Open for E-Business-Today

Microsoft Commerce Server 2007 can put a company online in a single day, but using the solution effectively requires a solid knowledge base.

E-commerce represents the biggest change in the way people shop since the introduction of the credit card. It has fundamentally changed the way companies do business. Today, the world is their market. Not having a presence on the Web these days is akin to being closed on the busiest shopping day of the year.

However, setting up an effective and efficient Web-commerce application can seem just as daunting as building a brick-and-mortar store from the ground up. Among the things to worry about are processing online transactions, controlling and tracking inventory, ensuring that the site is up 24/7, and, of course, providing secure transactions. Microsoft's Commerce Server 2007 (CS2007) can help your customers develop their own customized Web business applications without making huge investments of time or money.

Long a solid workhorse in Microsoft's stable of business server products, CS2007 represents the evolution of Site Server, Commerce Server 2000 and Commerce Server 2002. This release brings new inventory capabilities, deeper integration with .NET 2.0 and support for 64-bit processors. There's also a Microsoft Operations Manager Commerce Server 2007 Management Pack and BizTalk adapters to help your customers integrate CS2007 Web applications with their other business systems.

CS2007 can manage a variety of Web-commerce situations, including consumer retail sales, OEM core product sales, business-to-business partnerships and promotion and sale of online services. There are also scenarios that combine direct consumer and business-to-business sales.

Same-Day Service

CS2007 is ready to roll right out of the box. It comes with a pre-built starter site that can literally be up and running the same day. Your customers add the basics, such as their company contact information, product details, price lists and logos, and they're ready to go live. The starter site has all security protocols enabled and supports multiple languages and currencies. It's a good way for your customers to get up and running right away while they fine-tune their Web commerce infrastructures and strategies. The starter site also makes a great sales tool for demonstrating the range of functions in CS2007.

As you and your customers delve deeper into CS2007 and start developing more elaborate e-commerce sites, you'll find that the solution uses a modular approach that helps compartmentalize tasks and functions. It contains four management components: Customer and Orders, Catalog and Inventory, Marketing and Reports, and Analytics.

Microsoft Commerce Server 2007

Microsoft Corp.
Release Date: August 2006
Price: Enterprise, $19,999 per processor; Standard, $6,999 per processor
www.microsoft.com/commerceserver

The Customer and Orders Manager gives customer service representatives full access to historical customer information to help them quickly and effectively resolve service issues. The Catalog and Inventory Manager maintains different types of catalog structures, as well as virtual catalogs. The Marketing Manager helps to develop and drive e-commerce marketing campaigns and test the effectiveness of such efforts.

Finally, the business analytics features pull sales and Web activity data directly from the CS2007 Web applications. This helps your customers analyze and understand the way their customers are using their sites by studying browsing history and purchasing patterns.

CS2007 integrates tightly with SQL Server Reporting Services to generate detailed reports, whether on a customized report format or using one of the predefined formats. It can use SQL's lifecycle-management functions such as authoring, scheduling, versioning, data snapshots, access controls and rendering.

Web applications developed with CS2007 can include other advanced elements such as personalization, user targeting, purchase orders, product listings, product variations, virtual catalogs and virtual properties. Your customers can also build in content and customer targeting, advertisements, e-mail feedback campaigns, discount structures, coupons and opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell.

The Web applications your clients develop with CS2007 provide their online customers with Web-based self-service and order change management. Online customers can search for specific products, check on the status of backordered items and see listings of items that are currently out of stock. They can also take actions such as splitting orders, using multiple shopping carts and building gift registries.

Under the Hood

Managing CS2007 is relatively straightforward, especially for those who have experience with Microsoft's other Windows Server System products. CS2007 integrates with those products through a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) to centralize management functions. There's also a Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Management Pack that lets your customers use MOM's management rules and real-time monitoring.

CS2007 uses BizTalk Adapters to connect through BizTalk Server 2006 to integrate with internal applications and front-line ERP and CRM systems such as SAP and JD Edwards (now part of the Oracle line.) Using BizTalk's orchestration features helps your customers define their business processes and apply them throughout their systems.

Your customers can synchronize and track any live Order, Catalog, Inventory and Profile object through the system and throughout a transaction's lifecycle. Data for those four object types conform to industry standard Web Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and XML protocols. This helps facilitate sharing data with external partners.

Securing online transactions is among the highest priorities for Web businesses. Your clients can build their CS2007 applications to support Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and profile data encryption. This helps them protect passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive customer information. The Security Configuration Wizard also helps them to secure CS2007 from the start during initial deployment or make changes later.

CS2007 is based on ASP.NET 2.0, so you and your customers can use its advanced Web design features such as Master Pages. These help streamline the design process with visual themes and Web site skins. All CS2007 subsystems work through the Microsoft .NET API, which eases integration with ASP.NET applications. They're also Web-service enabled, making management and updating easier. Web-service enabling also eases integration of CS2007 Web applications in service-oriented architectures (SOAs).

