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26

Microsoft BackOffice and Other Microsoft Products

As this guide nears its end, there are a few topics that Windows NT users and administrators should be aware of. This chapter covers the Microsoft BackOffice product family and a few other products that are designed to flesh out the functionality of your NT system. What is BackOffice? I can see two possible answers. The first involves a listing of products—SQL Server, Exchange Server, System Management Server, and SNA ServerServer, depending on how Microsoft decides to bundle things). These are a series of products that are designed for the NT server environment.

Another answer to the question of what NT is lies more in the marketing and product strategy arena. In the PC world, Microsoft built DOS and Windows. They then branched out into the market of word processing, spreadsheets, and graphics packages. These products evolved and became quite powerful. People grumbled, however, about the difficulties involved with getting presentation graphics into word processing documents and other similar tasks. Microsoft engineered interfaces between their various products (using simple things such as the Windows clipboard and complex things such as OLE 2 objects) and bundled them together into a tight product family known as Microsoft Office. They also provided some bundle price incentives. In any event, this family of office automation tools took off in the marketplace. People tended to favor a suite that worked well together over individual products which might do certain things better, but did not make the overall job easier. BackOffice is Microsoft’s equivalent to Office for the server environment.

It combines the most common applications that run on Windows NT servers—a database management system, a mail/groupware server, a mainframe connectivity package, and a software distribution/management system. Perhaps the software distribution/management system is not all that common today, but I think it is a promising technology that will help reduce the support nightmare faced by many corporations. Think of this component as a technology that will be one of the most common applications on servers in a year or two. Much like Microsoft Office, these products have been tied together to make interchanging information relatively easy. This begins with the underlying technologies which have been designed to use the same operating system functions such as the Common Object Model and Object Linking and Embedding.

This chapter provides a quick overview of the components in the Microsoft BackOffice product line. It also covers a few other useful tools put out by Microsoft. The first is the Windows NT Resource Kit. These guides and CD-ROM serve as a detailed technical reference for the guts of the Windows NT system. The CD-ROM contains a series of useful utilities that make life easier for the NT system administrator. I will also present an overview of the Internet Information Server. The chapter on NT as an Internet Server (Chapter 28) goes through the details of setting up this product, but I wanted to mention it here to show how it integrates with the BackOffice suiteNT server, part of BackOffice, or stand alone as a separate product (market response and Bill Gates will probably determine this). . Microsoft has announced plans to make its operating systems able to interface to Internet resources almost as easily as you would access a file on your local hard disk (even applications such as Microsoft Word will be able to load Web documents from their File menus). I also introduce some of the resources available on the Microsoft World Wide Web pages that can be of use to NT users. Finally, I take a little bit of artistic license and speculate on the world of the future for BackOffice and Windows NT add-on products (hey, that’s one of the fun things about being an author).

Introduction to BackOffice

Once upon a time (not all that long ago), operating systems were barren shells that provided a place where applications could be run, but little else. Over the years, operating system vendors have kept adding services and utilities to operating systems to make them more capable in and of themselves (to gain market share, of course). Some of the more useful things that are now bundled as part of the operating system that used to be add-on packages include the following:

  • Network protocol support (TCP/IP, NetBEUI, and SPX/IPX, for example)
  • Network printing and file sharing services (FTP, LPD/LPR, and the basic Microsoft/Novell file and printer sharing services, for example)
  • Modem support and communications software (RAS)
  • Graphical user interface support (Remember that Windows was always an add-on package to DOS)
  • Internet access tools
  • Electronic mail clients
  • Screen savers and desktop wallpapers
  • Sound players—WAV, MIDI, and so forth
  • Video presentation tools (Video for Windows or Active Movies, for example)
  • Telephony support

It is impressive the number of services that are built into the operating system itself these days. I believe that some day, however, not too long from now, people will look at us oddly when we talk about operating systems that did not have built-in speech recognition and audio response systems. The rapid pace of development in this field makes even 36-year-old people like myself seem like old timers when we relate stories of operating systems that fit on disks or were loaded from paper tape. In spite of the vast array of services built into operating systems such as Windows NT, there are still a number of other services that are common to many network environments that require additional products.

These services are not required by everyone and therefore would not make sense to be bundled with the operating system itself and therefore add to the cost of the operating system. However, they are used in enough applications as to require tight integration with the basic services that the operating system provides. What Microsoft is hoping is that you not only want tight bundling with the operating system, but tight bundling among these services. This is one of the main goals of BackOffice—provide a tightly bundled set of add-on services for the Windows NT operating system.

So what are some of these applications that people would want to share among users and projects instead of creating them from scratch? This depends somewhat on your environment (engineers use different tools than accountants), but the following is a good start:

  • Database management system—All modern operating systems support storing data in files on disk drives. However, it can be time consuming to read through large data collections in these "flat" files. To improve efficiency, people have developed a number of search and storage algorithms and techniques. It is much easier to use an existing system than write your own, and that is the market for modern database management systems.
  • Electronic mail—One of the advantages of networked computer systems is the capability to transfer information between users. One of the most natural forms of information transfer for people these days is electronic mail. This has become a little more complex than quick notes in that most users now want to be able to attach word processing documents and spreadsheets to their mail messages. They also demand convenient viewers, the capability to store messages for later use, and many other features.
  • Administrative tools—Because everyone is being asked to do more with less, system administrators tend to find themselves maintaining a much larger number of servers and other computer systems than in previous years. While some would say all that you have to do is work smarter and waste less time, I tend to favor the use of improved administrative tools to make life a little easier and keep all of those scattered computer systems working properly. Microsoft’s Systems Management Server is designed to provide improved tools to maintaining a large network of computers. This utility includes not only tools to take care of the servers, but to monitor, distribute software to, and store the configuration of the client workstations attached to the network.
  • Gateways to other systems—You cannot and may not want to convert your entire computer environment over to one type of computer environment such as Windows NT overnight. Therefore, you need to communicate with a wide variety of other computer systems. Windows NT provides a high level of communication in the basic operating system to the large number of UNIX and Novell servers that are out there today. However, there are still a large number of shops who use IBM mainframe computers. While these computers can support TCP/IP communications, this is often an expensive solution. There needs to be a gateway that allows efficient access to these computers using IBM’s native SNA protocols.
  • Internet/intranet servers—The Internet stores an enormous amount of information. It is beneficial for a lot of organizations to get access to this information or even put out their own information using the Net. Even if you are not interested in the information that is out there from other organizations, you may want to use the convenient graphical tools that have been designed to support access to the information that is available on the Internet. In this case, you may want to set up your own Intranet (network server[s] that use the same protocols and services as the Internet, but are limited to access within your organization) to disseminate information. I am not sure whether Microsoft is going to put this as part of Windows NT itself (they are pushing their Internet products heavily), part of BackOffice, or as a separate product family. Whatever the case, you should understand what these products are and what they can do for your organization as information distribution tools.

