In-Depth

Resizing BackOffice Server

Microsoft is repositioning its flagship server suite, BackOffice Server 2000. Should you be concerned that it's being broken up? <b>Contributing Editor Harry Brelsford</b> offers his view.

As you read this, Microsoft has begun filling the channel with BackOffice Server 2000, the latest version of the company’s venerable server bundle. The newest release reflects a shift in Microsoft’s thinking about the Internet and the enterprise. On one hand, this move could reflect the end of the flagship server family as we know it. On the other hand, Microsoft has repositioned BackOffice for medium and small businesses, which are better fits for the bundled product paradigm. However you look at it, the core design goal — to achieve synergy between the server operating system and server applications — is intact.

You could define BackOffice Server 2000 as a philosophy. By virtue of its unique position in the software industry, Microsoft can tightly integrate its underlying operating system with its business applications. And while such talk might be upsetting to U.S. Department of Justice officials (and some consumers), it’s amazingly comforting to business people and network professionals looking to deploy stable and secure technology solutions in production environments. The pendulum rests these days in the middle between going integrated suite vs. disparate applications (and will remain there until Web standards solidify); but I just plain think it’s better to buy the bundle from a single vendor than to struggle to integrate distinct applications from multiple vendors, many of which don’t especially care for each other’s company.

It’s All about Size
BackOffice Server 2000, more than any of its predecessors, has a highly focused market. It’s designed to serve three types of clients, all in the medium-sized organization strata:

MORG. The bread-and-butter deployment of BackOffice Server 2000, the medium-sized organization (MORG). These are organizations ranging from 50 to 1,000 client computers that don’t necessarily need server farms to function. The question for these companies is how to deploy and manage enterprise-level server technologies without a militia of MCSEs.

Branch Office. Microsoft discovered that BackOffice is especially well positioned to serve as a branch office server on a larger network. In fact, in Figure 1, you can see that the Microsoft BackOffice Server 2000 Setup Wizard offers the choice of defining your server as a branch office server that will connect as a domain controller to an existing Active Directory forest.

Figure 1. You can select Central Server or Branch Office Server on the Server Location page, allowing you to define the role for the BackOffice 2000 Server machine. If you select the branch office option, you can ship the server machine to the branch office after setup and then make the actual network connection over the organization’s WAN.
Figure 1. You can select Central Server or Branch Office Server on the Server Location page, allowing you to define the role for the BackOffice 2000 Server machine. If you select the branch office option, you can ship the server machine to the branch office after setup and then make the actual network connection over the organization’s WAN.

Departmental Server. Step back in time to the early days of Windows NT and you’ll recall that Microsoft’s greatest wins initially involved having its servers act as application servers at the department level in enterprises. BackOffice Server 2000 revisits these roots by offering itself as a departmental-level application server for organizations that might not have a perfect fit otherwise. This is a way for Microsoft server-side solutions to assist at the enterprise-level.

What You Get — and Don't Get — with BackOffice Server 2000
BackOffice Server 2000 Components What It Gains from Version 4.5 What It Loses from Version 4.5
• BackOffice Server 2000 Components
• Windows 2000 Server with Service Pack 1
• Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server (Standard Edition)
• Microsoft Outlook 2000 SR-1
• Microsoft SQL Server 2000 (Standard Edition)
• Microsoft Host Integration Server 2000
• Microsoft Systems Management Server 2.0 with Service Pack 2 (SP2)
• BackOffice Server Deployment Wizard
• BackOffice Server Management Consoles
• To Do Lists
• Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000
• MultiServer deployment and Wizard
• Internet Connection Wizard
• Remote administration with Terminal Services
• Health Monitor 2.1
• Server status reports and view
• Shared fax and modem services
• Site Server
• Single-user version of FrontPage 2000
• Single-user version of Visual InterDev
• Five-user version of Seagate Crystal Info

Defining BackOffice Server 2000
BackOffice Server 2000 bundles several — but not all — server-class applications with Windows 2000 Server. It’s oriented to medium-sized organizations, including departments inside the enterprise and branch offices (which I’ll drill down on shortly). The suite includes the following modules:

Windows 2000 Server This underlying network operating system includes the Microsoft Management Console 2.1, Terminal Services, Active Directory, Group Policy, Internet Information Server 5.0, and many other features. Win2K Server receives a great deal of ink in this magazine and is the focus of the revamped MCSE program.

Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server and Microsoft Outlook 2000 Highlights in this messaging and collaboration solution include Active Directory integration, Instant Messaging, and the Conferencing Server component. The latter allows multicast video streaming-based collaboration between NetMeeting participants. NetMeeting in a stand-alone scenario streams unicast video, allowing only point-to-point video conferencing. The new and improved Outlook Web Access (OWA) brings the look and feel of Outlook 2000 to the Web browser-based OWA client, allowing much faster retrieval of email, schedules, contacts, tasks, and public folder contents in your Exchange-based organization. For more on Exchange Server, read, “Exchange 2000 Pushes the Messaging Envelope,” in the June 2000 issue.

Microsoft SQL Server 2000 This relational database solution is a hidden jewel in the BackOffice crown. In my experience, SQL 2000 is one of the stealth purchasing motivations for BackOffice. Why? The clients I consult for typically are trying to solve a business problem, not enrich Microsoft as early adopters of new technology. Few business clients give a hoot about the underlying OS. But they’re deeply concerned about the latest release of their beloved accounting program, such as Great Plains, which requires SQL Server. Case closed. To learn more about SQL Server 2000, see Mike Gunderloy’s article, “SQL Server 2000: All Charged Up,” in the November 2000 issue.

System Management Server (SMS) 2.0 This enterprise tool manages desktops, software distribution, inventory management, and remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. Granted, Group Policy and Terminal Services have stolen some thunder from SMS, but this long-time enterprise-level management tool still has a dedicated following. See Mark Wingard’s article, “A Job for SMS,” in the November 2000 issue.

Installation Tip
If you use ISA Server as your firewall, you need to configure your VPN access following the ISA Server VPN wizard configuration instructions from the Configure Remote Access link on the To Do List. This assumes you’re not using a third-party hardware-based firewall solution. The wonderful thing about the ISA Server VPN wizard is that it configures the VPN port openings and leaves the other port openings you might have configured via the ICW alone. Contrast that with the VPN wizard-based configuration available under Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), which is also discussed under the Configure Remote Access link on the To Do List. Using the RRAS VPN wizard closes all ports except the port needed for VPN traffic, the assumption being that the server you’re configuring will only be used as a VPN server and nothing else. Ouch!

Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000 (ISA) This software-based firewall and Web caching solution, which succeeds Proxy Server 2.0, is considered a significant upgrade. ISA Server provides firewall security using a variety of techniques, including NAT with a two-network adapter DMZ and dynamic port filtering. Caching allows you to store recently accessed Web pages locally so that users can download them at LAN speeds, not over a slower Internet connection. Publishing allows safe public access to a Web server hosting your Web page on the inside network (behind the firewall). Roberta Bragg recently penned an article on the firewall aspects of ISA Server in November 2000’s “Security Advisor.”

Host Integration Server (HIS) 2000 This host system gateway component facilitates mainframe and midrange connectivity. It serves as the entryway for BackOffice into many medium-sized organizations with heavy metal hardware. For example, HIS facilitates robust connectivity between SQL Server 2000 and IBM DB2. Historically, this component hasn’t been a major area of concern for MCSEs. If that’s the case, why include it at all in BackOffice? Early on, Microsoft offered a connectivity component (in the form of SNA Server) in order to give the sense that it was addressing large enterprise concerns — and to provide a comfort level to companies that were being wooed away from a reliance on their “big iron.” In the inimitable way that Microsoft has of learning from its experiments, HIS continues that tradition. And now that Datacenter Server is a reality, it could prove an interesting training ground for NT- and Win2K-oriented administrators who want to move into a liaison role with the mainframe staffers.

Shared Modem, Shared Fax These communications solutions were taken from Small Business Server (SBS) 2000 (see “Baby BackOffice” in this issue). Essentially these components provide adequate modem pooling and computer-based faxing capabilities. Developed at Microsoft’s Israel research facility, they’ve been completely recoded to provide much greater stability than they’ve shown in previous releases of SBS.

Health Monitor 2.1 This powerful real-time server monitor tool allows in-house IT professionals and consultants to constantly monitor network performance. I cover more on this later.

Server Status Reports and View These tools allow you to receive computer system logs via email. For example, a network administrator could receive a tape backup log each morning. I discuss these components in greater detail elsewhere in the story.

