Microsoft Corp.'s Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition
is an effective tool for building and managing all aspects of
a company's electronic commerce Web site -- as long as the
company is comfortable using only Microsoft server
PC Week Labs found the suite of Internet applications,
which shipped late last month, includes almost everything
needed to run a large, interactive site, from log and site
analysis for management to knowledge tools for integrating the
site with disparate data sources, to personalization and ad
management capabilities for the commerce side of the site. It
is also one of the most extensible e-commerce apps on the
The requirements for running Site Server read like a who's
who of Microsoft products: Windows NT 4.0, Internet
Information Server 4.0, Microsoft Transaction Server and
Internet Explorer 4.0. The suite works with any SQL-based
database, but SQL Server 6.5 is recommended.
On top of that, all of the e-commerce capabilities are
created using MS Active Server Pages, a flexible tool for
building dynamic pages, but one that can hinder a company's
ability to port its site to a different platform should its
Site Server 3.0 has an estimated retail price of $1,239 per
server, which includes five client access licenses. Site
Server 3.0 Commerce Edition has an estimated retail price of
$4,609 per server, including 25 client access licenses.
Upgrades are $969 and $2,919, respectively.
New features in Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition include a
useful interface for managing business-to-business and
business-to-consumer sales processes, called the Commerce
Interchange Pipeline and the Order Processing Pipeline,
respectively. Also new is an ad server for managing site
advertisements, and knowledge management capabilities that let
businesses build powerful search indexes and catalogs from
various data sources and make them available through Web pages
and IP Multicast-enabled push.
Version 3.0's basic content management and deployment
capability allows several levels of content approval, and the
product has solid integration with the MMC (Microsoft
Management Console) administration interface.
Using the Commerce Edition's Site Builder Wizard, we
quickly built a site following a simple step-by-step process.
Although the Builder Wizard was a useful tool for getting a
basic storefront built, it was less thorough and had fewer
options then similar tools, such as the SiteCreator in Lotus
Development Corp.'s Domino.Merchant.
Once we'd built the basic pages and product templates, we
could open the browser-based management console and configure
most aspects of the store. The pipeline interfaces in this
console allowed us to build a customized order processing
setup, easily configuring each stage in the process. We were
surprised at how well the CIP interface worked when creating a
business-to-business process, but companies will still need to
build or purchase the necessary components for this, such as
electronic data interchange integration.
The pipeline interface makes heavy use of COM (Component
Object Model) and Visual Basic scripting to manage and create
the necessary process components. Microsoft has added an open
API to this interface that makes it possible for businesses to
adapt internal sales applications to the e-commerce site.
Third-party vendors have also taken advantage of this API
to create add-on applications for Site Server 3.0 Commerce
Using the new Ad Server, we scheduled ads and managed ad
information. With the integration between Ad Server and Site
Server's new personalization features, we could display ads
based on the user profile.
Although the MMC management interface is a very good
administration tool, with a product as broad as Site Server
3.0, it can get a little confusing as to where certain
settings are managed.
Site Server's browser-based management interface makes this
even worse. Not every setting can be managed in each
interface. For example, when managing a storefront, most
features are configured in the browser-based Manager console
but some settings, such as security, are controlled in the MMC
With the Knowledge Management feature, we created catalogs
and indexes from information stored in databases, Web sites,
Exchange folders and file systems. We could easily search
these indexes and view results in a browser.
The publishing feature allowed us to create a content
approval process for site development. This feature ensured
that all approvers viewed content before it was posted.
However, the publishing feature lacks some advanced versioning
and comparison capabilities found in competing products, such
as Mortice Kern Systems Inc.'s Web Integrity.