11 Replies Latest reply on Aug 2, 2017 10:17 AM by William-Porter

    Why FileMaker Server?

    heatherwilliams

      I'm in my second year of increasing the capabilities of an inherited FileMaker database used to track students who apply for and receive funding from our office. We currently do not have any web integration, but after attending DevCon 2017, I have high hopes for reducing the amount of manual download from one system and upload in to FileMaker, and then emailing applicants at various times while they are funded (i.e., developing a more automated workflow process). I am looking for advice on how to articulate to non-developers that we should purchase FileMaker Server for an office with 8 users - two of us are low-level developers - versus going to a "fully customizable" module in an external system that won't cost anything because our institution already purchased a site license.

       

      We are currently running Filemaker Pro 15 on a peer-to-peer network with a dedicated iMac that continually runs a copy of our database and I manually back up everyday. We can connect to this "server" in-house via the institution's network or via a VPN client when off campus.

        • 1. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
          taylorsharpe

          1) Backups without taking down the server or accidentally corrupting by copying an open file

          2) Schedule scripts

          3) Security

          4) Many more users

          5) Perform Script on Server

           

          gosh... I can't even begin to name all the reasons for FMS.  Actually, I never use FM with using FMS and can't imagine it without it. 

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          • 2. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
            heatherwilliams

            Thanks, Taylor. Unfortunately, these aren't persuasive enough details since the other system would also take care of all of this for us at no additional cost.

             

            Is it bad to hope that the demo of this other system ends up having flaws? I am enjoying my development work with FileMaker.

            • 3. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
              philmodjunk

              A lot will depend on that phrase "fully customizeable" and whether it truly is for what you want to do. FileMaker truly is very customizeable because you can build what you need from the ground up and adjust your design to meet nearly every unique need of your project. But it comes at the cost of needing someone with the time and expertise to create that solution. If the other product allows you to "pick from a menu" or something and still get a product that does what you need, then it's going to be difficult to justify using FileMaker. But if it takes a developer writing code to produce that fully customizeable solution, then FileMaker will likely outshine it by being easier/faster to use as a development tool. You need to consider the development costs, not just the purchase price--especially if your current work forms the basis of what you want to put up on the server as you then have a large part of the project already done.

               

              We tend to think of FIleMaker as the best option for nearly everything, but it's really not true. For your organization, maybe that other product will turn out to be the best option.

              • 4. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                coherentkris

                To echo taylorsharpe...

                1. Backups

                2. Multi users

                3. File Integrity checks

                4. Backups

                • 5. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                  bigtom

                  I think there is an argument for the thing that works already. Platform changes can cause disruption. You also need to look at the implications of not having your data internally.

                   

                  that being said the other option may be better for you. Hard saying without knowing the actual comparison.

                  • 6. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                    tcwaters

                    We use Filemaker for a similar purpose: students use a web interface (web direct) to apply for funding, and the scholarship committee uses a web interface (web direct) to review the applicants and award funds. Then, a person in Student Services, uses FMPro to print hardcopy letters and send emails to the students and some other administrative tasks. I love the fact that both students and staff, can login with their Active Directory credentials, and that based on their login creds, be able to see one set of layouts or another. I can also fully encrypt the data.

                     

                    Filemaker is a rapid development product.  It is easy to craft a solution and get it through testing to a useable version, quite quickly, where often building in another platform has longer development times.

                     

                    For me the ability to schedule back ups and use Perform Script on Server are two big advantages to using Server.  It is just following "best practices" to treat the box running the database (server) as an enterprise level tool, and that means separating the box that holds the database from the user's box(es). 

                     

                    A value for us in using FileMaker Server, has been that we can easily add databases to do other tasks and work flow, quickly and easily.  We now have about 20 databases in use for our school.  We are at the point, where no one questions why we are using FileMaker anymore. You may not be at that point.  You may have to build a test solution in the other product, and then you can compare them- how they operate and how easily and quick it was to develop in each. Be sure to test all needed interactions with the data.  We have a solution, that was originally built by some students in another tool, and for data entry, the thing was fine. But it lacked the ability to allow data summary and reporting in a useful manner. The output from that tool was horrific. So, now all of that is done via FileMaker.

