Picture this scenario: 40 to 50 networked computers, a desire to enter e-commerce, no dedicated IT staff, and only one way of connecting to the Internet. Microsoft BackOffice Server can make this situation simpler to manage and more efficient to work with, and I'll show you how. In this new biweekly column, you'll learn about BackOffice Server in the real world. I'll discuss the practicality of using BackOffice Server in your business, how to make the best use of BackOffice Server, and how to augment its functionality with third-party products.

Businesses choose BackOffice Server for their back-end operations for three basic reasons: practicality, performance, and extensibility. To determine the practicality of using BackOffice Server in your organization, you need to analyze your users' computing needs. In the opening scenario, all users must share one connection to get on the Internet, and the company wants to set up an e-commerce site. In addition, this company could benefit by reducing the overhead of administering 50 computers. BackOffice Server makes sense for this company. Proxy Server (called ISA Server in BackOffice Server 2000) lets users share one Internet connection while providing a security boundary to keep intruders out. Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 (SP1) offer a stable platform to build an e-commerce solution on. Also, Systems Management Server (SMS) lets one person distribute software updates and manage the inventory for all 50 computers from one workstation.

In the performance arena, BackOffice Server lets you run different parts of the BackOffice suite on different servers, thus implementing a rudimentary, but effective, form of load balancing. This technique controls the strain of user demand on a network's servers. In addition, BackOffice Server supports server clustering, which increases your servers' uptime by implementing redundant processing and eliminating single points of failure. (If these descriptions seem too technical, don't worry—I'll cover them in detail in future columns.)

Finally, BackOffice Server can grow with your business. Entering the e-commerce arena is one of the most common business expansions of late, but e-commerce isn't a task for Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), or Small Business Server (SBS). Reliability is key to running an e-commerce site; a minute's downtime can cost you 20 customers—permanently. In addition, as your organization grows, so will your roster of employees. Then you'll have more computers, more management, and more people sharing the Internet connection. BackOffice Server scales easily, so you have room to grow comfortably without flirting with your software's upper limits.

If the opening scenario sounds familiar, email me at bos@hasselltech.net and tell me about your interests in BackOffice. Do you want to know more about BackOffice Server 2000? Do you want some coverage of BackOffice Server 4.5? Most important, what questions do you have about BackOffice in general? Feel free to email me—the more feedback I get from readers, the more I can fit this column to fill your needs.