Creating E-commerce Sites with VisualCommerce Constructor

E-commerce is a mystery to the vast majority of companies. The secrets of networking, advanced Web sites, and secure transaction systems are among the most cryptic of the solutions that define an e-commerce site.

VisualCommerce’s Constructor 1.0 is an application that removes one part of the mystery: creation and maintenance of the core e-commerce site. Constructor is a tool that uses Microsoft technology to achieve its goals of a database-driven commerce site. Site Server 3.0, FrontPage98, and Visual InterDev are the primary tools used to manage a site once VisualCommerce Constructor is used to create it. We built a main test Web site with Constructor, and then built two subordinate commerce sites to support lateral business operations.

To review this product we needed resources steeped in Microsoft tools. We built a standalone server to support the Web sites on Internet Information Service 4.0 and Microsoft Site Server 3.0, replete with the NT Server Option Pack, and a second server that hosted the database platform running Microsoft SQL Server 7.0. We used a third -- but optional -- server to support backend network tasks and network monitoring with load balancing to the site commerce server. The servers needed to support VisualCommerce Constructor must be powerful machines -- Pentium II or Pentium III class, faster than 400 MHz, and 256 MB of installed memory as a minimum.

We first tested on two Pentium Pro 200-MHz single CPU servers, then graduated up to dual-processor Pentium 233MMX and Pentium II 400-MHz, dual-processor machines. As expected, performance smoothed out incrementally on our 500 simulated user tests with each increase in server power. The underlying network should ideally be based on switched 100-MHz devices.

Installation

The installation of the product, contrary to the marketing briefs, took in excess of two business days to create and bring online. Site preparations and server builds with the accompanying software patches and updates to Microsoft tools occupied 90 percent of our time. Then VisualCommerce Constructor took over an hour to install, create and load the database system -- which was done automatically for us -- and bring the basic system online. We encountered several hiccups with the installation process, none of which were catastrophic. The product’s installation reinforced the belief that no 1.0 product is completely smooth.

To ensure a valid test we rebuilt the site twice, taking 18 hours to rebuild each time. We completely wiped out the test servers and reloaded everything from scratch to guarantee the purity of the test environment. Previously noted problems came and went sporadically, which were finally attributed to some bad ASP scripts that were afoul with the SQL and ODBC connections.

Once the site was built, we used Visual InterDev to manage the ASP platform. We anticipated more involvement of VisualCommerce Constructor during the maintenance phases of the site, but this was not the case. The product excels at defining new sites, leaving you to manage them with FrontPage98 and InterDev tools. Site administrators must have fluent knowledge of DBA functions, network support, and programming the ASP environment. We had no problems working with the produced site.

VisualCommerce Constructor 1.0 was a little shaky, as most 1.0 products are, but it did complete its job as advertised. The produced site offered a production-level e-commerce site of good quality. The online documentation was adequate for the task. We would have liked more in-depth and interactive administration of the database system via VisualCommerce Constructor, despite having the SQL Server Enterprise Manager. Since VisualCommerce Constructor created the site, we thought it should have an interactive role in site administration, as well. Overall, the product did a respectable job for hefty task.

VisualCommerce Constructor 1.0
VisualCommerce Inc.
Seattle, Wash.
(206) 618-2660
www.visualcommerce.com

Price: $895

+ Does a respectable job on a difficult task

- Hefty hardware requirements
- Arduous Installation