                     

                    To solidify FileMaker's place in our school, I found it really helpful to find tasks that a FMP database could do quickly and easily.  These "business" tasks are not complicated things, but they demonstrated to folks in charge that FileMaker was a tool that we could use in many different ways from simple solutions to more complex solutions. I think sometimes as developers, we want to build big and complex solutions to show the real power of the product. But at times very simple solutions can be the ticket to getting people to grasp the real power of the Filemaker platform.

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                    • 7. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                      William-Porter

                      # Why use FileMaker Server?

                       

                      Heather,

                       

                      Why FileMaker Server? Once you "get" Server's importance, you'll realize that the right question isn't "Why use Server?" but "Under what circumstances is it rational and defensible NOT to use Server?"

                       

                      Let me first be clear about what "use FileMaker Server" means to me. It certainly means hosting your FileMaker production databases under FileMaker Server. I'm referring to the database(s) that users are actually putting data in and accessing regularly. But it can also mean hosting files that are still in development. It can even mean hosting a file that you are the only person using. I might add that it also means hosting these files on a properly configured and appropriately powerful machine.

                       

                       

                      ## Why use FileMaker Server (FMS) to host my FileMaker files?

                       

                      How do I love Server? Let me count the ways. Okay, I'm going to use my fingers, which means I'll stop at 10. I'll start by distinguishing FMS from peer-to-peer, then continue on to FMS's other unique advantages.

                       

                      1. It's true that you can share a database using FileMaker peer-to-peer sharing, but FMS allows many, many more users to access the same database at the same time.

                       

                      2. Even if only two people are accessing the database, FMS is significantly FASTER than peer-to-peer.

                       

                      3. FileMaker Server protects the integrity of your files. On the other hand, peer-to-peer is, to be blunt, dangerous. Practically every major file-corruption disaster my clients have experienced in the last 20+ years occurred when files were being shared peer-to-peer. FMS is not 100.000% bulletproof but pretty darned close. If something awful occurs while the database is in use (say, power failure, or client computer crash) odds of damage to the files under peer-to-peer are fairly high, while odds of damage when sharing via FMS are close to zero. Using FMS is like wearing the seatbelt when you're in your car. You might make it to Nova Scotia without an accident, but if an accident occurs, you're going to wish you'd worn your seatbelt.

                       

                      4. Perhaps this is an answer to the question "Why WOULDN'T you use FMS?" but I want to point out that FMS is not nearly as expensive as people think. You can put a file on user A's computer and let user B access it too. But if user A is working in the database -- or even if user A is doing something that hogs computer A's resources -- user B's experience is going to be diminished very significantly. For that reason, peer-to-peer sharing is best done when you use a dedicated machine as the host. (Dedicated machine means "used just for the purpose of hosting and with nobody actually sitting in front of that machine doing anything else".) And of course that requires a license for FileMaker Pro on that machine. So you've now paid for a FMP license and a dedicated machine -- and you're getting lousy performance. The cost of hosting is literally a few dollars more a month.

                       

                      5. When properly configured, FMS allows users to access the database from outside the local LAN, in fact, from more or less anywhere in the world.

                       

                      6. FMS is required if you want users to access your databases via WebDirect and (I think) FileMaker Go. (And you should want them to do one or both of those things, but "why WebDirect?" and "why FileMaker Go?" are separate questions.)

                       

                      7. FileMaker Server can be configured to backup your files automatically, safely, and without noticeable interruption, as often as you like. Using peer-to-peer, you must close the files on all machines, make your backups, and then reopen the files.

                       

                      8. FileMaker Server can be configured to perform a script on a schedule. For example, you might want to process 50,000 rcords in the middle of the night, every night. Write the script, and then use FMS's script scheduler to run that script when nobody is at work. I use this feature to send user's their daily calendars at 6 AM.

                       

                      9. Even when 30 people are working in the database, FMS can be asked to perform all kinds of data-intensive operations that would take much longer to perform on a local client machine. This is called "Perform Script on Server" or PSoS, from the name of the script step that initiates the process. PSoS is an advanced (or at least least advanced intermediate) technique and takes a little bit of learning so you can set it up correctly, but boy, it's amazing when you know how to use it.

