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Make Your Intranet More Manageable

by Steven J. Vaughan Nichols While there are many tools that will help with Web administration and tracking Web usage, there really aren't that many that help with specific intranet management. What separates an intranet administration program from a run-of-the-mill.

Web, LAN, or Internet management package? Basically, it's a recognition of the special problems of handling distributed data, servers, and personnel while helping to keep out intruders and allowing employees to be able to constantly change data.

Dynamic Information

One tool which both intranet administrators and users would like to see is a program that automatically scans within an intranet for changed information. Several programs can pull off this trick; but only one, Cognisoft's IntelliServe, can deliver the revised documents to users without administration intervention.

IntelliServe scans existing DBMSs and documents for changes. When it finds such a change, it sends news of the change to users. IntelliServe can send this information along in the form of e-mail, a network pop-up, or in a Web document.

The real news here is that IntelliServe delivers change information only to specific recipients. This means that you can set up IntelliServe to let you know if someone has decided to take it on their own initiative to change a company Web page or, worse, to add a user or two to the system through a back door.

When properly utilized, IntelliServe is useful to everyone on an intranet. For an intranet administrator, its ability to be trained into a first-class network watchdog makes it a program that you must check out�unless, of course, you like crawling all over your site looking for unauthorized changes.

Workflow Administration

Another element you will need to deal with is tracking workflow applications. For now, the intranet excels at static document transfer, but intranets will be moving onto dynamic, DBMS-based document transfer as a mainstay. Lurking around the corner from this, however, is workflow software, and here there are the beginnings of proper administration tools.

At this time, there are four workflow programs that will work adequately on an intranet. These are: ActionWorkflow's Metro, Netscape's Collabra, Open Text's Livelink, and Ultimus' WebFlow.

For an administrator's ease of mind, the most important of these is LiveLink. Besides giving you access to LiveLink's freetext database search programs, LiveLink also supports complex workflow relationships. Better yet, LiveLink's graphical interface lets your design people share and create projects without dragging the intranet administrator into the picture. Compared to most such programs, LiveLink is a real time-saver.

LiveLink also comes with a central document repository that can span the entire intranet. Besides giving you version control and making document management inherently easier, this lets administrators set document permissions and attributes.

With these products, the name of the game is trying to manage a truly distributed system. By their very nature, information, servers, and clients will be scattered helter-skelter across your intranet. How are you going to manage them? That's a good question; but right now, there are no great answers.

Web Management Services

Don't expect perfect solutions yet; good intranet-oriented Web management tools are still developing. There are many Web management programs, but only a few of them are devoted to the specific problems that an intranet manager encounters.

NetManage, famous for their TCP/IP products, is now introducing the Windows-based IntraChange. This program enables any authorized person to manage an entire enterprise's Web resources.

The good news about this is that Webmasters throughout the company can track page movements across multiple servers and operating systems. Armed with this information, you can easily revise links through the intranet. Webmasters can also perform revision control and audit Web page production.

The bad news is, even though the program has a hierarchical security system, it's not integrated into a network operating system. Thus, keeping track of who has management and authorial access to your intranet's Web servers and pages is going to be an additional network administration burden.

First Floor Software's InfoPilot tries to stand out from the common run of Web servers by providing intranet-centric Web controls. The server itself runs on either the Netscape or Microsoft Internet servers on both Solaris 2.5 and Windows NT 3.51 and higher.

InfoPilot's claim to fame is that by using its clients, available for Mac and Windows platforms, you create Web documents that are automatically registered in a corporate information database. This database can then (besides being used for revision management) be used as a roadmap for your intranet's Web structure. This display can also be used to drill down to look at individual images and pages. It's easily the best top-view of an intranet's Web structure I've ever seen. Anyone who wants to know how their intranet's Web structure is hanging together--now--will find this feature alone invaluable.

Another program that offers some intranet Web management abilities, but will cost you an order of magnitude more with a list price of $35,000, is Open Market's Unix-based OM-Axcess.

OM-Axcess' best selling point is its central management of Web end-users. With this setup, your corporate users only need to log in once to get access to all intranet Web resources. For administrators, this means that you don't need to make all your Web services entirely public, or deal with the nightmare of giving hundreds of individuals different accounts on servers across the entire network.

Directory Services

The only way to effectively manage that last nightmare is to use directory services over an intranet. Novell network administrators in particular already know what that power feels like, with the directory services provided by Novell's NetWare 4.x's Network Directory Services (NDS); and, quite understandably, they want it on their intranets as well.

In NDS, administrators work with a distributed directory system that tracks all users, servers, and resources, no matter where they are on the intranet. This provides centralized management of the network's entire resource and user base.

NDS treats everything as an object. A user object contains everything from a user's name to their physical and IP addresses to their login scripts. While in some ways, NDS is similar to Sun's NFS Yellow Pages services and Apple's Name Binding Protocol, it goes far beyond either one.

Faced with the complexities of an intranet, you can understand why someone accustomed to having such vast information resources at their beck and call would want them even more in an intranet. Fortunately, they're about to get them in the first generation of intranet administration tools.

The most noteworthy of these programs will come from Netscape. Netscape's Netscape Directory Service (NDS), based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP; see RFC 1777), will provide an intranet global directory services for single-point network management. This server, like its other SuiteSpot servers, will enable a network administrator to manage the NDS using frame-compliant browsers.

Eventually this system will evolve into tomorrow's integrated SuiteSpot. For now, this plan is little more than ideas, code named Orion; but if there's one thing Netscape has shown during its brief life, it's that it can transform ideas into products in a hurry (well, beta products, anyway).

Netscape's NDS will provide standard replication and access methods for this database. If you're beginning to think that except for LDAP, this sounds a lot like NetWare's NDS, you're right. While the internals are quite different, both are based on the X.500 model; and an intranet manager will be able to get almost anything from NetWare's server that a NetWare 4.x administrator can get from Novell's NDS. With broad-based industry appeal- -AT&T, Banyan, Novell, and Sun have all thrown their support behind at least LDAP--it seems likely that NetWare's NDS will be the basis of many intranet management programs of the future.

Microsoft is working on an add-on for NT 4.0, the NT Directory Server (NTDS), that should provide an answer to NetWare's NDS. As is so often the case with Microsoft, plans are very fuzzy at the moment as to exactly what NTDS will be giving administrators.

Administration Headaches

Right now everyone is still so enchanted by the glamour of the intranet that they're not looking at the administration problems underlying it. Unfortunately, the charm is going to wear off, which will leave administrators trying to explain to everyone why Sue's love letter was published on an accounts payable Web page; and by the way, what was accounts payable doing with a Web page in the first place!?

This would be ugly enough even with proper administration tools. Without them, the best you can do is to create and enforce security and standard basics as best you can--by proclamation, leadership, and (sometimes) prayer. There's a rocky road ahead for intranet administrators, but by using some of these programs now, you can make sure you won't get thrown off the trail while waiting for perfect tools.



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