Console and Wizards Another SBS concept borrowed by BackOffice is the Management Console, which provides an administration dashboard for common network functions such as adding a user to the system. Numerous configuration wizards — above and beyond those found in Windows 2000 Server alone — facilitate ease of implementation and administration. One example of this is the MultiServer Planning Wizard, which I discuss later.

A Business Strategy It can’t be denied that if you type in the old trustworthy URL, www. microsoft.com/ backoffice, long the Web address for the BackOffice family, you won’t learn much about the new suite. For that, you need to go to www.microsoft.com/servers. The BackOffice family as you’ve known it — a Microsoft bundle of server applications being sold with a network operating system — has been effectively unbundled and rebranded. Let me explain.

In its push to penetrate the enterprise market, Microsoft learned that enterprise software purchases don’t occur in the linear pattern imposed by the BackOffice bundle. For example, an enterprise might purchase only a single copy of ISA Server to use for its caching capabilities because it relies on hardware-based firewall solutions for protection from Internet intruders. This same enterprise might purchase six copies of SQL 2000 to support a wide range of business applications. Perhaps it needs two copies of Microsoft Exchange Server to set up an efficient messaging infrastructure and no copies of SMS. Add countless copies of Windows 2000 Server, and you get the picture. The bundled solution, which sells one copy of each component per BackOffice stock keeping unit (SKU), doesn’t implicitly work well for the enterprise. So far, so good. This makes a lot of sense if you’re a technology purchasing manager.

The downside to the Microsoft Servers strategy for you, the MCSE, and others who fund software purchases from their technology budget, is that the new products have the potential to cost you a great deal more money. The cost model changes when you look closely at the difference between Microsoft servers and BackOffice. Remember that BackOffice was always positioned as a bargain as well as a bundle. For the price of the underlying OS and just one major component such as Microsoft Exchange, you could purchase the full BackOffice. Purchasing individual applications in the software has historically cost more than the bundle. Remember in the late 1980s when WordPerfect 5.x was more than $300? Along came Microsoft Office, which sold for roughly the same price and offered not only a word processor but also spreadsheet and presentation programs. It killed the stand-alone word processor category.

What About .NET?

Microsoft launched its .NET initiative in the summer of 2000. It encompasses all of the company’s efforts in creating solutions that enable the delivery of software as a service, available on any device at any time from any place — in a customizable format. It currently includes the following servers:

  • Application Center 2000, in beta two at the time of this writing, is a deployment and management tool for high availability Web applications. Its primary focus: to allow an administrator to manage a group of servers.
  • BizTalk Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, in beta two at the time of this writing, provides an XML-based infrastructure for integrating, managing, and automating business processes and Web services between organizations.
  • Commerce Server 2000, in final beta in mid-November, is the successor to Site Server 3.0, Commerce Edition. This program provides a platform for building e-commerce applications.
  • Exchange 2000 Server. Released at the end of 2000.
  • Host Integration Server 2000. Released as part of BackOffice 2000.
  • ISA Server 2000. Expected release by the time you read this.
  • Mobile Information 2001 Server, under development, will enable users to access network services, like email, the calendar, and other intranet line-of-business applications from mobile devices.
  • SQL Server 2000. Released at the end of 2000.

Learn more about these products at www.microsoft.com/servers.

To some extent, BackOffice has been a category killer, relegating bundles from Novell (NetWare, GroupWise, ManageWise, Border Manager, and Btrieve), IBM (IBM Suite for Windows NT 1.5), and Oracle (Internet Application Server 8i, Integration Server, and E-Business Suite) to “also-ran” status. Category conquered, Microsoft can increase revenues by selling its servers and applications individually while legitimately meeting the needs of its sought-after and much-prized enterprise customers. Smart!

So Microsoft has shifted its thinking in product placement when it comes to its server family. Does that spell the death of BackOffice? No. True, BackOffice is no longer the flagship term used in the Microsoft style guide to refer to everything it provides customers for the air-conditioned server room. Rather, BackOffice now refers to an individual bundled product primarily aimed at MORGs, the focus of this article. I predict BackOffice will be around for several more releases.