One of the concepts that you can pick up reading the BackOffice literature is that Windows NT Server is considered an integral part and is the foundation of BackOffice (see Figure 26.1). None of the other components other than Microsoft Mail (which has been around longer than NT) and SQL Server run on anything other than NT. Windows NT provides the following services to BackOffice:

  • Connectivity to Windows desktop clients (DOS, Windows, Windows 95, and Windows NT Workstation)
  • Connectivity to other computers such as Novell Netware servers, UNIX servers, and Macintosh
  • Access control (i.e. logon) facilities
  • Management tools and utilities
  • A multiprocessing operating system that allows specialized background processes and shared memory areas to be implemented to support the BackOffice applications

Figure 26.1

Microsoft BackOffice.

It is useful to take a look at the services that NT server provides to BackOffice in a little more detail. Not only does it help you to understand BackOffice better, it also helps you to understand more about NT and how applications use it for support. The first set of services mentioned previously involve connectivity to the desktops that will be the clients of BackOffice and NT server. Some of the NT features that are used for this include the following:

  • File and disk storage areas that contain applications and data to which the client workstations need access.
  • Communications protocols and transmissions systems such as NetBEUI and TCP/IP. This frees the application designers from having to worry about these communications details—they merely call the services that are standard to NT.
  • Network services such as file and printer sharing. The file sharing enables you to implement directories containing software and data that is needed by multiple clients.
  • Data transmission standards such as ODBC which provide higher level communications services such as database access.
  • Communications services such as Remote Access Service (RAS) that enable you to interface clients to the server by way of modem much as if they were attached to the local area network. This saves application designers from having to deal with all of those annoying communications standards and details.

The next set of services that NT provides to BackOffice and other applications involves connectivity to other server and host computer environments. This deals with real-world situations where you have a number of different processors and operating systems, each of which meets a certain need. To be efficient, you often need to make these computer systems work together to exchange information or even processing information cooperatively. The following NT features support these needs:

  • Netware connectivity products built directly into NT
  • UNIX services such as TCP/IP, remote procedure calls, FTP, and TCP/IP printing services (LPR/LPD)
  • Appletalk networking software

Access control facilities are also an important Windows NT feature used by BackOffice. While you could write your own access control utilities for databases and mail packages (which you still have to do with Microsoft Mail but not Exchange Server), why bother? Users get annoyed having to remember multiple user IDs and passwords. You have the extra burden of setting up all of these accounts and resetting them when the users forget them. One of the fundamental design features of the NT environment is the single logon ID for access to resources. If you are using a domain environment, you can even use the same logon ID to get access to resources located on multiple servers. The NT access control functionality supports BackOffice in the following manner:

  • Single logon ID for access to BackOffice resources (excluding Microsoft Mail)
  • Capability to control access to applications by client users
  • Support for C-2 security (that is a U.S. government standard for security that few computer operating systems meet) which is discussed in chapter 25

The next key feature of NT that BackOffice relies upon involves the system management tools and utilities. Much like user access control, each application could write its own management and maintenance utilities. Administrators would have to get into the mindsets of each of the people who wrote the various tools before they could become proficient in using them. However, because most of these tools perform the same conceptual functions (showing a log of warning messages and other events, or starting and stopping the processes associated with the applications, for example), it would be much easier on the administrators if they used one tool to maintain all these applications. BackOffice still has a few separate administrative tools that are unique to the various packages, but they do make use of a number of common utilities including the following:

  • Event viewer (auditing)
  • User manager (user accounts and privileges)
  • Registry (configuration information)
  • Remote access administrator (controlling who can access the server by way of modem)
  • Disk administrator (prepare disk storage space for the applications)
  • User profiles (control what each type of user can do and what restrictions exist on passwords and so forth)
  • Performance monitor (determine if the system is functioning efficiently and locate any bottlenecks)
  • Data backup (save all of that precious data to tape)
  • Service manager (start and stop the services associated with the applications)
  • Print manager (to control printed output from the applications)
  • SNMP service permits the use of the Simple Network Management Protocol data collection mechanisms to capture both operating system and application management and monitoring information
  • Standard installation and configuration utilities (use of Windows setup, a common NT/BackOffice installation screen, and features such as self-starting CD-ROMs to load the setup utilities automatically when these CD-ROMs are inserted)

Finally, coming from a database background, one of my favorite operating system services is the capability to run multiple processes in background and share memory areas. When you are in the business of moving lots of data around, the slowest point in the process is transferring information to and from the disk drives. If you have the option of caching information in memory, you can speed up the performance of databases and a number of other applications. Also, it is often much easier to design a complex application such as a database management system to be a series of processes (threads), each of which has its own specialized task. Windows NT provides the designers of the BackOffice applications with these two services which greatly speed applications up when they are moving large amounts of information around.

There are a few other interfaces between Windows NT and BackOffice that make NT an important part of the BackOffice architecture:

  • The windows application programming interface (API). This 32-bit interface eliminates many of the silly games that developers had to play when dealing with such things as memory management under older operating systems. This standard interface to the operating system and its services simplifies the task of developing software in the NT environment. This includes a number of supporting APIs such as telephony (TAPI), messaging (MAPI), licensing (LSAPI), Internet services (ISAPI), and others.
  • The standards that exist to communicate between applications. Chief in the current Microsoft list of hot topics is OLE and the Common Object Model (COM) that enable you to call functions of one application (MS Excel, for e4xample) from within another application (such as MS Word). Microsoft has already extended this structure to work in the network environment with its distributed COM standards and operating system services.
  • Most of the interfaces to various hardware devices are through the operating system and a series of defined device drivers interfaces. This frees applications from having to be concerned with the nauseating details of the hardware itself.

With all of that said about Windows NT as the base of the BackOffice architecture, it is time to go over the products that make up BackOffice. I cover each of these in a little more detail later in this chapter, but a brief introduction is in order here. The oldest product in the BackOffice family is an extension of a product that has been around for some time—Microsoft’s electronic mail system. The current official release is called Microsoft Mail Server. It is similar to many of the popular PC server mail packages in that it has a shared directory that contains a series of files that are used to transfer messages between users.

The mail server product has just been replaced in the BackOffice family by a more powerful product known as Exchange Server. Microsoft Mail has been around for some time and was never designed to handle the large networks of client workstations that are common today. It also lacks integration with the operating system and some of the recoverability and backup features that many users want for the important corporate resource that electronic mail systems have become. Exchange Server, on the other hand, relies upon multiple background processes to execute the functions needed in a mail server. The architecture is designed to allow it to scale up to support a larger number of users. It also provides reliability and feature enhancements that users are now requesting. Some of the features of interest in this product follow:

  • Allows multiple users to exchange messages with one another
  • Supports attaching files (MS Word documents or a text file, for example) to the messages for transfer
  • Gateways to external mail systems such as Lotus cc:Mail or various Internet mail systems with the capability to transfer attachments in a number of different formats
  • Forms interfaces to enable you to transmit messages with standardized content
  • Application programming interfaces to enable you to send messages from your locally-written programs
  • A group scheduling tool (Schedule+)

The next oldest product in this family is Microsoft SQL Server. You will also see the Sybase SQL Server product out there for both Windows NT and UNIX platforms. Microsoft and Sybase collaborated for a number of years on the development of SQL Server, although they have now gone their separate ways on development. The SQL Server is a relational database management system (DBMS) that provides most of the features that you would expect from a DBMS:

