Site Server, a business perspective
Site Server 3.0 is the latest addition to the ever-growing bundle
of development platforms for the Internet. A new tool means a new set of solutions for
businesses and a new set opportunities for a developer. With this in mind, I set out to
interview Alan Saldanha, a popular writer among ASP newbies (with his ASP 101 tutorial)
and the creator of www.siteserver101.com. The
following interview was conducted with businesses with potential need for a commerce
solution in mind, in line with the focus at ActiveTalk.
About Alan Saldanha
Alan is the President of C & S Inc., Fort Worth TX. He holds a Masters in Computer
Science from Texas A&M University. He has been involved in designing Intranet/Internet
sites for the past 4 years and has created sites for Campbell Soups, LL Bean, Proctor
& Gamle - Dryel, ABC's Monday Night Football, Pepperidge Farm, etc. You can contact
him at email@example.com.
What is Site Server? How is it different from say IIS/ASP etc?
I usually describe Site Server as the easiest way for a business
to get a "Amazon.com" class electronic commerce site at a very affordable price.
However, to a IS Manager it means more, much more - it represents a very powerful web
application platform to develop line-of-business application that have tangible ROI. Good
example of those types of applications would include workflow, procurement systems,
customer service etc.
It's no so much different from IIS/ASP, as that it is a layer of
technology that is built on the existing architecture of IIS, MTS, ASP, SQL etc. ASP is
like the Honda's of this work - easy to drive, while Site Server and Site Server Commerce
is like a Porsche - very powerful, but you need to learn how to drive to use it optimally.
Why should businesses care about Site Server?
Site Server and Site Server Commerce are the quickest way for a
business to get competitive edge and advantage! Let me explain, since that may seems like
a hype-loaded statement. Say you're a mid sized business who is doing business-to-business
transactions with a Fortune 100 company who necessities that from a certain date all
transaction need to be conducted via the Web. Site Server Commerce already gets you there
- in fact one of the samples site that come with Site Server Commerce, Microsoft Market,
illustrates that in detail.
Let me give you another scenario. Say we are a large mail-order
company that is looking to develop a truly international site with French domains getting
the site in French, the Germans in German etc. Well, Site Server Commerce comes with a
component called the "MessageManager", which allows you to create "message
sets" - a French set, a German set etc. Using the MessageManager, the French domains
are presented with the French set and the Germans the German set. In effect, you have
separated the message content of the site from the functionality of the site.
What advantages does Site Server have over say writing your
own IIS apps?
Any ASP development project that saw the benefits that component
development brings to the table will have a ball with Site Server and Site Server
There are twenty odd components that you can plug into your apps
to develop really cool applications. Applications ranging from on-line stores that
incorporate promotional selling like "2 for the price of 1" deals, to
procurement systems for large corporations that enable one server to convey info to
another via the Web.
In addition Site Server Commerce also allows you to using
scripting to write components, which developers will find extremely handy when business
rules need to in-corporated in applications.
Rather than having the developer spend time developing in-house
components, the components allow the developer to focus on the solution. Now that does not
mean that component development is eliminated, but the level has shifted to a higher level
- just as in the case of ASP.
What about the learning curve?
If the user is looking to use it as a "product", Site
Server Commerce comes with wizards and sample sites that make getting an on-line store up
an ready pretty quickly.
However, if you are looking to develop customized solutions it
can be pretty steep even for an experienced developer. That's because of the sheer breath
of the product - it provides you components that allow you to develop membership based
sites, knowledge management systems, procurement systems ... Site Server also introduces a
pretty neat way to manage components and business rules in an application - via a
"pipeline". This is a pretty cool feature that makes adding and removing the
components in the pipeline "plug and play".
What are the main competitors to Site Server? How do they
Generally IBM's Net.Commerce Pro and Open Market's Transact and
Live Commerce are pitted against Site Server Commerce. However, Site Server Commerce's
stand is unique once you get beyond the wizard and reporting capabilities. The component
nature of Site Server Commerce makes it possible to take it somewhere else - to a point
that it actually meets business objectives and customization.
Site Server Commerce would be the product if you were looking to
develop customized electronic commerce solutions beyond on-line storefronts.
I would view Enterprise Java Beans and the frameworks that
embrace it, and not any any product, as the main competitor to Site Server. And that, has
yet to play out.
I am an ASP developer, how easy is it for me to be a Site
Site Server development will be the natural progression for ASP
developers, who are already familiar with SQL Server, scripting and working with COM
objects. You may have some teething problem getting to understand some of the concepts
associated with site server like the pipeline and personalization. However, I would
encourage you to persist as it will be well worth your time and effort to do so, as Site
Server Commerce becomes the most marketable skill set in Web development