An alternative to BackOffice

If you use Windows NT Server 4.0 in your enterprise, you need applications to build your information infrastructure. You need a database server, an email server, and a remote control and management package. If you do not want to use Microsoft's BackOffice, your choices are limited. You can try to incorporate components from various vendors and hope they interact. Or you can check out IBM Suite for Windows NT.

IBM Suite is a collection of packages that adds more NT functionality than BackOffice offers. IBM Suite's middleware components help you get the maximum leverage from your system.

IBM Suite is available in two configurations: department and enterprise. I tested the enterprise version.

IBM Suite for Windows NT. IBM designed IBM Suite for small business environments. It consists of five primary modules (Intel's LANDesk Manager, Lotus Domino, IBM's DB2 Universal Database—UDB, IBM's eNetwork Communications Server, and IBM's ADSTAR Distributed Storage Manager—ADSM).

LANDesk Management Suite 6.1 is an integrated application you use to manage your network workstations and servers. This application duplicates the functionality of Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS). You can remotely control the PCs on your network to streamline the diagnosis and solu-tion of problems. LANDesk lets you remotely inventory hardware and software, monitor server status, meter software, and distribute packages.

Lotus Domino, powered by Lotus Notes, provides messaging support. This component offers a comprehensive client/server message-center system with MIME binary attachment capabilities and useful calendar and scheduling features. You can integrate the messaging system with other mail systems (e.g., the Internet via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol—SMTP—or various mail-transport agents).

DB2 UDB 5.0 is a Web-ready, multimedia database engine you use to store and manage your corporate data. The database is fully multimedia enabled, letting you store items such as text, image, audio, and video data, with binary large object (BLOB) sizes as large as 2GB. A full set of administrator utilities makes database management easy. A comprehensive journaling system protects your data against system outages.

eNetwork Communications Server helps users bridge communications between dissimilar networks. For example, users can access SNA applications on your company's mainframe computer system via an SNA gateway feature. eNetwork includes features such as 3270 and 5250 terminal emulation and support for X.25 gateways on WANs.

ADSM is a mission-critical backup and restore utility that protects your company's business information. The package lets you use your latest backup tapes to recover the system. ADSM is fully network aware, so you can back up data over your network. The server automatically moves your backup data to the most cost-effective device available (e.g., tape, disk, optical storage).

IBM Enterprise Suite for Windows NT. IBM Enterprise Suite builds on IBM Suite's five modules, with four additional modules (IBM TXSeries, IBM MQ Series, IBM's DB2 Connect, and IBM Net.Data). These modules provide functionality in large enterprise environments.

IBM TXSeries replaces IBM's Transaction Server. TXSeries includes the latest versions of IBM's CICS and Encina TP monitors, which are middleware products that facilitate transactional connections across diverse networks. The product also includes IBM's CICS Internet Gateway, Lotus Domino Go Webserver, the CICS link for Lotus Notes, and the CICS Gateway for Java. These components let products communicate with one another, and they let you deploy applications on your corporate intranet or Internet Web site.

IBM MQSeries is a message-oriented middleware component that lets your business applications exchange messages with 25 operating system (OS) platforms. Queue managers accept messages that your programs generate via various APIs that MQSeries supplies. An application program on one platform places a message in a queue that the MQSeries queue manager manages, and an application on another platform retrieves the message. This process lets your applications interact without directly communicating.

DB2 Connect is an add-on to DB2 UDB. This component lets you access your distributed mainframe-based databases over your network. For example, if you have a DB2 database running on your IBM ES/9000 mainframe system, DB2 Connect lets you connect and retrieve data from the database. You manage connections through APPN, SNA, and TCP/IP (for OS/390 systems).

IBM Net.Data helps you build dynamic Web pages using data from various enterprise sources. This application lets you use Web macros (written in a language that combines HTML and SQL) to build dynamic HTML documents. You retrieve data from various sources, such as relational databases and flat files. These data sources (e.g., DB2, Oracle, Sybase) can reside on any platform.

My evaluation copy of IBM Enterprise Suite arrived on 25 CD-ROMs. To test the software, I used my Micronics-based dual-Pentium II CPU running NT Server 4.0. This machine had a 9GB hard disk but only 64MB of RAM. With all the components installed, IBM Enterprise Suite requires 128MB of RAM. I increased my system's memory to 192MB before I installed the product.