  • Utilities to store and retrieve data
  • Capability to communicate between the server and client applications.
  • Utilities for administration of the database and the data
  • Facilities for communication between databases
  • Interfaces from various application development tools (ODBC capable applications, for example)

The next product is not currently deployed in a large number of shops as it is still fairly new, but I believe that tools such as this will become quite popular shortly. The Systems Management Server (SMS) enables administrators to not only manage a number of servers, but also a number of client workstations all from a central location. The features that make this product most interesting include:

  • Capability to track (in an SQL Server database) the configurations of hardware and software on a network of client workstations running Windows, Windows 95, and Windows NT.
  • Capability to deploy software automatically over the network. This support includes both simple file copy operations and those that require a little additional configuration work through custom scripts.
  • A programmatic interface that enables you to extend the capabilities in the base SMS product to meet your unique needs (that is, you do not have to wait for Microsoft to think up all of the good ideas and implement them).
  • Support tools for help desk staff to merge information on system configurations, technical product information and even remote monitoring tools to provide more effective help desk services.

Finally, unless you have been in hibernation for the last year or so, you realize that the hottest topic in the computer industry is the Internet (at least it was the hot topic when this guide was written and there will surely be another hot topic to help sell products next year). Anyway, Microsoft is not known for passing up golden opportunities to sell products, and the Internet is no exception to this rule. Many of the early Internet servers ran on UNIX systems. However, because NT integrates networking tightly into the basic operating system much like UNIX, it is also an ideal candidate to serve as an Internet server. Microsoft’s product on the server side of Internet tools (they have a number of products for client workstations also) is called the Internet Information Server, which was just recently released. Although there are other products out there with large market shares such as Netscapeofficially called a part of BackOffice, you should be aware of what IIS can do for you:

  • Act as a server to store and display information to World Wide Web (WWW) clients
  • Act as a file transfer server using the File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Note that this is a significantly enhanced (both from a security control and processing volume stand point) FTP server when compared with the FTP server that comes as part of the Windows NT operating system (which was designed for local area networks)
  • Act as a Gopher server providing the capability to look for resources on the Internet
  • Act as a domain name server (DNS) that translates the complex Internet address numbers (123.123.123.123, for example) into names that human beings can recognize (www.microsoft.com, for example)

One final comment on the Internet is in order. The Internet was developed by governments, universities, and commercial organizations around the world to provide an incredibly powerful information storage and access tool. Many companies and government agencies like having the ability to access these resources, but fear those nasty little kids out there who want to access information that they are not entitled to (yes, those nasty hackers and virus writers). There have been enough actual horror stories to make the more conservative information systems type swear off the Internet as a sure path to eternal damnation. They work hard to limit Internet access to mail and a few other limited services while adding protection through devices known as fire walls. Many computer vendors have sensed that many people are not ready to make the jump to the Internet, but they can benefit using the powerful and convenient information access tools developed for the Internet on an intranet (a network that is only accessible within your organization). Many feel that intranets will sell far more products over the next several years than the Internet in corporations, so you may be seeing requests to implement Internet Information Server or other Internet servers for intranet applications.

So much for the general introduction to Microsoft BackOffice. By now, you should be comfortable with the general concepts behind this product family—integration, services provided, and so on. I tried to convey some of the rationale for designing these products to make it easier to understand why things have been implemented they way that they have. In the next several sections, I wanted to go over the products in this family in just a little more detail. A complete discussion of BackOffice could fill up an entire guide (and will as I know of at least one such guide that is in the planning stages right now), but this introduction should make you at least conversant on what BackOffice is and what it means to your NT Server operating system.

SQL Server

Let me start my more detailed discussions with SQL Server. As I mentioned earlier, this was originally a joint development project with Sybase, but now Microsoft markets and develops its own product. The goal of this product is to provide a fully-functional relational database management system server. Relational database management systems are the most common commercial databases. Their basic concept is that you have a series of tables containing different types of information. You can think of this data as being much like a spreadsheet with columns that have various attributes that describe the type of information that is stored in the table. The key to a relational database management system is that it can link these tables together to form an overall system of information.

SQL Server is not without competition. The largest database maker (depending on how you measure things, of course) is Oracle, which also makes a Windows NT product. Sybase also markets a Windows NT product and there are numerous smaller database vendors that offer Windows NT products. While Oracle and Microsoft debate the feature set of their products (replication, scalability, and a number of other terms that only make sense to database types), the key discriminator is that Oracle has a number of applications that are built for Oracle, and SQL Server has other applications (including SMS) that are built to run with it. If you are building your own applications, you need to look at the current release of products from the various vendors and see which ones meet your cost/performance needs.

The basis of interaction with SQL Server, like most other commercial relational database management systems (IBM DB2, Oracle, and Informix, for example) is the Structured Query Language (SQL). This language has a few minor tweaks by each of the vendors who offer it, but for the most part the ANSI standard is followed well. This allows a high degree of portability for applications that seek to interact with multiple flavors of database management system. Added to this is the built-in support and set of drivers for Open Database Connectivity (which is a Microsoft-sponsored standard) access to SQL Server. This gives you access to SQL Server from a wide range of development tools (Visual Basic, Visual C++, and others).

There are a number of features that could be covered related to Microsoft SQL Server. One that may be especially interesting to system administrators is the concept of replication and distributed databases. SQL Server enables you to make copies of tables contained in a large master database and distribute them to local, smaller databases. This replication feature is taken care of by SQL Server itself once you set it up so you avoid having to write complex duplication logic. This feature can help you in environments where people need frequent access to data that is stored at a remote site where the communications lines are a limiting factor. You may be able to make local copies of the data that you access frequently on less-expensive servers to satisfy some of your users’ data needs.

Next, I would like to provide an overview of how SQL Server is implemented on your NT Server machine. The utilities that you will commonly use are arranged on the SQL Server program group on the start menu as shown in Figure 26.2. As you can see, there are a number of utilities designed to help you work with the SQL Server system. For purposes of this chapter, I will focus on three of these utilities:

  • SQL Service Manager to start/stop the database
  • SQL Enterprise Manager to control the database configuration
  • ISQL_w to access information in the database

Figure 26.2

SQL Server Utilities menu.

The first utility, SQL Service Manager, gets things going for you. There are two key services that you will want to have started before you begin using SQL Server. The first service is the MSSQLServer, which is basically the database processes themselves. If you do not have this service running, you will not have access to your database. The second service that you will be interested in is the SQLExecutive. This process enables you to schedule server tasks. Server tasks could include database replication events (keeping tables in sync across multiple databases), executing Transact-SQL statements, or executing other database commands. You can schedule (and modify the schedule of) events using SQL Enterprise Manager, which I will discuss next. Figure 26.3 shows the simple Service Manager interface. You select the service that you want to work with (and of course the server if you have more than one server running SQL Server), and then click on the appropriate text phase (stop, pause, or start/continue). The stop light shows you the current state of activity. I like simple interfaces that anyone who is licensed to drive a car can understand.

