BackOffice aims to automate depolyment

Microsoft Corp.’s BackOffice Server 4.5 suite — currently in beta testing — has several new features aimed at simplifying the installation, deployment, management and development of solutions for branch offices and departments.

BackOffice 4.5 includes Windows NT Server 4.0, Windows NT Option Pack, Exchange Server 5.5, Proxy Server 2.0, SNA Server 4.0, SQL Server 7.0, Site Server 3.0 and Systems Management Server 2.0. It also includes Outlook 2000, FrontPage 2000 Web site creation and management tool, Visual InterDev Web development system Version 6.0 and Seagate Crystal Info 6.0.

“If you think about all that technology and what it takes to get it installed and start talking to each other, that’s a pretty hefty piece of technology you’d have to work through,” said Paul Christilaw, marketing manager for Windows Platform Team, at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont. “So the first thing BackOffice 4.5 brings is an integrated installer for all that.”

Christilaw said if users install BackOffice 4.5 on a server that already has Microsoft software loaded, the installer is intelligent enough to detect what versions are already there and recommends service pack upgrades or technology upgrades based on its findings.

Another new aspect of BackOffice 4.5 is aimed at deployment in departmental applications and branch offices.

“One of the things that becomes interesting when you take this technology and move it outside of this sort of head office or main IT environment is, ‘How do you deploy it?'” Christilaw said.

There are several new features introduced in 4.5 to better automate deployment in multiple branches or departmental servers.

For instance, there are reusable set-up scripts — once a standard server configuration has been established, an unattended set-up script can be generated automatically. There is a BackOffice Server deployment wizard, which allows systems managers to replicate a single script across hundreds of servers, automatically updating machine names and parameter settings as required.

There is also a branch office set-up scenario, which automatically sets the proper settings for a remote location, such as joining an existing Microsoft Exchange Server site and setting up a secondary Systems Management Server site.

Users working with the beta applauded Microsoft’s efforts to simplify remote deployment.

Carnival Cruise Lines is moving from Novell NetWare and Lotus cc:Mail to the BackOffice suite on 15 of its ships. System support manager John Masseria said preliminary tests show that Microsoft’s new deployment tools will cut the amount of time needed to set up a BackOffice server from six days to one.

“The automation also helps us ensure the accuracy of how we configure each server,” Masseria said. “Before, we had someone maintain a checklist as each configuration was established. Now we can configure once and be assured that all the settings are propagated accurately.”

BackOffice 4.5 has a new management console — the BackOffice Server Manager, based on Microsoft Management Console Technology. It provides a single point of administration for common suite-level tasks, and includes four consoles optimized for entry-level help desk technicians, Web administrators, branch administrators and central IT administrators. Each console can be customized to incorporate in-house or third-party management tools.

The server suite also helps with Web and intranet development. It automatically sets up an intranet starter site out of the box with seven starter applications, including news, document library, events calendar, discussions, expense tracking and help desk applications. These starter applications have been updated to include support for Site Server 3.0, Microsoft Transaction Server and Office 2000 Web Components.

BackOffice customers are looking for a way to use the suite as a backbone for more mission-critical applications, according to Julie Kaufman, analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd.

She said it is evident with the beta release of BackOffice 4.5 that Microsoft is indeed starting to head in this direction.

“Rather than just looking at it as a bunch of products at a cheap price, they’re starting to look at more uses for it — more complex uses, more mission critical,” she said.

She named datamarts, sales force automation and intranets as a few of the larger applications customers are looking to use BackOffice for in the future, as well as areas where Microsoft is working toward positioning the product.

Currently in beta testing, BackOffice Server 4.5 is expected in the first half of 1999. Customers interested in participating in the BackOffice 4.5 beta program can apply by e-mailing, and should include the following information in the message: name, title, company, e-mail address, shipping address and phone number.

Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., is at 1-800-563-9048 or on the Internet at