Feb.04

MySites, Collaboration, Intranet, Internet and Extranet … Tell me the difference!

I want SharePoint! Great, but what exactly do you want?

SharePoint MySites Intranet Internet Extranet Collaboration(Click Image to enlarge)

It’s not always easy to draw clear lines. However, if somebody would ask me to explain the difference between an intranet site and an internet site it’s easy. You can tell them apart by it’s audience. An internet site is for the outside world and an intranet site for the insiders. Technically speaking, however, do both portals not need to differ that much at all. They share a lot of specifications. Both probably need a publishing workflow to have editors approve or reject the work authors want to have published. Both portals also need similar branding. Corporate Identity is important for the casual internet surfer who visits your site. You want him or her to recognise and experience your brand. But the same is true for employees. They should experience similar feelings when surfing your intranet. In fact, you want to make them feel proud of the company they work for. Also, both an intranet as well as an internet site need to be optimised for caching. So you probably want to have your portals be read-only whilst having a “shadow” portal with write access for authors from which you’ll deploy content at regular intervals (or ad-hoc in case you need to publish breaking news). Possibly the biggest difference is the number of visitors. But that doesn’t need to be true either. Obviously, you can forget all of what I wrote in case you’re public internet website actually is an eCommerce site. I’m excluding that category for the rest of this post. What I meant with an internet site is a corporate internet site, where you post your product information, press-releases and introduce the management team.

The difference between a collaboration portal and an intranet portal isn’t that clear at all. You can’t simply draw a line based on its audience because both portals target insiders. So I need to tweak a little bit and it for sure also is a matter of taste. I personally like to define an intranet portal as the place where the corporation communicates in an uni-directional way with its employees. A collaboration portal, on the other hand, is nothing more and nothing less than a tool for bi-directional communication and sharing that supports any number of collaboration methods (like meet, track, enlist, inform and share). Let me give you an example. When employees start working together they need to share documents. Obviously, this can be done using email. Simply attach a document and send it to five colleagues, kindly requesting them to review it and make corrections when needed. This doesn’t seem the brightest idea of all. The document is copied many times and it is a nightmare to receive five versions with corrections and having to merge those into one final version. Also this approach means that the mailbox limit of 200 Mb is reached rather quickly. An improved approached would be using a shared network drive. Simply save the document to a place where everybody can open it and using Windows 7 you press shift+right mouse button followed by clicking Copy as Path. You past the path in an email and send it to your colleagues. Now only one person at a time can open the document. Unfortunately, such processes normally don’t work well and I bet those colleagues save their version using their initials and some kind of weird date stamp and lots of underscores. Using SharePoint Foundation Team Sites these problems can be solved easily using the simple document management features such as versioning. Still it is important to educate those colleagues. I believe the saying goes: a fool with tool is still a fool! But never tell anyone I said that! So, back to where I started. A collaboration portal is a tool and it helps to streamline information worker processes such as document sharing, project management and tracking of simple things such as making a visitor parking place reservation or reporting an issue to the IT department. Previously I said that it is a matter of taste where to draw the line between an intranet and a collaboration portal. What I meant to say is that some people like to call the intranet every piece of software that runs in a browser within any four walls of a corporation. I personally only like torefer to the publishing portal as meant in the previous paragraph (when discussing the difference between an intranet and a corporate internet web appearance). So for me there is a clear distinction between a collaboration portal and an intranet portal. Some of these differences I’ve also described in more details in my previous post: http://www.getsharepoint.ch/2011/01/sharepoint-collaboration-versus-publication/.

A SharePoint Extranet actually isn’t something that lives on its own, at least not in my perception. The words SharePoint Extranet tell me that you’ve managed to create an opening in your security infrastructure so that your partners e.g. suppliers, top five customers or consultants can access (part) of your SharePoint Farm. Basically it’s up to you to decide to which part of your SharePoint Farm you want to give them access. Or maybe you’ve created a new Farm especially for them. Whatever the setup, chances are you’ve created a collaboration portal so you can share documents and information and streamline processes between yourself and your partner. In case you’re interested in setting up a SharePoint 2010 Extranet, we have come up with a simple yet effective solution: http://www.getsharepoint.ch/2011/01/collaboration-with-partners-suppliers-and-clients-a-sharepoint-extranet/.

I won’t go into detail with regards to MySites. But even though it’s not a completely correct way of putting it, I like to think of it as the private but not so private space on SharePoint. I say that, because I feel that from a user’s perspective his MySite, where he can save his own files like he used to save them on his home drive on the share network drive is very much connected with his public profile. Technically, his profile and his MySite are not that much intertwined, but when you start your browser you’ll always end up at (almost) the same place. So providing a MySite to a user to replace his home drive makes sense when he or she is using the same collaboration tool when working with his or her colleagues on a project or in a team.