Installing the software was easy. I inserted the first CD and ran the setup program. The software prompts you for a language and asks whether you want to perform a typical or custom installation. The typical installation uses common options, whereas the custom installation lets you control the installation process for each product. I used the typical installation.

After I selected the installation type, the installation program prompted me with a list of packages I could install. IBM Enterprise Suite has nine products. You select the option box next to the products you want to install. I selected all the products and clicked Next to start the unattended installation process.

The unattended installation reminded me of the old days, when you installed software from several 3.5" or 5.25" disks. I had to feed my system 10 of the 25 CD-ROMs. The installation used slightly more than 1GB of hard disk space.

The file-copy process took 90 minutes. I encountered a problem during the installation. When I started the installation I logged on as Administrator. But when I selected the MQSeries Server component, the installation program told me I needed a username with fewer than eight characters. I had to discontinue the installation process, create a new administrative user, choose a username with fewer than eight characters, log on as the new administrative user, and restart the installation process. The release notes document the username character limit, but I overlooked this information. Luckily the problem occurred at the beginning of the installation process, or I might have lost valuable time.

Specific Use
After I installed IBM Enterprise Suite, I had difficulty understanding how the software and components worked. The product's only hard-copy documentation is the installation guide. I had to sort through the online documentation to figure out how to finish configuring the components and how to use the software.

I was glad I installed the extra 128MB of RAM. Task Manager's memory usage statistics showed that my otherwise normal NT system, running only the stock NT services before I installed IBM Enterprise Suite, now required 220MB of RAM. I was glad I did not take the published minimum of 64MB seriously.

Of IBM Enterprise Suite's various products, I was most interested in DB2 UDB, LANDesk Manager, and the ADSM backup capabilities. DB2 UDB and LANDesk duplicate two primary components in BackOffice (SQL Server and SMS, respectively), so I wanted to see how user-friendly they were compared to their BackOffice counterparts. I was interested in ADSM as a solid integrated backup package because BackOffice does not have such a component.

DB2 UDB performs better than SQL Server and is easier to manage. A dozen utilities let you control the database environment. A useful component is the Command Center application, which lets you view and modify the structure of your databases. This application's structure resembles Microsoft's SQL Enterprise Manager. Screen 1 shows my DB2 environment. The window's left pane shows a tree view, which you use to drill down through the levels. To view the database's tables, click the Tables icon in the left pane. A list of tables appears in the right pane. To modify a table (e.g., add or delete fields or indices), double-click the table entry in the right pane.

LANDesk Management Suite is similar to SMS. Screen 2 shows LANDesk's Software Metering application. I was interested in this component's ability to deny access to network-installed applications based on user counts. SMS does not offer this feature. After configuring the software-metering component to let only two users run a copy of Word, I tried to access Word from three client workstations. The software denied access from the third computer.

I tested ADSM's backup capabilities. NT's native backup product backs up NT files and Exchange information stores, but it does not back up SQL Server databases unless SQL Server is shut down. Screen 3 shows a backup configuration session I created using the ADSM backup client. I clicked Modify backup options to set the necessary options, and I backed up the entire system. I did not test the product's disaster-recovery capabilities because I could not determine the proper procedure from the sparse documentation.

Reasons to Buy
IBM provides integrated support for IBM Enterprise Suite's components. Thus, you do not have to call several vendors to diagnose a problem with one of the components. You can make one call to IBM's technical support hotline to receive assistance.

Although IBM Enterprise Suite includes packages from outside vendors, IBM offers an integrated licensing program, with one license fee per client. You do not have to obtain separate client licenses from several vendors. The licensing fee is high compared with BackOffice and might deter you from implementing IBM Enterprise Suite, but IBM Enterprise Suite's price is reasonable if you consider the components' separate prices. IBM Suite is cheaper, with prices comparable to BackOffice. An advantage of IBM Suite over BackOffice is that you can decentralize components. You can configure DB2 UDB to run on one server and the mail component to run on another server, without paying additional server license fees. BackOffice does not offer this feature.

A comprehensive trial version of IBM Enterprise Suite does not exist. However, many of the product's components have trial versions you can use for evaluation.

IBM Enterprise Suite for Windows NT
Contact: IBM 914-642-3000 or 800-426-4968
Price: $16,249; $375 per client license
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 4.0, 64MB of RAM; 128MB of RAM with all components installed, 1GB of hard disk space