EBuilder Takes One Great Step for E-Commerce

SAN MATEO (06/12/2000) - Despite the great inroads Linux has made toward enterprise deployment, leveraging business resources on Linux in a full-blown, scalable e-commerce solution typically has required a slew of third-party tools or custom-developed applications. Although Linux is fast becoming a stable back-end workhorse, it is still developing its enterprise-worthy ecommerce chops.

Because of limited e-commerce software, mediocre technical support, and nongraphical user tools, businesses have shied away from adapting Linux as a viable, enterprise-worthy e-commerce deployment platform on a large scale.

But Caldera Systems Inc., a prominent proponent of open-source Linux distributions, shifts the tide with the release of OpenLinux eBuilder. This out-of-the-box solution combines Caldera OpenLinux eServer 2.3, IBM Corp.

WebSphere application server, and Evergreen eCential 3.0 in a secure, scalable server and middleware architecture for building Java-based, e-commerce storefronts.

With preformatted plug-in ecommerce components and Java development tools such as VisualAge for Java, eBuilder can jump-start your commerce initiative. With features for catalog development, shopping carts, payment and order processing, and membership management as well as a browser-based interface, eBuilder can decrease time to market and ease development and maintenance.

Also, eBuilder makes it easy to bulk administer common site features across multiple storefronts using a single interface, configuration files, and a common database repository. This reduces the cost for VAR/e-SP (service provider) setups and deployment and eases ongoing management requirements.

Don't expect to find a traditional open-source price tag on this solution.

Caldera's solution presents start-up costs in line with compa-rable Windows-based solutions, such as IBM WebSphere, but without the fortitude of high-end native database connectivity. Although it can use Java Database Connectivity for connecting to Oracle and Microsoft database systems, native storage is provided for just MySQL. Multithreaded and adequate for midlevel database interactions, MySQL lacks the mettle and administrative manageability of products such as IBM DB2.

However, with a little elbow grease eBuilder's Java engine and open-standards architecture, including support for Enterprise JavaBeans, CORBA, XML, and JavaServer Pages (JSPs), make it possible to leverage back-end resources and systems in effective business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce deployments.

Administrative and maintenance tasks can be managed easily by nontechnical users via the Web-based interface. But eBuilder requires a solid knowledge of database administration and Java programming to leverage its capabilities beyond the template. Although eBuilder is a boon to Linux-based e-commerce, it fails to offer benefits over solutions for more costly OS platforms and lacks capabilities such as easy eCRM (customer relationship management) extensibility, which is found in Linux competitors such as Magic. However, eBuilder is a good solution for Java-experienced IT shops and VARs looking to decrease licensing costs when deploying midsize e-commerce setups.

Serving success

The eServer component supplies the Web, e-mail, FTP, and network serving capabilities that have been fine-tuned for use with Pentium-based processors.

The server setup of this distribution was the finest I have seen with a graphical interface; the Lizard installation wizard offered better automatic detection of system components than I've experienced in any Red Hat distribution.

The remaining pieces of this multivendor installation fit together seamlessly, installing from a terminal window in the graphical KDE (K Desktop Environment) using simple installation scripts.

The abundant supply of graphical tools for administration will allow most server maintenance tasks to be performed without a command line, reducing the risk of configuration errors and security problems.

The eCential commerce modules offer a productivity boost. This set of ready-made Java services made it easy to begin building data-driven JSPs for my storefront. They integrate functionality for shopping carts, order placement, catalog development, and payment verification and processing via CyberSource.

There are services for harvesting and managing membership data that can be used to create personalized offers to bolster sales and foster repeat business.

On the downside, eBuilder ships with limited sample storefronts and no tutorials. I found the catalog development tools lackluster compared to WebSphere Windows-based Catalog Architect. But it allows quick manual development of product groups, image association, and product-specific data entry and pricing.

Although the search engine capabilities were not as robust as those of WebSphere's Text Extenders for DB2, eCential offers good basic keyword searching across product catalogs and a way to insert and edit custom keywords.

The Java-based architecture of eCential ensures distributed scalability and load balancing as performance requirements dictate, and reliance on XML data structures enables compatibility across a variety of systems, including EDI (electronic data interchange) supply-chain integration with vendors or partners.

It is very easy to create basic storefronts using eBuilder. However, large-scale commerce would likely be hampered by its lack of certain services such as rules-based marketing, interfaces with accounting systems, returns processing, the ability to upsell and cross-sell products, and the capability of easily importing existing catalogs.

However, the benefits of globally managing common properties across multiple storefronts from a single interface and configuration file provides considerable administrative time savings for e-SPs. And once set up, storefronts can be managed by users without Linux or programming background.

All told, I found Caldera OpenLinux eBuilder to be a field-ready, Linux-based solution worthy of consideration for midsize enterprises or e-SPs looking to leverage development experience in exchange for reduced ecommerce start-up costs.

James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com), a frequent InfoWorld contributor, is director of IS for Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

OpenLinux eBuilder

Business Case: Using the Linux platform for e-commerce reduces server licensing costs for deployment. OpenLinux eBuilder's ready-made components mean easy installation and a decreased time to market with fully functional Web storefronts.

Technology Case: This e-commerce storefront supports open standards such as Java 2 Enterprise Edition, CORBA, and XML to facilitate integration of legacy applications and partners. It requires Java programming knowledge to leverage capabilities beyond rudimentary design, and it could benefit from an enterprise-level data store.

Pros:

+ Good preformatted commerce components

+ Includes IBM application server and Java development tools+ Supports open technology standardsCons:

- Uses MySQL as data store

- Limited samples and templates

- Limited failover capabilities and performance tuning- No auction moduleCost: $40,000, enterprise (single storefront); $70,000, e-SP versionPlatform(s): Caldera OpenLinux 2.3Caldera Systems Inc., Orem, Utah; (888) 465-4689 www.calderasystems.com.

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