So next time you say “I want SharePoint” and I ask you what you want to do with it, you now know what to answer or else have a second look at the image at the beginning of this post.

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Jan.25

SharePoint Collaboration versus Publication

There are already a couple of good blog posts out there that deal with the differences between SharePoint Collaboration and Publication. So there really isn’t any need for me to add to that. I’d rather refer to one post that I found particularly inspiring.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mossbiz/archive/2009/06/23/clarifications-collaboration-vs-publishing.aspx

In fact, I decided to convert the post into a easy-to-understand slide in my pack that customers at least should have looked at for a couple of seconds. I bet it will stick for the next couple of years.

collaboration and publishing(Click on Image to enlarge)

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Jan.19

Search Technologies for the SharePoint 2010 family

When you start pondering about your search requirements for your SharePoint environment you automatically start thinking about your options. In this case, defining your requirements may be a lot easier when you can just tick the box and simply say, yes, I want that feature or no, I don’t care about it.

If you google for it, you’ll quickly enough find an overview generated by Microsoft, but it still doesn’t offer a handy overview at one glance. Hence I compiled the following table using exactly that information.

SharePoint Search Comparison(Click image to enlarge)

Obviously, when reducing your decision for a SharePoint Search Technology to ticking boxes is oversimplying things. Another aspect to take into account are costs. Hence keep in mind that for FAST you need at least two licenses (one for the indexing and another one for the query server) plus your users need the enterprise CAL. And if you want even more details, then I can recommend you read about available Search Technologies for SharePoint in a post written by Vendant Kulshreshtha here: http://blogs.technet.com/b/vedant/archive/2009/10/23/search-technologies-for-sharepoint-2010-products.aspx .

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Jan.16

Collaboration with Partners, Suppliers and Clients: A SharePoint Extranet

In the last couple of months we have been busy dealing with clients who wanted to setup a SharePoint 2010 extranet. The use cases varied from sharing meeting minutes, regulations and other documents with a couple of partners in a closed user group environment available on the internet to being able to host hundreds of project portals, all for different closed user groups.

sharepoint 2010 extranet

(Click image to enlarge)

The first hurdle when setting up an extranet collaboration portal for a closed user group is finding a decent way to authenticate users. Some clients opted for using their Active Directory as a data source for members. This has an advantage in that it is possible to increase the level of security using ISA server or its predecessor UAG. However, this puts an extra burden on IT and could still potentially allow users access to the company’s domain. This is where Microsoft ASP.NET’s so called Forms Based Authentication (FBA) comes into play. Using ASP.NET it is possible to create a SQL database that will act as a directory for users that have access to the extranet portal. With some additional tools, business users can add and remove users from this directory, so there is no increased burden on the IT department. The biggest disadvantage of this approach, however, is that each extranet portal requires its own SharePoint web application. That means that the IT department still needs to help setting things up. In a scenario where a project manager wants to quickly deploy a project portal for collaboration with his partners, suppliers or clients this may not be the ideal solution. Also, SharePoint is known for its limits and one such limitation of SharePoint is that server performance will break when you have little more than twenty web applications running on a server. So if you wanted to deploy 100 extranet portals you would end up needing five servers.

To overcome these challenges, we have extended the basis ASP.NET FBA software so that extranet portals are created as site collections rather than web applications, whilst still being able to keep up a reliable security model, meaning that user A cannot access extranet collaboration portal B if he’s not been explicitly added by portal B’s site collection administrator. Also, the owner of portal B does not have automatically access to portal A, C etc.

With each extranet portal being a site collection rather than a web application the number of portals has become virtually unlimited which is great news. In addition, we’ve developed a SharePoint 2010 solution that fully automates the creation of such an extranet portal. So no hassle for IT. Simply by filling out a form, a power user can create a new extranet portal and delegate ownership of that portal for example to the project manager. The owner of the portal can then continue giving partners, suppliers and clients access to his portal simply by adding them to the user directory using their email addresses. Users receive an invitation email with an activation link to set their password and have the option to reset their password when they have forgotten it.

With SharePoint 2010 it is also possible to run both FBA and Windows Integrated Authentication in parallel. This means that domain users can access the same extranet portal simply from the local intranet by firing up their Internet Explorer browser without the need to enter a user name and password.

Our solution builds on top of SharePoint 2010 Foundation. This means that you can start deploying extranet portals almost for free. The only license you need is the windows server internet connector.

If this sounds interesting to you, please feel free contacting me using the form next to my ad http://www.sharepointappmarket.com/ads/sharepoint-extranet-manager/ .