Figure 26.3

Microsoft SQL Service Manager.

Next on the list of utilities that every NT administrator who supports SQL Server should know about is the SQL Enterprise Manager, which is shown in Figure 26.4. Again, you have a relatively simple interface that enables you to perform most of the functions you would need as an administrator. As it becoming the norm with Microsoft products, you have a expandable tree control that shows all of the things that you can work with using this tool. This includes all of the things that you would expect, including the following:

  • Jobs scheduled for SQL Executive
  • Database and dump devices (your data files)
  • The databases themselves
  • Database objects such as tables
  • Logins

Figure 26.4

Microsoft SQL Enterprise Manager.

To work with any of the items mentioned previously, you open the appropriate branch on the tree control by clicking the plus sign to the left of it. Once you have located the object you want to work with, you double click that object to display an editing dialog. Each type of tree member has an appropriate property page. Figure 26.5 shows the dialog that comes up for editing a logon (changing passwords, permissions, and so on). By the way, one thing I think is interesting is the stop light on the third line down in the tree control. You cannot see it in this reprint, but you get a red, yellow, or green light to indicate if you have the server started or not. You can activate SQL Service Manager by clicking the stop light in the toolbar.

Figure 26.5

SQL Enterprise Manager Dialogs.

Next on the quick tour of SQL Server is a utility that actually lets you work with the data stored in your database, which is called ISQL_w (interactive structured query language for windows). It is not convenient for people who are not familiar with the structured query language (SQL), but for those who are, it is a quick way to get at your data. Figure 26.6 shows an example of an SQL query that you can type in quickly. When ready, you hit the green play button (the right pointing arrow, which is the second item from the right on the toolbar). ISQL_w executes your query and then returns the results into the results tab (see Figure 26.7). People who are interested in tuning queries can use the statistics and showplan (the execution plan which is the way the database approaches the task of getting at the data) tabs. For those of you who are not interested in learning to write SQL statements, you might want to consider setting up Open Database Connection (ODBC) drivers (which are supplied with SQL Server) and using a GUI-based data access tool such as Microsoft Query (which comes with Visual C++ and Microsoft Office).

Figure 26.6

An ISQL query.

Figure 26.7

The results of an ISQL query.

A final configuration control utility that you might want to work with is the SQL Server Setup utility (shown in Figure 26.8). This enables you to specify the paths for a few key items such as your master database and the location of your SQL Server files. A few other options of interest include options to automatically start your SQL Server and whether to use NT event logging to record database information. This can be nice in that it gives you one utility to look through to find events that are happening on your system.

Figure 26.8

MS SQL Server setup panel.

Because this is a guide about the Windows NT Server operating system, a few words on the impacts of running SQL Server on the operating system would be appropriate. First, databases make heavy use of memory for caching to speed up performance. Therefore, if you want to maximize performance, you will want to have sufficient memory in your server. Another factor to consider when setting up larger databases on PCs is that you may want to balance your input/output load across several disks. In SQL Server, you might want to set up multiple database devices that are on different disk drives, and locate your objects to balance the load. Most PC servers do not have the same high capacity data-transfer systems that you would find on something like a UNIX server, and therefore this may be the first limit that you reach when implementing a database.

This has been a quick tour of the SQL Server product on Windows NT Server. It is not the only major database product for NT, although it is tightly integrated with BackOffice (especially SMS). It provides most of the features of a modern relational database management system. You may want to work with an expert if you need to implement a complicated database and want to learn which of the products best suit your needs. This section has gone over the major tools that are used to control SQL Server with a relatively easy-to-use interface.

Microsoft Mail Server

The next product in my discussion of Microsoft BackOffice is the old mail system from Microsoft—Mail Server. It has been around in various forms for a number of years, dating back before Windows NT was a glimmer in Bill Gates’ eyes. It is not sophisticated compared to other modern mail systems, and it does not scale to the large number of users that may be found on larger NT servers. It has, however, the blessing of being battle-tested for several years and relatively easy to administer.

The main competitor to Microsoft Mail today is the Lotus cc:Mail product. This product is somewhat similar in structure to MS Mail (you have a post office directory on a disk that you have to share across the network). The interfaces exist for both DOS and Windows, just as with MS mail. Lotus (now owned by IBM) implements some of the more advanced groupware features such as information sharing in its Lotus Notes products (which also leads the industry in installations). There are a number of other products in the PC network electronic mail and groupware fields. You may want to consider them, especially if your needs are modest as is your budget.

So what is Microsoft Mail Server all about? It is a client/server electronic mail system designed for networks of personal computers (Microsoft is not trying for the mainframe market). It is implemented through a series of data files that have to be accessible to all the client workstations and some application software that enables the clients to access that data(it comes as part of Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, and Windows NT) or can be acquired as part of Microsoft Office. Microsoft Mail is typically bundled with a scheduling package known as Schedule +. . You can get this product in several ways. If you are using older Windows for Workgroups installations, you get the MS Mail client as part of the operating system. If you are using Windows 95 or Windows NT, you get the Exchange Inbox which has the option of connecting to MS Mail servers and several other mail systems. Finally, you get a mail client as part of Microsoft Office. A component that integrates with this mail system is a scheduling package called Schedule + (which has recently moved to the Microsoft Office product line). This scheduling package allows both local calendars and calendars stored on the Microsoft Mail network data drive. If you choose the network drive storage option, you can implement group scheduling and coordinate your activities with others who keep their calendars on the network. Figure 26.9 illustrates this basic architecture.

Figure 26.9

The basic architecture of Microsoft Mail server.

Now take a look at a sample of the directories that are used to store the mail data (the post office) in the Microsoft Mail Server. Figure 26.10 shows a directory listing for a Microsoft Mail Server that I have set up. As you can see, it is a series of files and folders that people have access to through a share name (in my case, I called it MAILDATA). What about the detailed contents of these folders? Actually, that is not your problem. You interact with these files through your Microsoft Mail client (or Microsoft Exchange on Windows 95 and NT 4.0, and the Microsoft Mail administration utility. You back these files up (we always do backups, right?) using normal operating system backup utilities. I have never had to go into these files and mess with them individually, and hope never to have to do it. I would not recommend doing such things unless you have a Microsoft Mail guru telling you to do so.

Figure 26.10

Sample Microsoft Mail Server Post Office.

The other half of Microsoft Mail server is the software that is used to access this post office data. As mentioned earlier, the Microsoft Mail client software is distributed through a number of forms, which include Windows for Workgroups, Microsoft Office, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 95. For Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95, you use the Microsoft Exchange client Inbox option, which has a Microsoft Mail Service available for you to set up to access your Microsoft Mail Server post office. With the right gateway software installed (optional and at extra cost, of course), you can access a number of different electronic mail systems, including Internet mail. The Microsoft Mail client (see Figure 26.11) basically enables you to compose and access mail messages. There are two basic types of message that you can deal with. One is sent to you directly and is referred to as a private message. The other type of message is designed for group reading later on similar to a bulletin board. These group messages are stored in public folders. Note that all messages within Microsoft Mail allow you to attach a variety of other documents (i.e. spreadsheets or word processing documents) very easily (select attachments from the menu or the toolbar). This can be a very powerful way of routing complex information around the company. It usually takes the form of a quick cover note with an attachment for action and review.