The only wild card in the BackOffice picture is the Microsoft .NET strategy. As of this writing, there’s no product bundle called BackOffice.NET. In fact, if you visit the .NET Web site at www.microsoft.com/net, you’ll observe that all .NET components are sold separately.

Any bundling discussion you find on that Web page is presented in the context of Microsoft’s Digital Network Architecture (DNA) strategy, not BackOffice.

Mastering BackOffice
Server 2000

Let’s drill deeper into those parts of BackOffice Server 2000 I think you, as network genius, will want to master.

Setup After you set up Windows 2000 Server on your machine, the BackOffice installation process commences with its own setup wizard. This wizard gathers organizational identification information such as address, telephone, and fax number before proceeding to an Office 2000 installation page. Here you elect to install different BackOffice applications. By default, SQL Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, and SMS 2.0 are not installed. The assumption is that not all MORG sites will appreciate or need these applications. If for some reason, you start the BackOffice setup process on an existing Windows 2000 Server machine, which is entirely acceptable, any missing Win2K components are added before the BackOffice applications are installed. This might include Windows 2000 Service Pack 1, Terminal Services, Active Directory, or the DNS or DHCP services.

The Console To facilitate easy and effective administration in BackOffice 2000, two management consoles are included. For in-house IT staff or consultants, the BackOffice Server Management Console exposes the full set of management tools in a single portal (see Figure 2). This is similar to, but much stronger than, the grouping of tools offered by the Computer Management MMC in Windows 2000 Server.

Figure 2. The BackOffice Server Management Console offers a slew of management tools specifically for the IT professional within the organization.(Click image to view larger version.)
Figure 2. The BackOffice Server Management Console offers a slew of management tools specifically for the IT professional within the organization.(Click image to view larger version.)

For trusted parties, such as power users, branch managers, and people new to networking, there’s a lower-level console, seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3. My BackOffice Server Console lets power users handle specific network management tasks, such as resetting passwords.
Figure 3. My BackOffice Server Console lets power users handle specific network management tasks, such as resetting passwords. (Click image to view larger version.)

The MyBackOffice Server Console is meant to facilitate decentralized IT management at the MORG-level by relieving an overworked and often-unavailable MCSE from routine network management tasks.

Wizards So you want wizards? Boy, does BackOffice Server 2000 have wizards, only adding to the plethora of those present in Windows 2000 Server. One of the more interesting ones is the MultiServer Planning Wizard (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. The MultiServer Planning Wizard lets you burden multiple servers with the job of running BackOffice Server 2000.
Figure 4. The MultiServer Planning Wizard lets you burden multiple servers with the job of running BackOffice Server 2000.

Accessed from the Microsoft BackOffice Server program group from the Start menu, this wizard allows you to distribute BackOffice Server 2000 on up to three server machines. This lets you distribute different components across different machines to lessen the load based on your network design, administration roles, performance, reliability, or server tasks. (Note, however, that you’ll need a server license for each machine running the software; the default is a single license.) Given the power needed to run the applications in BackOffice Server 2000, you can look forward to getting to know the MultiServer Planning Wizard intimately.

To Do Lists Perhaps you had the same reaction I did when I first installed Windows 2000 Server: What next? Microsoft created the To Do List (see Figure 5) to guide you.

Figure 5. The To Do List walks you through the final details of your installation in a presumably sensible order.
Figure 5. The To Do List walks you through the final details of your installation in a presumably sensible order. (Click image to view larger version.)

Common tasks are presented in a suggested completion order. For example, the Internet Connection Wizard (ICW) allows you to configure your Internet connection for a number of scenarios, including modem dial-up, router, and broadband connection. You’ll also find a page to elect your ISA Server firewall settings (for example, allow FTP).

Server Status Reports/View Imagine having all of the servers in your management responsibility area send you critical status reports, such as the event logs, tape backup logs, and virus detection logs, on a regular basis. In my case, I’ve built a fee-based business providing this service to my clients. Each morning, over my first few cups of coffee, I observe the logs from my customers’ servers to look for reporting exceptions. I can then advise the client on an appropriate remedy. Server Status Reports are easily configured from the Configure Report link on the BackOffice Server 2000 homepage in the BackOffice Server Management Console. You may receive these reports via fax or email.

The Server Status View is the snapshot of critical system information displayed as part of the BackOffice Server 2000 homepage (which you can see in Figure 2). You can configure what information displays.

