The next generation of Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition

I've spent the past 4 weeks with a pre-beta version of Microsoft Commerce Server 2000, the follow-up product to Microsoft Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition. If you haven't seen this product yet, let me tell you that it's fantastic, and the features you get for free are incredible. In Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition, you needed programming to unleash almost every feature. In Commerce Server 2000, Microsoft has crafted the product so well that in many cases, you just turn a feature on and it works on your Web site. And Commerce Server 2000 installation is a breeze! Whereas Microsoft acknowledges that Site Server is extremely difficult to install and configure, the exact opposite is the case for Commerce Server 2000. This month, I give you a preview of three administrative tools that come with Commerce Server—Site Packager, Server Manager, and Microsoft Business Desk.

Commerce Server 2000 Site Packager
Site Packager solves a big problem of Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition: replication of a site and its components. Site Packager, which Figure 1, page 2, shows, is a deployment tool that you can use to package your site, applications, and resources into one file, which you can then move to another computer. The executable file (i.e., package) that Site Packager creates includes Microsoft IIS metabase data, folders and files, resource configurations, database schemas, and (optionally) data, whether it's in the Commerce Server administration database or another database. You can use Site Packager to unpackage a site onto one computer or to unpackage resources onto different computers. Advanced options let you package and unpackage any combination of individual site resources. Site Packager is smart enough to generically package site resources, thereby avoiding server-specific items.

Commerce Server 2000 Server Manager
Server Manager, which Figure 2, page 2, shows, is a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in for configuring Commerce Server sites and resources, running services, and maintaining databases. The systems administrator, who is most likely responsible for the day-to-day administration of Commerce Server 2000, is usually also responsible for administering IIS. Although Commerce Server runs on top of IIS, the relationship between IIS and Commerce Server objects isn't strictly hierarchical. The total set of properties that affect a Commerce Server site includes properties that are

  • Set at the IIS level only
  • Set within Commerce Server only, independent from IIS
  • Inherited from IIS

You use the IIS snap-in to manage Web site access permissions and security, performance, and directories and paths, and to identify Web site names, IP addresses, and ports just as you always have. You can use Server Manager to perform these tasks:

Manage resources. Use Server Manager to manage global and site Commerce Server resources, configure Commerce Server-specific properties and database connection strings for resources, and add and remove Web servers from an application.

Specify IIS information and configure properties. At the Commerce Server application level, specify the IIS application path, the IIS Web site, nonsecure and secure host names, and the IP port and secure IP port. You can also configure properties to enable HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer (HTTPS), enable autocookies, and select an authentication filter. These properties apply to all the Web servers that the application uses. Be aware that when you change port properties in Commerce Server, they don't automatically change in IIS. The port properties in IIS are the properties that IIS actually uses. If you change the port properties in IIS, you must change them in Commerce Server, too. Make a mental note of this behavior now, because I guarantee that failure to change Commerce Server port properties will give you fits when you try to debug related problems.

At the Commerce Server Web server level, you can view and change properties for the IP address, log file path, and log file period. Fortunately, you can also synchronize these properties with the IIS metabase. Commerce Server Web servers inherit their properties from IIS and store them in the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 or SQL Server 7.0 administration database, MSCS_Admin, for ease of access. If the IIS properties change, you need to synchronize the MSCS_Admin database either by manually updating the new values or by clicking Synchronize on the Properties dialog box.

Server Manager's Global Resources folder contains resources that are available to all commerce sites (i.e., Predictor, Group Mail, Biz Data Service, Data Warehouse, and CS Authentication). The Commerce Sites folder contains administrative folders (i.e., b2csite) for grouping the resources, applications, and Web servers that the site uses. Within the b2csite folder is the Site Resources folder, which contains both global and site-level resources that the site uses. The Applications folder contains the Web sites (i.e., b2cSite and b2cBizDesk) and the Web servers on which they run. All these resources are available to you when you add them to your site. In Commerce Server 2000, you can select which resources to add on a case-by-case basis (unlike Site Server 3.0, in which you had to add all the features or none of them).

After you've installed Commerce Server on at least one computer, Microsoft recommends that you set up an administration-only console on a separate computer. An administration-only computer has only Server Manager installed, and it connects MSCS_ Admin on your SQL Server 2000 or SQL Server 7.0 server. Microsoft recommends considering an administration-only computer if

  • You want to use your existing computer with minimal upgrades. An administration-only computer has fewer software and configuration requirements than those for a full Commerce Server installation. This computer can run Windows 2000 Professional rather than Win2K Server, it doesn't require that you install IIS, and it doesn't require an NTFS partition (although Microsoft recommends it).
  • You want the option of administering Commerce Server from different locations. Administration-only computers can be on either side of a firewall; however, they must be in the same domain as Commerce Server.

An administration-only computer must have 1161KB of available space on the hard disk and connectivity to the existing MSCS_Admin.

Microsoft Business Desk
Business Desk, which Figure 3 shows, is a tool for managing Commerce Server 2000 Web sites. When I first saw Business Desk, I was shocked. Win2K has an amazing lack of Web-based administration tools: All the management tools are MMC snap-ins. In Site Server 3.0, every administrative tool had a Web-based equivalent. But after using Business Desk for a couple minutes and watching it behave, I said to myself, "Wait a minute—this isn't a Win32 application." And sure enough, when I looked at the properties of the Business Desk shortcut, I found that it's an HTML application. HTAs are full-fledged applications written in HTML. HTAs are trusted and display only the menus, icons, toolbars, and title information that the Web developer creates—not the standard menus from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0. In short, HTAs pack all the power of IE 5.0—its object model, performance, rendering power, protocol support, and channel-download technology—without enforcing the strict security model and user interface (UI) of the IE browser.

Consequently, Business Desk provides a Web-based framework for hosting business-management modules and provides both remote access and extensibility. The Microsoft Commerce team has developed 20 modules that perform common business operations, including site-usage analysis, advertising management, product-catalog management, user and organizations management, sales, shipping methods, and other commerce-site-management tasks. You can access Business Desk from any computer running IE 5.0.

An IE 5.0 browser-based front end lets Business Desk provide a common look and feel. In addition, Business Desk uses Dynamic HTML (DHTML) to provide rich UI components and a simple navigation model to provide greater ease of use.

As I mentioned, Business Desk hosts the business-management modules that you use to manage and analyze your commerce sites. For example, you can use Business Desk modules to update pricing information in your product catalog, target new ads to specific users, then run reports to measure how these changes affect site productivity.

Business Desk includes modules that provide the following features: Analysis, Auctions, Campaigns, Catalogs, Orders, and Users. You can restrict modules to specific users, and you can add new modules for more functionality. The Business Desk Analysis feature comes with a default set of reports and other defined tools that will help you get started.

In the preliminary documentation of Commerce Server 2000, Microsoft has done a great job of detailing the Module Development Basics, Business Desk architecture, conventions, and configuration to make it as easy as possible for your developers and third parties to build Business Desk modules.

Next Month
In this month's column, you've had a glimpse at the three administrative tools in Commerce Server 2000. Next month, I'll show you how to add custom attributes to Active Directory (AD) by extending the AD schema.