Figure 26.11

Microsoft Mail client.

Microsoft Schedule + is also integrated with the Microsoft Mail system. This was one of the first electronic mail enabled (a term meaning that it uses the electronic mail system for transmission services instead of making its own transmission system) applications. It uses the electronic mail system to distribute meeting invitations, cancellations, and confirmations. You can also set up a copy of your calendar on the server and grant others privileges to read or update it (as is the case when department administrators can schedule your time). One trick is that you can even create "dummy" users to represent your conference rooms (you give the mail user ID a name corresponding to the conference room, such as "Board Room"). You assign someone to respond to messages and log in as the conference room to coordinate schedules. I have seen some very efficient scheduling systems set up in even small workgroups with little effort using this system. A picture of the Schedule + software (in this case the Windows 95 version which runs under Windows NT) is shown in Figure 26.12.

Figure 26.12

Microsoft Schedule +.

Of course, someone has to administer this post office and he or she needs a tool to accomplish this task. The tool (admin.exe) is a relatively simple administration utility shown that is in Figure 26.13. Yes, it is a DOS-based tool that requires you remember how to use the Lotus-style menus of yesteryear. However, it gets the job done for adding users, modifying user accounts, and deleting users. One thing that I always found tricky was that you use the section of the Local Admin menu item titled Recover to change the user’s password if they forget it. You are not prompted for a value to set the password to; instead, it is one of the options that you set up for the local post office and whenever you recover any user, he or she is given that default password. Again, not very sophisticated, but it works (and that can be a blessing at times).

Figure 26.13

The Microsoft Mail Admin utility.

One of the major plusses related to PC mail packages are their integration with other applications. Microsoft started this process by putting the option to send mail from within applications such as Microsoft Word. The goal here was that you would normally compose a document and then want to route it to others in your group for review or approval. This saved you from having to exit from your word processor, load the mail software, compose a note, and then attach the document. In any event, Microsoft Mail is integrated with the Microsoft Office components and there is an applications programming interface (MAPI) that enables you to integrate it with your applications and BackOffice applications as well. You may want to keep this in mind if you are developing a hot new client/server application in an environment where people know how to use electronic mail efficiently.

Going back to the focus of this guide, I would like to devote a few words to the affect of Microsoft Mail Server on your Windows NT server. The good news is that while this package is not the most powerful one on the market, it is also relatively easy on your server in terms of resources. Basically, this package relies on you having two shared directories out there for the post office and the executables. NT Server does a fairly good job and is designed to handle the load of shared file systems, so that is about the limit of your impact, other than providing login accounts for all the people who will want mail boxes (they need both Windows NT access to get to the server and a Microsoft Mail Server account).

So concludes my discussion of the Microsoft Mail Server. Once again, it is a product that has been around for a number of years and works fairly well for smaller groups of users. Its main limitation is the fact that it is not designed to scale to the large number of users who are often being placed on a single PC server these days. It also lacks some of the fancy groupware interfaces that Microsoft Exchange Server is targeting. It is simple to set up, but you have to make sure that everyone has both an NT account and a mail account with which to access the system.

Exchange Server

Microsoft Mail resembles many of its competitors—shared files on a network drive that everyone accessed to see if they had new mail to read and wrote to when sending mail to others. Most of the technology was concentrated in the mail viewers located on individual PCs. This was okay for those brave souls who were first pioneering this new technology. A shortcoming, however, soon became apparent. As the number of mail users increased and their usage of the system also increased, the performance of these shared file mail systems decreased. Also, advanced features such as directory synchronization between servers and the like were extremely difficult to implement under this simple architecture. The trend towards more powerful PC servers also contributed to this problem in that more users were concentrated on fewer, larger servers for their network support. However, the power of these larger servers also provided a solution to this problem.

Microsoft decided that the way to get speed and scale up to support larger numbers of users was to look at how client/server database management systems performed a similar task. The key to this whole process is memory and a series of background tasks (services and threads) that transfer information between the memory areas, data files and also process the requests from users on the network. The series of processes that are implemented for the Microsoft Exchange Server are shown in Figure 26.14.

Figure 26.14

Microsoft Exchange Server Services.

Now for the administrative side of the picture. The good news is that Microsoft Exchange Server is built right into the Windows NT security model and can access its security information. The bad news is the Microsoft Exchange Server is built right into the Windows NT security model and requires that you implement a domain to handle security controls. Actually, it is only bad news for those folks who user workgroups instead of domains. You cannot convert a server from a workgroup server to a domain server. Unfortunately,there is some undocumented feature in the 4.0 final release that enables you to convert a workgroup server to a domain server, you will have to completely re-install Windows NT server. If you just try to upgrade from 3.51, it will take whatever configuration settings 3.51 had (you wanted a workgroup named xyz, for example). In any event, be prepared for this if you go to implement Exchange Server. It is reaching for a goal that most system administrators would support: reducing the number of accounts that have to be set up for a single user in this database, this mail system, and that server.

Exchange server installs a number of items in its start menu group as shown in Figure 26.15. I find this program group interesting in that as opposed to many of the program groups that are filled with a large number of utilities, help files, and online guide icons, this one has only a single application that performs most of the administration. It has a documentation entry and a few other minor tools. However, the majority of the group is devoted to performance monitoring tools and an optimizer utility. I think that these boys and girls are interested in speed and capacity. I at least found this to be interesting.

Figure 26.15

Microsoft Exchange Server program group.

The administrator utility resembles many of the modern Microsoft Office products (and most of their other Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 applications). Figure 26.16 shows this interface. You start off with the traditional tree control on the left, which has a display on the right that displays the data that is appropriate for the items you have selected. There are a number of options available in the menu across the top, but most of the control functions can be accessed using the mouse and this tree control. You can select any number of servers to connect to (this is a multidocument interface application) and pick the parameters with which you want to work.

Figure 26.16

Microsoft Exchange Administrator.

One of the things that is not obvious from the previous discussion is where this product is headed. Part of the answer can be found when looking at Lotus Notes, which is the leading groupware product (software that is designed to enable groups of people to exchange information and work together) on the market today. You see the beginnings of forms in this release of Exchange Server that let you use electronic mail to route information. You also see a programming interface that allows other applications to interface directly with Exchange Server to provide message routing capabilities. I think that you will also see a tighter integration with SQL Server to handle that information that is best suited to be kept in database table format as opposed to text document format.

In return for all the benefits described in this chapter, there comes a price. You have to support a number of background services when running Exchange Server. Also, it uses a fair amount of memory to attain speed and support multiple users. The optimizer is designed to help you keep this consumption reasonable for your particular load, but you need to keep an eye on things (as described in the performance tuning chapter) to ensure that your resources keep up with your load.