Health Monitor 2.1 For continuous, real-time server health reporting, you’ll be interested in Health Monitor 2.1, which is accessed via the Health Monitor link in the BackOffice Server Management Console. You may create a sophisticated server monitoring system that alerts you via email when an execution condition (system state reading) is OK, at the Warning level, or Critical. You have complete control in defining these execution conditions for whichever performance thresholds you desire. You can also use the Health Monitor sample monitors that ship with BackOffice 2000. Figure 6 displays the sample monitors for memory management.

Figure 6. The pre-configured Health Monitor settings included in BackOffice Server 2000.
Figure 6. The pre-configured Health Monitor settings included in BackOffice Server 2000. (Click image to view larger version.)

So how do you correct the problem identified by both the Server Status Reports and Health Monitor? Easy. Terminal Services is installed automatically in Remote Administration mode, which allows the in-house IT staff or consultant to remotely administer and repair the BackOffice 2000 Server. Branch offices are just going to love that!

Pricing

At the time this article went to press, Microsoft hadn’t yet released pricing details for BackOffice Server 2000. But pricing for individual components is beginning to shake out, so we’ll share those. For this pricing exercise, assume the following:

  • Your organization needs 10 client access licenses (CALs).
  • The company is upgrading from version 4.5 of BackOffice Server.
  • The company will use three dual-processor-based servers to support the software.
  • You have no need for host integration.
Component Price Small print
Windows 2000 Server $1,797 $599 per server license; one license required per machine.
Exchange 2000 Server $689 Includes right to install and use Outlook 2000. Exchange runs on one server. Price includes 10 CALs at $34 apiece and Exchange 2000 Server at $349.
SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition $2,249 Server/per seat CAL licensing vs. per processor. 10 CALs included.
Host Integration Server 2000 Not needed The retail price is $2,499 per processor; upgrade $1,249 per processor.
Systems Management Server 2.0 $569 Upgrade price with 10 CALs.
ISA Server 2000 $2,998 $1,499 per processor.
Total $8,302

BackOffice Opportunities for the MCSE
So what’s BackOffice mean for the MCSE? Several things come to mind, ranging from ease of administration to sampling Microsoft’s family of server applications. If you work as an in-house employee, it’s likely you’ll appreciate administration improvements such as the Management Console. Performance monitoring, while cool, is still something you’ll likely never have enough free time to devote to as a harried salaried employee with too much other stuff to do. But clearly those tools, such as Health Monitor, are there for your use. However, the in-house network administrator still has access to the best performance monitor of all-time: the user who will alert you immediately to any network abnormalities.

The outside consultant clearly benefits from BackOffice in a few different ways. With one purchase, you can sample several Microsoft server products. Perhaps the world of messaging lights your interest professionally and you discover that fact while working with Exchange 2000 Server. Or possibly you’ve mastered Windows 2000 Server and are seeking another billing zone as an MCSE consultant. Discovering SQL Server 2000 in your journey with BackOffice might just be the premier act of your next consulting niche. And when it comes to the server status reports and Health Monitor, there exists a billing opportunity to provide monitoring services for your client base. Not only can you charge for this type of service — typically under a service contract — but also you can serve your clients better by proactively managing their BackOffice-based technology infrastructure.

Additional Information

Predicting The Future
Will future releases of BackOffice Server be positioned as rock-solid infrastructure support or foreground “change the world” bundle of awesome applications? By all indications, BackOffice Server as a SKU is here to stay. Clearly its marketing message (and bundling options) will change to reflect the ebbs and flows of Microsoft’s emerging .NET strategy. For example, it might be that the modem-sharing component won’t be present in a future release, reflecting the use of broadband and router-based Internet connections.

It’s impossible to predict how the BackOffice development team will fit as part of the Windows operating system group, a recent organizational change at Microsoft that resulted in the disbanding of the BackOffice business unit altogether. Under any future scenario, the good news is that BackOffice Server in some way, shape, or form should enjoy a long life. I attribute this to its focused middle-tier product placement and its having reached critical financial thresholds at Microsoft, making it a welcome addition to the bottom line.

It’s also a safe bet, given the typical three- to five-year lifecycle of an information system deployment, that an MCSE, be it an in-house IT professional or a technology consultant, can confidently select and implement BackOffice Server 2000 as appropriate for duty.

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