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Microsoft BackOffice Server in beta

The new suite is aimed at helping midsized companies better juggle branch office server management and streamline communication between applications.

Microsoft today announced BackOffice Server 4.5, intended to help midsized companies better juggle branch office server management and streamline communication between applications.

BackOffice Server 4.5, now in beta testing, includes a set of consoles to help IT administrators manage common tasks. The BackOffice 4.5 suite includes Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, Systems Management Server 2.0, and Windows NT Server 4.0 Service Pack 4.

One of the major goals of the release is simplify deployment of BackOffice servers in remote or branch offices of large companies, said Kevin Breunig, a product manager at Microsoft.

For example, BackOffice Server 4.5 includes tools to help users setup Microsoft Exchange to connect to a primary site on a wide-area network for corporate-wide email and messaging. Setup and installation of BackOffice 4.5 can be fully scripted, so that remote sites can easily configure the server.

"That should save time and reduce errors in setup," said Breunig. "Customers were running into problems [with errors introduced through setup]," he said. Breunig said some companies were actually hiring temporary workers to key-in setup parameters by hand, which sometimes led to problems. BackOffice 4.5 includes a deployment wizard to let users you replicate scripts out to other servers, minimizing errors.

"All of these [features] speak to the need to support users in small business and departments who probably don't have the same level of IT skills as corporate headquarters," said Jean Bozman, an analyst with International Data Corporation. "This recognizes a need to support these folks."

Bozman noted that Microsoft isn't alone in attacking the departmental/branch office market. Novell and Sun Microsystems are both moving into this market as well, she said.

Breunig said BackOffice 4.5 will ship in the second quarter of this year, timed to coincide with both the introduction of Office 2000, the company's new desktop application suite, and Small Business Server 4.5, a server bundle targeted at standalone offices.

Breunig said Small Business Server differs from BackOffice because it is not intended to be a branch office server. The server bundle does not support internetworking via WANs. The connector for linking Exchange back to corporate networks has been disabled in the Small Business bundle, for instance.

BackOffice is tuned to deployment on corporate networks. Breunig said that BackOffice 4.5 includes tools for deployment of Office 2000 servers, for instance.

Microsoft plans to ship a new version of BackOffice to coincide with the launch of Windows 2000 server, formerly known as Windows NT 5.0, expected later this year. The operating system is currently in beta testing.