One final note that I wanted to make about Exchange Server: If you have a number of Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 95 workstations that will be using the Microsoft Exchange client, you will be receiving a little nudge from Microsoft to upgrade to Exchange Server from Mail Server. Public folders have been supported under Mail Server for some time, and the old, primitive mail client supports access to these public folders, but the Exchange client does not support public folders when attaching to a Mail Server post office—only Exchange Server public folders are supported. This can be quite annoying if you have people getting these new operating systems and wanting to use the new tools, but you are not ready to upgrade to the new server. I know I was annoyed.

It will be interesting to see how Exchange Server performs in the field (I was working with release candidate software when writing this). It seems to be using an architecture for scaling that has been around for some time in the database world. This will increase demands on the server, but hopefully you have a budget for memory and processor upgrades. I think that it will be an architecture that can be extended well beyond the limits of the old shared file directory mail systems such as Microsoft Mail Server.

System Management Server

The next product in the BackOffice family is also fairly new. It is designed to meet one of the more common complaints of PC system and network administrators—it is too hard to maintain a large network of computers with the current staff. Yes, more for less has certainly struck home in the information systems world where computers are often considered controllable expenses (I guess that makes all the other expenses in business completely out of control). Conceptually what has to be done is not difficult:

  • You have to keep track of the hardware and software that you have deployed.
  • You have to perform occasional software upgrades.
  • You have to fix hardware and perform upgrades, especially when you upgrade to more demanding operating systems such as Windows 95 or Windows NT.
  • You have to support your software and hardware configurations with telephone help desks, in-person visits, and so on.
  • You have to support users who might have altered their configuration files (registry, .ini files, and so on). They will usually swear that they never touched anything and that the system suddenly started acting funny completely on its own.

Relatively simple concepts, but the problems come in when you have a large number of PCs that are full-fledged computers that have all of the sensitivities of operating systems and a large number of things that can fail. The typical computer person’s solution to such problems is to write some software that helps automate some of these functions. That is the purpose of the Systems Management Server or SMS in the Microsoft BackOffice family. In its current form, it provides the following services:

  • The capability to automatically gather an inventory of the hardware and software on client workstations and your servers
  • The capability to take control of remote workstations from the help desk for troubleshooting
  • The capability to distribute software over the network in an automated (that is, scripted) fashion
  • The capability to provide basic level network protocol analysis
  • The capability to interface other applications to the SMS database and develop more sophisticated applications to meet special needs
  • Support for application metering package interface to make sure that you do not run more copies of server-based software than your license supports (you know Microsoft was very interested in this feature)

The SMS program group contains the tools that you would use to access these functions. Figure 26.17 shows this program group. In this abbreviated overview of SMS, there are three items in this program group that I wanted to bring to your attention. The first is the administrator, which is the main tool for controlling SMS. The second is the guides online option. I sense Microsoft is moving more to using this to distribute documentation. You may want to take some time to get comfortable with their online documentation and help systems before crisis strikes and you desperately need to get at critical information. The third thing that I wanted to point out is the service manager icon. Much like SQL Server and Exchange Server, SMS uses a series of background processes that are specialists in their respective areas that must be running to get access to these features. Figure 26.18 shows the background services associated with SMS.

Figure 26.17

Systems Management Server program group.

Figure 26.18

Services associated with SMS.

Systems Management Server is tightly integrated with Windows NT Server and other BackOffice components. As a matter of fact, you have to run SQL Server with a database set aside for SMS to store all the inventory and control data. Figure 26.19 shows the screen from the SMS setup on which you specify the SQL Server database properties. When it comes to integrating SMS with other applications, this typically takes the form of writing procedures to handle the unique installation requirements of each of these applications. There is a defined interface to SMS for building enhanced control utilities of your own, or you can simply use a report generator tool that works with SQL Server to provide customized reports on your network.

Figure 26.19

SQL Server Setup for SMS.

There are a number of existing and new competitors for SMS. Because SMS is such a broad product, these competitors fall into several categories. You will find a number of help desk support tools and automated configuration tracking packages that have been around for several years. The network monitoring and management market has a number of protocol analyzers and some more sophisticated network monitoring tools based on the Simple Network Monitoring Protocol (SNMP—you find acronyms everywhere). Finally, Oracle is among the competitors for the all-encompassing PC management tool vendors with a product that is similar to SMS that is scheduled for release in the summer of 1996. They of course, use their own database instead of SQL Server. The number of products coming out in this field are a good indication that there is a need. Like most Microsoft products, I’m sure SMS will evolve to meet market needs as they drive to make it the number one product in the field.

Running SMS is much like running both a database and a server-based application at the same time. You have to have SQL Server running. In addition, there are all those SMS services that are running and using up memory areas. The stated requirement for an SMS server is 28 Megabytes (remember, that does not include any other uses that you might have for that server such as Exchange Server). I got it running on my test machine with 24 Megabytes, but I did not use it for production work and I had to shut down several other services to keep the system from going into swap (it was horribly slow). Therefore, if you have the option, you may want to include a little bit more memory and processing capacity if you are planning to install an SMS server on your network.

One final note that I just had to throw in here. Figure 26.20 shows the installation status panel from the SMS installation. You can see that it has multiple status indicators. Much like the winnt26.exe installation used for Windows NT itself, the installation procedure uses multiple threads running at the same time to accomplish the installation. In the SMS case, the file installation is going in parallel with database configuration work. I really like it anytime that people spend the time to make installation scripts an efficient use of the installers time and not just an afterthought done the day before the product goes to the production group.

Figure 26.20

Multiple threads in SMS installation.

SNA Server

Gateways to IBM mainframe are a reality in many business environments. There is just too much code to convert, even if you wanted to convert it. The chief difficulty that I have found dealing with IBM mainframes is that they have their own way about doing just about everything. I can link together two UNIX computers without any difficulty and I can make Novell and Windows NT servers work together in a local area network environment. However, when it comes time to link to that mainframe, you usually have to do it the mainframe way, which usually means talking to them using their networking architecture known as the System Network Architecture (or SNA).

To be fair, there are a number of solutions that can teach the mainframe to use protocols such as TCP/IP. These solutions work and some of them even come from IBM itself. However, I have run into two problems when trying to teach the mainframe TCP/IP. The first one involves getting the equipment and software set up. Mainframes tend to have 24 hour availability requirements and their operating systems need to be rebooted for many of the changes to take place. It can take forever to get a reboot scheduled and if your staff is not familiar with setting up these mainframe products—you may have to try several different times to get the configuration correct.

The next problem that I have seen with mainframe TCP/IP installations involves resource utilization. Few of the mainframe shops that I have seen have large amounts of excess capacity. The main hindrance to mainframe sales and loyalty has been their relatively high costs per unit of processing capacity. Therefore, every computer cycle on most of the mainframes that I have worked with is treated as a precious commodity. If not tuned correctly, or if used heavily by a wealth of new systems seeking data from mother IBM, your mainframe system can become quite heavily loaded with having to translate everything into that foreign language of TCP/IP. This can be tuned, and there are some mainframe TCP/IP solutions that are better at reducing performance problems than others, but be aware that this can be a problem for you.

