Open Source

Red Hat suite makes e-commerce easy

Red Hat's E-Commerce Suite includes all the tools necessary to quickly and easily allow small to medium-size organizations to open an online store for their products or services. See what it can do and how it stacks up.


By Jonathan Blackwood

The Red Hat E-Commerce Suite contains all the tools necessary for companies to quickly and easily open an online store for their products or services. Large enterprises may find the suite's capabilities too limited for their purposes, but for small to medium-size organizations, the E-Commerce Suite is well conceived, robust, and easy to implement.

The suite can't be installed on top of an existing Linux installation, so you'll need to start the installation process by first installing the Red Hat Linux distro that comes with the E-Commerce Suite. (The package includes a full version of Red Hat Linux 7.1.) Fortunately, Red Hat has one of the easiest installation routines of any distribution in the Linux world, and we found the installation of the operating system was as painless as Linux can be. The installation routine correctly identified all hardware on the first try and included all the necessary drivers on the installation disc.

The package also includes these components:
  • Red Hat Interchange 4.8
  • CommerceLauncher (a Web-based configuration tool)
  • Secure Apache Web Server (which supports 128-bit encryption)
  • Red Hat Database (which is powered by PostgreSQL)
  • Red Hat Network Software Manager

Altogether, the package lists at a price of $2,995, which includes three hours of developer consulting during the first 30 days, 30 days of telephone-based installation and configuration support, and 12 months of Web-based configuration support. That's a lot of handholding, and it adds significant value (and confidence) to the Red Hat E-Commerce Suite.

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Installing and configuring the suite
Once you've installed the OS, the E-Commerce Suite installs simply, almost like a Windows application. Pop in the disc, mount it, click on Install, and the installation routine takes over. You enter the name of your server, a password for the PostgreSQL database, and a username and password for the Interchange root user (to be used with the Administration Tool). Finally, you enter your e-mail address, which allows the completed installation to send you confirmation that the package installed successfully. The confirmation e-mail also contains the URL for the configuration tool—CommerceLauncher.

CommerceLauncher is completely browser-based. It functions like a wizard to walk you through all the elements required to get your e-commerce site functioning (although you must still register with a third party for an SSL key). It also has a handy demo mode, so you can practice the steps involved in the configuration process before you actually commit to the individual decisions you must make. Such decisions include things like whether to show sale prices or wholesale prices for items, your preferred shipping method, which credit cards you accept, and so on. There's also a sophisticated routine for determining sales-tax liability based on your address and the address of your warehouse.

But there are other choices to make and tasks to be done as well, such as loading the database with your products and digital photos of the products, not to mention making the aesthetic decisions as to how your site's pages will look and what colors and backgrounds are to be used. Fortunately, CommerceLauncher guides you through this process with extreme ease. It even features a number of templates for the aesthetically challenged, so the end result will be sure to look like it was produced by a professional designer.

Just how easy is CommerceLauncher? The idea behind the installation methodology is that once a system administrator has performed the Linux and E-Commerce Suite installations, a nontechnical site manager can proceed with product configuration. Our experience with the product would support that assertion.

Functionality
Interchange, the base application, supplies site management tools such as user management and management of the suite's other components. (Interchange's administration tool can be installed on a separate server for maximum security, if desired.) Interchange also provides catalog management, such as differential pricing, cross-linking among catalog items, and complex discounting rules. Tools for order management, content management, and customer relationship management (CRM) are provided, as well.

Interchange's order management tools include support for purchase orders, split shipping, product returns, and more. The content management tools permit less technical users to create new templates and Web pages (and edit existing ones) and to manage uploads and downloads to the site. Personalization and e-mail alerts for promotions and coupons are among the CRM tools. The Merchandising module allows for affinity promotions, cross-selling, and quantity pricing. There are additional tools for reporting and integration with external databases, such as those running on Oracle, DB2, or MySQL engines.

Bottom line
Red Hat's $2,995 package is a slick, well-thought-out, and comprehensive solution that's well worth your consideration. And with all the value-added handholding Red Hat includes with the package, it's almost impossible not to achieve the e-commerce solution you seek. Incidentally, Red Hat intends to extend this product by offering a turnkey, managed, and hosted e-commerce suite in the coming months. Although intended to sweeten the pot for smaller enterprises, some larger enterprises may like the idea of outsourcing their e-commerce headaches, as well.

How would this package meet your e-commerce needs?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.

 

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