Following are some other architectural factors that boost performance:

  • CS2007 can scale from a single-system to a full-fledged Web farm, so it can grow as your customers' business
  • grows
  • Cluster support facilitates high availability and ensures uninterrupted operation of Web applications
  • Site staging and replication help automate data and site distribution across multiple environments, even across networks and behind firewalls
  • New deployment and configuration tools help secure commerce solutions
  • Windows management tools such as MOM and MMC reduce server management and training requirements

Spotlight Highlights

Key Features:

  • Comes with prebuilt starter site for immediate use
  • Tight integration with business systems through BizTalk Server
  • Supports latest technologies like .NET 2.0 and 64-bit processors

Opportunities:

  • Sell along with BizTalk adapters to ease integration
  • Use pre-built site as sales demonstration tool
  • Bundle with custom-built sites

Competition:

  • Dreamweaver 8
  • QuickBooks Premier
  • IBM Rational Web Developer for WebSphere

Competitive Landscape

There are only a few real competitors to a high-level development platform like CS2007, but those few are heavyweights. Among the most significant competitors is Dreamweaver 8 from Macromedia. This solution is available by itself or bundled with several other Web application development tools as part of Studio 8. There is also the IBM Rational Web Developer for WebSphere. Macromedia and IBM are formidable competitors, but if your customers' infrastructure is already built around Microsoft management tools, you can build on that fact as an advantage.

The latest version of Dreamweaver features new design and development tools, video support, more efficient workflows and support for the latest industry standards. Dreamweaver users can now integrate XML data within workflows, design with the new Zoom tool, use the Code Collapse tool to focus on the code at hand and add Flash video.

Adding video content to Web sites involves a relatively simple process of dragging and dropping Flash Video into Dreamweaver 8. This type of editing applies to other elements as well. Developers can point a Web page to an XML file or a URL of an XML feed and Dreamweaver will "introspect" it to enable dragging and dropping appropriate fields onto the page.

An extensive community has grown up around Dreamweaver users. Being part of this community provides access to the Macromedia Developer Center, developer certification programs, training and seminars, user forums and independent community support sites. In addition, more than 800 free downloadable extensions are available through the Macromedia Dreamweaver Exchange. Dreamweaver is sold by itself or as part of Studio 8, a bundle that includes the latest versions of Dreamweaver, Flash Professional, Fireworks, Contribute and FlashPaper.

IBM's Rational Web Developer for WebSphere Software is an Eclipse-based Java development environment for building, testing and deploying Web applications and Web services. The whole platform is optimized for IBM WebSphere software, but it does support multi-vendor development and runtime environments.

For those newer to Web application development, there are several RAD tools and wizards to accelerate Web, Java and SOA development. Developers can shorten the Java learning curve with drag-and-drop interface components and database connectivity. There are also pre-built interoperable Web services and SOAs for integrating business applications, as well as testing environments with a visual debugger for newly developed applications.

With Rational Web Developer version 6.0.1, developers can use Enterprise Generation Language to build new Web services from scratch or enable existing applications as Web services. By developing this way, most of the need for lower level Java, WSDL, UDDI or XML coding is virtually eliminated.

Marketing and Sales

As always, you'll find a plethora of resources on the Microsoft Web site to learn more about CS2007. Some of the notable elements include Webcasts of presentations and demonstrations of solutions developed with CS2007, and extensive menu of help topics and the CS2007 Partner Software Development Kit (SDK). There's also a Commerce Server 2002 Feature Pack 1 Partner SDK.

The help topics cover numerous elements of CS2007, including:

  • Creating CS2007 Web applications, integrating CS2007 with other applications and extending its functionality
  • Development and reference documentation about using CS2007 as a development platform
  • Deploying CS2007
  • Staging CS2007 Web sites and data
  • Administrating CS2007 systems and software operations
  • Monitoring CS2007 sites
  • Using CS2007 applications to manage catalogs, marketing campaigns, customers, orders and other transaction aspects
  • Concepts and tools for business users
  • Glossary of terms used in CS2007

The CS2007 Partner SDK has source code and documentation you'll need to customize the CS2007 tools like the Catalog Manager, Marketing Manager, and Customer and Orders Manager. Of course, you'll need to check the terms of license to make sure any customization and distribution you do with the SDK falls within the boundaries of your agreement.

Extending CS2007

There are several independent companies that provide complementary tools that extend CS2007 in a variety of ways. You may want to incorporate some of these components into any custom solutions you're developing, or refer your customers directly to these partners. They fall into several categories:

  • Business analytics
  • Hardware
  • Search technology
  • Systems integration services
  • Transactional services

The full list of partners that develop components to build on CS2007 is on the Microsoft Web site. The complete documentation for CS2007 is also now online.

The Final Word

Online business models have evolved rapidly, especially with new technologies like Software as a Service (see "Get Ready for Software as a Service," March 2006), Web 2.0 and SOA. CS2007 functions have evolved to keep pace, simplifying secure Web application development, consistently tracking data throughout the duration of a transaction, providing detailed reporting and supporting the most current tools and technologies.

Getting a business up and running online is still a tall order. But CS2007 can help your customers put up an efficient e-commerce site that will work well with their existing business infrastructure, provide a full range of functions and be ready for business on the same day.

About the Author

Lafe Low is the editorial liaison for ECG Events.