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Jan.16

Adding a rating to a publishing page layout

Reading SharePoint Magazine’s pratical guide to social features in SharePoint 2010 I got curious as how I could add a rating control to a publishing page layout so that readers of an intranet portal could rate for example a news item. I turned out not to be that complicated at all.

I started by creating a new ContentType that inherits from SharePoint’s out of the box Page ContentType and added it to the Pages Library that sits in my publishing site. I then fired up SharePoint Designer, opened my publishing site and subsequently clicked the site layouts list in the left hand navigation. I clicked New Site Layout from the toolbar to create a new site layout and made sure it used my newly created ContentType. I checked out the site layout and registered SharePoint’s portal web controls like this:

 
<%@ Register TagPrefix="SharePointPortalControls" Namespace="Microsoft.SharePoint.Portal.WebControls" Assembly="Microsoft.SharePoint.Portal, Version=14.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c" %>

I wanted the rating control to appear on top of the page next to the article’s date, so I scrolled down and added the following snippet to article-header div:

<div>
    <SharePointPortalControls:AverageRatingFieldControl ID="PageRatingControl" FieldName="AverageRating" runat="server"/>
</div>

I then enabled the Rating Settings for the Pages libary:

pages library rating settings

(Click image to enlarge)

This added two columns to the list:

  • Number of Ratings
  • Rating (0-5)

I then created a new page with the following result:

publishing page layout with rating

 

(Click image to enlarge)

You need to be aware that the calculation of average ratings is only done at fixed intervals so it can take a while before you start seeing an average rating. If you’re very impatience, you can kick-start things by changing the settings for the following two SharePoint timer jobs:

sharepoint social data timer jobs

(Click image to enlarge)

Also note that the User Profile Service needs to be up and running.

Don’t forget to visit the SharePoint App Market

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Jan.15

SharePoint 2010 Overview

One of the most difficult questions from customers to answer is “what can SharePoint do for me?”. When you don’t have a clue what he or she wants, then where to start and where to stop? Obviously, the first question to ask yourself anyway is whether your talking to a content manager or an IT person. But then still it isn’t an easy question to answer. Hence I painted a simple picture that I call the SharePoint House and always carry that with me. Most of the buzzwords are covered whilst it aligns SharePoint versions (Foundation, Standard and Enterprise) with Microsoft’s naming (Search, Content, Composites, Sites, Communities and Insights). It’s still a “shallow” picture, if you like. But it helps opening doors. Feel free to use it, but please be kind enough to mention where you found the inspiration!

SharePoint 2010 overview

(Click on image to enlarge)

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Jan.15

Finding the right SharePoint 2010 version for you

Working as Team Manager Intranet & Collaboration – implementing customized SharePoint solutions – means that I also should be able to advise clients on what SharePoint license they should buy. To make life easier for me, I’ve come up with a powerpoint slide that helps simplify things a bit. Firstly the client needs to understand the difference between collaboration and publication. If he or she wants to replace his network drive with a web based solution that brings a couple of simple DMS functions to the table, Foundation will do. For more advanced DMS requirements like tagging, navigation using meta data, working with sets of documents, rating content and record management a standard license probably is inevitable. More advanced news and information sharing scenarios would require a standard license as well, in order to be able to use the WCMS portal functions SharePoint offers out of the box. Also, we need to clarify whether it makes sense to bring the intranet and internet portals onto the same technology. Last but not least the client needs to define his or her search requirements. Hence I always carry the following slide with me, to make life a bit easier, as a picture can say more than a thousands words.

finding the right sharepoint 2010 version for you(Click image to enlarge)

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Jan.15

Cannot use SPCollection.Add when using claims based authentication and FBA

Sometimes simple things that you thought you could realize in seconds cause you hours of headaches. Last week we ran into another of those examples. We had defined a SharePoint ContentType that actually describes a SiteCollection. We then created a custom list using the ContentType with an EventReceiver that creates the SiteCollection when an new Item is added to the list. As I said before, so far things were really simple and we didn’t expect any difficulties. Maybe I should mention at this point that this list would be used in the RootWeb of the RootSiteCollection of a WebApplication using claims based authentication. This was a necessary requirement as we also needed the Forms Based Authentication (FBA) enabled. Obviously we used SPSiteCollection.Add to create the new SiteCollection. Upon testing it soon turned out that we would be facing a couple of hours of headaches, as we ran into an Access Denied error. As it turns out, the SPSiteCollection.Add method simply cannot be used when using claims based authentication and FBA. Thanks to this post we found that we could work around this issue by falling back to SelfServiceCreateSite. For this we needed to enable Self Service Site Creation for the WebApplication and subsequently hide this function for Site Visitors.

Don’t forget to visit the SharePoint App Market

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