This is my first post. I'm not sure this is the right location for this question. Hopefully someone out there will find it and help me. I'm looking for advice from someone who has more experience than I do. I"m a little over my head on my next project.

First off, a quick portrait of myself -- I have limited experience with DB design. I've mostly just played around with Access and MySQL and have done some simple database driven websites with a tiny bit of relational stuff going on, but nothing like the scale I'm about to launch into. I'm the website manager at my company. I also have about 10 years of programming experience, mostly web programming with PHP, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, a Bachelors in CS, the will to learn, a smart assistant who has a fair amount of DB experience, and the ability to hire a little bit more help, so there is hope.

My next project -- We are going to be re-designing our website from scratch using ASP.NET, VB.NET and SQL Server. That decision has been made so I don't need any advice there. We need the power. We are a mid-sized company and growing quickly. I like PHP and MySQL but it just won't cut the mustard for what we need to do.

Our website will be community based with forums, lots of free information, and extensive user accounts, e-newsletters and also a large online shopping section.

My primary problem -- We are looking at an e-commerce package (EscalateRetail-- I hope it's ok to mention that.) which looks great, but it's an out of the box product and we will not be able to access the DB or back-end programming. It has lots of great features and stability which we need and can't afford to develop on our own.

My concern is this -- We want to do as much development in-house as possible and we want to be able to customize our system without relying on outside sources (we have outgrown outsourced IT), yet we are not big enough yet to be able to afford the resources (mostly human) to develop everything ourselves, which is what we really need.

So, what we will probably have to do is purchase a boxed e-commerce package which will house customer and product databases, and develop the rest of the website (with all of our other customer information) separately and somehow sync the two together or query one onto the other. My experience with syncing is that it sucks, so I'm not very hopeful here, but maybe I'm missing something.

Do I have any other options?
I would like to avoid having 2 separate DBs, but I don't know how.
What should I do?