Now to the other solution, which is teaching all the other computers to speak to the mainframe in its native language. Actually, there are multiple components to this language for file transfer, terminals, and so on, just as TCP/IP has FTP, Telnet, and so on built on top of it. In addition, IBM has its own wiring scheme with its own connectors that you often have to deal with. For many installations, it is easier to translate the needs from users on the local network into IBM’s terms and talk to the mainframe as if they were terminals or other types of components in the Big Blue world. This usually means mainframe emulation cards and IBM terminal network connections run throughout the building. This "second network" can be an additional design and maintenance headache with which to deal.

Microsoft’s goal with SNA Server is to try and live in both worlds. It can, through the purchase of the appropriate supported hardware, connect to the mainframe in a variety of forms from a simple terminal connection line (which differs between the AS/400 and the other mainframes, wouldn’t you know it) to channel attachments (which is the high speed internal bus on the mainframe that is so jealously guarded by the mainframe hardware types). On the other side, you have a wide variety of client LAN architectures and communications protocols to include TCP/IP, NetBEUI (Microsoft LANs), Novell, and Appletalk. You can even use Remote Access Service to dial in and make a connection.

Anytime you are connecting into that expensive mainframe or AS/400 system, you need to perform a lot of up-front analysis. A mistake can seriously affect your operations and your bottom line. You need to look at the products that are out there and weigh the total costs (wiring up all those mainframe coaxial cable connections versus the cost of the server and communications equipment). You may also want to take advantage of the fact that Microsoft SNA Server supports multiple smaller servers providing SNA services as opposed to one huge server doing all the work (image the outcry when that server has a failed hard drive and is down for maintenance). Anyway, SNA Server is a interesting product that may be a good contender if you are implementing connection to those Big Blue mainframes or AS/400s.

Internet Information Server

Next in line is a product that is now a part of Windows NT Server itself. This product is the newly-released Internet Information Server or IIS. The Internet and intranets (networks within a company that use standard Internet tools to disseminate information) are the hottest topic in all the trade magazines and everyone is rushing to market with products. I always hate anything that is surrounded by such a large wall of hype, but the Internet addresses many of the most useful things that computers can be used for and therefore merits consideration. The Internet and intranets can be used to provide the following:

  • Access to complex (text, graphics, sound, and video) information in an easy, graphical format. Better still, this format (the hypertext markup language or HTML) is an industry standard, so you are not signing your life away when you pick one particular vendor’s products.
  • A convenient means to select files for downloading.
  • A means to access data from a database in a controlled format.
  • The capability of distributing objects (data and the associated software to run it) over a network.
  • A means to access data on millions of computers located around the world.

Internet Information Server or IIS from Microsoft. This section is just a quick product overview for those who want to have not yet read my more detailed discussion of Internet servers in Chapter 28, Windows NT as an Internet Server. Basically, the Internet Information Server is a product designed to be tightly-coupled with the Windows NT operating system and its networking infrastructure to provide some of the most commonly used services on the Internet:

  • World Wide Web (WWW)
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
  • Gopher

The World Wide Web server is probably the hottest feature on the Internet. I have even found a number of business people listing their Internet address on their business cards and stationary. The Web server is a repository of documents that are written in HTML and a background service that responds to requests for information in the format of a standard Web server. Early results have shown IIS to be a efficient and powerful server product. I like the fact that you do not have to drop a bundle on hardware to get yourself going—a fair sized NT server does just nicely. Figure 26.21 shows a sample Web page for those of you who have not yet surfed the Web.

the Web, I thought a brief overview of Web pages was in order. A Web page is a graphical display of text and graphics. It may also include animation, sound, video, and even small applications. A basic Web page is shown in Figure 26.21. Other than a few fancy pages with the advanced features, most of the pages that you will come across have text and graphics. Certain areas of the screen are hot zones. The hot zones are usually graphics that look like command buttons (usually including text like "Product Info") or text that is underlined or displayed in a different color to set it apart from the rest. You click these hot zones to navigate to other pages or activate a software download (it is the best way to get service packs from Microsoft).

Figure 26.21

A sample Web page.

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) service provided in IIS is a beefed up version of the FTP that comes standard with Windows NT. It is designed to handle higher volumes of traffic from the Internet and the additional security considerations. The gopher server dates back to the days before the World Wide Web had search engines to find what you are looking for. You can set up a gopher server for your Web crawling if you are still primarily FTP- and Telnet-based.

Microsoft is not without competitors in this industry. Netscape leads the field of PC servers and also the browser market (the tools used to read Web pages). There are also servers from other big industry competitors such as Oracle. Also, the majority of servers out there still date back to the days when the Net was UNIX territory, and therefore they use UNIX versions of Web servers. When you get out onto the Net, you will find a number of shareware, freeware, and even home-grown products. That is the beauty of a fairly defined standard such as HTML—they can work together, at least for the most part. You will find "extensions" to the basic standards that are put out by Netscape and Microsoft, but you can still read almost all the pages on the Web with your basic browser.

The Internet Information Server is controlled (started and stopped) by a relatively basic tool shown in Figure 26.22. In this case, I have only loaded the World Wide Web and FTP services (not gopher). You select which of the services that you want to control and then click the controls that resemble your standard CD or VCR controls (start, stop and pause). Unlike many of the other BackOffice component, IIS does not put a lot of load on your server until you have a lot of users accessing it (there is not a number of background processes that are running at all times or large memory areas allocated for processing). You will probably want to be sensitive most about the input/output loading on your server and split up files across multiple disk drives if you feel that you are going to run into heavy user loads.

Figure 26.22

Internet Service Manager.

A few word about the integration of IIS and BackOffice seem to be in order here. As with many of the new products that seem to be flooding the market these days, there is a new application programming interface (API) that is used to interface programs written in languages such as C++ to IIS. Also, there is the traditional method of using Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts, which can be thought of as the traditional programming language of Web pages, to interface operating system applications to Web and FTP services. It is an exciting area of programming focusing on such things as dynamically building the content of Web pages from data stored in a database. There are a number of good examples of this. Take for example www.nasdaq.com which Microsoft implemented to display current stock quotes to Web users which come from a SQL Server database.

So much for IIS. It is a just-released product, so my comments made on other products earlier apply. Specifically, I expect that it will evolve and see a lot of research and development effort to become what Mr. Gates (driven by the computer consumer) wants it to be. I found it to be relatively easy to install and work with. This is as it should be. Your main focus when publishing a guide is the content, not the mechanics of binding or paper types. When building a Web site, the content of the site should be your focus as you try to out-do all those other sites up there created by kids who stay up all night preparing graphics, sound clips, and so on.

One topic that I did want to touch on before I left the true BackOffice portion of this chapter. One sign of the integration of the products is the fact that they have a common installation panel on those CD-ROMs where you buy the entire product family (see Figure 26.23). Note that they are all dependent on Windows NT Server and will require you to install that product first. You also need to have SQL Server before you can install SMS. Other than that, all the products can be selected individually based on your needs. Final reminders include the fact that you need to be running in a domain, not a workgroup for Exchange Server, and you need to have at least one NTFS disk for SMS.

Figure 26.23

Common BackOffice installation acreen.

