations.
Since the browser is becoming a widely used interface, new security measures need to be taken to protect the back end data. Stephenson says many administrators are implementing Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption across their sites, but that puts a large hit on performance. For authentication measures, IIS 5.0 will include Digest Authentication, a tool that obfuscates logon data so users don't compromise their logon credentials. Basic authentication sends the data as clear text.
Another improvement set for IIS 5.0 is error handling. Developers will be able to redirect errors to an Active Server Page (ASP) that displays useful information, such as an error description or the line number in an ASP file where the error occurred. Using the error handling capabilities, developers will spend less time writing custom error handling procedures.
Stephenson says integration features and ASPs will be key for IT departments that have not yet integrated their back end data with a Web front end.