                       

                      10. As soon as you start to manage multiple databases, the advantages of Server become overwhelming. (I'm not talking now about multiple users, but about multiple files.) The FMS admin console allows you to see at a glance who's using what database, to send messages to users, and tons of other stuff.

                       

                      That's just a start. And I haven't even gotten to the other forms of connectivity that FMS makes possible: ODBC/JDBC connections, PHP access to your databases to run your website, the new FileMaker API.

                       

                      *

                       

                      I remember back in the 1980s when the internet was still available primarily in the academy (I was teaching at a university at that time). Somebody said, "A computer without a modem [look it up] is like a car without wheels." That was when computers were still thought of as really fancy personal calculators. By the early 1990s, when the internet expanded beyond military, scientific and academic use and the World Wide Web got going, we began to realize that computers were more like phones than personal calculators: they were communications devices. (Computers of course have now replaced calculators, phones, radios and record players and are working on replacing television sets and movie theaters. But I digress....)

                       

                      Well, that historical analogy applies to FileMaker and FMS. If I could modify the remark I heard decades ago, I'd say that a FileMaker file that is not hosted under FMS is like a baby bird stuck in a nest, waiting to learn to fly.

                       

                      *

                       

                      Final addendum: A kind of proof of the advantages of FMS may be found in a situation where it seems at first completely unnecessary: one user (the developer) working on a file that's used only on one machine. Even in this case, quite a few developers will put that file on Server to work on it. Why on earth would an individual user, working on a database that he or she alone will access, put it on Server? See reasons 3, 7, and 8 above.

                       

                      Will

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                      • 8. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                        bigtom

                        The other advantage is that FM can do many things (almost anything) and

                        your external service may not provide the same range of customization

                        that FM does. Having FMS and possibly a FM site license opens up the

                        entire facility to benefit from FMS and rapid custom applications for

                        many departments.

                         

                        The Peer to Peer connection limit in FMP15 is only 5. If you have 8

                        users you already NEED FMS.

                        • 9. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                          philmodjunk

                          You guys may be arguing the wrong case. It seems to me that the choice is not FileMaker server vs. Peer to Peer, but FileMaker server vs. a competing product. It's easy to argue in favor of server over peer to peer, hard to argue for a product that we know nothing about.

                          • 10. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                            bigtom

                            Heather, What is the other external service?

                            • 11. Re: Why FileMaker Server?
                              William-Porter

                              I HATE it when people don't read the entire original post carefully -- and I confess, I am guilty of that sin myself here. Mea culpa.

                               

                              So understanding now that the question your asking isn't "Why FileMaker Server vs peer-to-peer" but "How to justify cost of FileMaker Server for an existing solution vs switching to something else", let me add a couple of notes to my earlier post.

                               

                              1. As I said in my earlier post: FileMaker Server isn't expensive. I confess, I used to think that it was, but I was wrong about that. But if you're in an institutional environment (obviously you are) you might qualify for a discount on FMS already without being aware of it. Or purchasing FileMaker Server with FileMaker licensing for teams for 10 users. You might need to talk to somebody in FileMaker's sales group to get the right info as there are options.
                              2. You don't have to BUY FileMaker Server. You could host through FileMaker Cloud, or you can "rent" hosting. Two third-party services that I can recommend without reservation are FMHosting Pros and Point in Space. You'll spend a few dollars month but you won't have to worry about the machine or much else. FileMaker 16 virtual hosting may be a little more per month because you are now paying for your own licensing. But it's an option you might explore.
                              3. If you've got a good alternative solution available that has already been paid for, then the question might not be about FileMaker Server at all, but about the cost -- in time and effort -- of converting your existing FileMaker solution to the new platform. Can't help you there other than to say that conversion is almost always a large headache + $$$. That's why people hate change. Well, most people hate change pure and simple, even when it's easy. But if you're converting a solution from one platform to another, it's not likely to be easy or cheap.
                              4. Cost of conversion aside, you will also need to consider the capabilities of the alternative platform vs FileMaker's capabilities. Sometimes this comparison is easy, sometimes it's much more difficult.

                               

                              Good luck.

                               

                              Will

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