The Windows NT Resource Kit

Next on our list of other items that are available to support you and you Windows NT Server is the Windows NT Resource Kit from Microsoft. This documentation and tool set may be a little bit expensive for the casual user who is just maintaining a small NT setup. However, if you are trying to do front-line development or maintain a larger or complicated NT network, this kit contains a wealth of detailed information for you. Figure 26.24 shows the utilities available under the Windows NT 3.51 Resource Kit (which is all that was available at press time and probably represents roughly what the 4.0 kit may contain).

Figure 26.24

The Windows NT Resource Kit program group.

As you can see, there are a number of tools that take up only 23 Megabytes of hard disk space and often meet many of those needs that administrators have when trying to do something a little out of the ordinary on their system. Let me cover just one of them to give you an idea of what this tool kit can do. My favorite among this group is a utility that you run from the command line called SRVANY. I do not use it often (twice so far actually), but it gives me a capability that I miss from the UNIX world—the ability to execute startup scripts. This is important when you have databases such as Oracle Workgroups server. While you can set the services associated with the Oracle instance to start when the system starts up, Oracle requires you to run a few commands (or use a graphical utility) to make the database available for users. I run SRVANY to create a service that I start up at system startup time. The SRVANY utility can make a service out of an NT executable program, including the simplest case, which is a good old batch file. Anyway, I call this batch file startup.bat and put it in a script directory. I run SRVANY to turn it into a service and then edit the registry keys (read the instruction file that accompanies SRVANY) to specify the details. Once this is set up, you can modify the startup.bat file much like you would use the RC directories under UNIX to run a series of batch files on system startup.

There are a number of such utilities in the resource kit, and it can be fun exploring them. There are also at least four (by last count) guides in the resource kit that go into some Windows NT topics in extreme detail (there is an entire guide on tuning). Again, these may be a little bit too in depth for the average NT user. However, it is nice to have such a resource available in your shop for those times when everything starts to go wrong and you need some help.

Products Available from Microsoft on the Internet

Now for my favorite place to get information—the Internet. Yes, I know that I covered the technologies involved with Internet servers and intranet servers just a few sections ago, but this is different. I am not concerned with the technologies in this section. Instead, I want to cover some of the content of the Internet that can make your job so much easier. First, you need to have a Web browser and mail package combined with a connection to the Internet. Assuming you have an account with access to the Internet, you’re in luck. Windows NT has the Microsoft Exchange Inbox, which is ready to get you started with Internet electronic mail. You also get the Microsoft Internet Explorer as part of your desktop (if you specified it as an installation option; if not just go back and get it from your NT CD-ROM). This will enable you to surf the Web and read newsgroups to your heart’s content. If you are feeling a little more ambitious, there are a number of other Web products that you can try out from Netscape, Delrina, NCSA, and others.

A couple of things might be of interest to you. The first would be the Microsoft Web page (http://www.microsoft.com). Figure 26.25 shows the BackOffice page that is accessible from the main Microsoft page. Yes, Microsoft has even found a way to implement tab dialogs on a Web page. You can see a lot of text and also a number of underlined sections of text and also some buttons (like the tabs at the top of the page) that you can click to go exploring. This is a good experience, and you will quickly learn to move around on these pages. Let me go over a brief list of some of the resources that can be found on this Web site:

  • Free downloads of trial versions or Beta copies of software (even the big products such as the Internet Information Server were offered in this format).
  • Updated device drivers for devices that I am having problems with or new devices which are not on the distribution CD-ROM.
  • Product information such as white papers on products that I am evaluating or implementing.
  • Product technical specifications when I am putting together system configurations (this used to take weeks calling vendors, getting faxes or materials mailed out, but now you can get it when you need it).
  • Access to some of the online technical support resources and other data that can help you solve problems that you might run into.

Figure 26.25

The BackOffice page accessible from the main Microsoft Web page (http://www.microsoft.com).

Microsoft updates its Web pages (both content and look and feel) more often than any of the places that I visit regularly. Therefore, it is useful to get over to this site every week or so to see what is happening. I tend to look for trends and new products that Microsoft seems to be pushing. I find it helpful to know something about what they are doing before they do it and I have to respond.

One final point. Microsoft is not the only company who has heard of the World Wide Web. As a matter of fact, I have found very few major computer vendors who do not have their own Web pages. Some of these are a little bit skimpy on some of the detailed technical information and device drivers, but almost all of them have product specifications and other information that helps to support sales and marketing. If you do not know the name, try accessing one of the Internet search engines such as www.lycos.com or www.Webcrawler.com, and fill in the blanks to search for the company that you are interested in. I always try www.[company name].com (www.oracle.com, for example) when I am searching for a company, and it usually works.

Future Directions

Most of the Microsoft products that I have observed are shaped by a combination of good ideas from the development team, guidance from Mr. Gates and his management/sales team, and the desires of the software consuming public who vote with their money. Being an author and therefore being entitled to at least a little artistic license (even though this is a computer guide), I wanted to discuss a few ideas as to where BackOffice and the related Microsoft products were headed over the next couple of years. This is not totally a random guessing game. Microsoft does routinely leak clues as to where it is heading in the form of the following:

  • Speeches by Mr. Gates and other top Microsoft executives at the major computer industry conferences.
  • Product announcements and other published material on their product directions.
  • The emphasis at Microsoft-sponsored conferences such as the recent professional developers conference in San Francisco. It is important not just to listen to the words in the keynote speech, but also to look at the topics that they consider important enough to emphasis over and over again (like intranets).

Gazing into this crystal ball, I see the following things on the horizon for these products:

  • Microsoft products will become one with the Internet and intranets. Some of their recently released products and published product directions show that they plan on making it as easy to open up a Web page in one of your office tools (i.e. MS Word) as it is to open a file on your local hard disk. In effect, the Internet will become an extension of your computer storage and processing capabilities.
  • Internet applications will spring up that transmit little applets to the remote computers to execute (through Java).
  • More applications will learn how to use OLE, which will blur application boundaries.
  • Network-based multisystem management will become a reality.
  • BackOffice will become even more tightly integrated and will push towards domains as opposed to workgroups.

Realize that I cannot guarantee that any of this will come to pass. However, if you read enough predictions about the future, you can start to see trends. These trends probably indicate where the industry is going. You can rationalize this by saying that when enough computer types are talking about a concept, there is probably a market for it. If there is a market, Microsoft will probably be there with products (Bill did not become a billionaire wasting time on building things that no one wants). I hope that this section has stimulated your creative thought processes, even if just a little bit.

Summary

This chapter has tried to give an overview of a topic that could easily fill an entire guide. As a matter of fact, Sams Publishing also offers a Microsoft BackOffice Administrator’s Survival Guide, and is also coming up with separate guides devoted entirely to Microsoft Exchange and each of the other BackOffice components. This summary chapter was intended to give you enough information so that you know what the products in the BackOffice family can do for you. You do not know the details of tuning a SQL Server database, but you can learn that by reading one of the guides devoted to the topic. I also tried to approach these products from the viewpoint of their impact on the NT server and the system administrator . Hopefully, you will be able to answer your boss’s questions about this BackOffice thing that he or she read about in a magazine last week.

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