Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Accelerators for Dynamics CRM 4.0 Part I - Enterprise Search

The Accelerators for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 are finally available on Codeplex . The purpose of these accelerators is to showcase how the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 platform can be  extended to broaden marketing, sales and service capabilities – with a big focus on integration scenario’s.

One of the most interesting ones for a SharePoint developer is the Enterprise Search Accelerator which contains a Business Data Catalog (BDC) definition file for the different entities in CRM 4.0. This way you can access information about Accounts, Activities, Campaigns, Cases,Contacts,Contracts,Customer Address, Invoices, Leads,Opportunities,Quotes and Sales Orders which are entered in CRM from within your SharePoint environment.

Although the accelerator seems to focus on Enterprise Search you will be able to use BDC data in a number of places:

  • Using Business Data web parts such as the Business Data List, Business Data Item, Business Data Item Builder, etc …
  • As metadata/column in a SharePoint list or library
  • As content source for Search
  • As secondary import source to add information to the SharePoint User Profile store

Some things to think about though:

  • Business Data Catalog (BDC) is a feature which is only available in SharePoint Server Enterprise Edition – check out Microsoft SharePoint Server edition comparison . So this requires Enterprise CALs.
  • The CRM BDC 4.0 definition file is huge – it basically displays all the possible information which is available. So you will need to put in some effort to define which information you actually want to be available.
  • Next to the Enterprise CAL you will also need a CRM read access license (aka CRM limited CAL) as a minimum for any users who are going to access this information.

If you want to learn more about BDC – check out SharePoint article series – Business Data Catalog

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Installing Microsoft CRM 4.0 – a SharePoint developer perspective

Trying out integrating SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft CRM has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. I finally found some time so you can expect some blog posts about this in the coming weeks. First thing to do installing Microsoft CRM 4.0 on my SharePoint developer VPC.

Make sure that you check out the requirements – so download the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Implementation guide – first thing I had to do is installing Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2. Other warnings are unfortunately only provided after you have completed a number of steps so here are some other things to watch out for:

  • Make sure that the Windows Indexing Service is running – you can disable it after installation since it is only used to index help files (Microsoft does not recommend this)
  • Make sure that you have SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2 installed
  • Make sure that the SQL Server Agent is running.

Different steps in installation:

  • Specify Server Roles: I installed both the CRM Application Server Role (provides the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Web user interface and services) and CRM Platform Server Role (used to deploy the asynchronous services, such as the Workflow and Bulk E-mail services) on the same machine.
  • Specify Deployment options: create a new deployment or connect to an existing one and select the SQL Server you will use. You can use SQL Server 2008 together with CRM 4.0 but you will need to install some additional hotfixes – see Microsoft Support KB 957053  - I still used SQL 2005.
  • Specify Organization Name and currency options
  • Select Web Site – specify web site where you want to host the CRM web user interface
  • Specify Reporting Services Server
  • Select the Organization Unit in Active Directory – during installation a number of security groups are created – specify where you want them to be created.
  • Specify security account – used for the CRM service accounts and the ASP.NET application pool account. I used the domain admin account of the domain in my virtual environment – definitely not a best practice but this is a dev environment so :-) …
  • Specify email router settings –  I skipped this one – gave me a warning. If you are not configuring e-mail integration noew, after Microsoft Dynamics CRM Email Router setup is complete, you must add the E-Mail Router server name to the PrivUsersGroup in AD
  • System Requirements check – kind of awkward that is does another check at the end – it could have indicated some issues a lot sooner.

Next, you will probably need some test data within your CRM demo environment. First you will need to install Microsoft CRM 4.0 Data Migration Manager – next download the Microsoft CRM 4.0 Sample Data (On-premise Edition) and walk through the CRM Sample Database  readme to perform the import of the data.

All in all everything went quite smoothly although I got a very weird error when I first opened the CRM 4.0 web interface – I resolved this one by making sure the CRM service account was added to the different AD groups which were created during the installation. Next time let’s see how we can integrate SharePoint and CRM.

Windows Live Writer 2009 released

Windows Live Writer 2009 is finally available … my two favorite new features:

  • Better photo support
  • Integrates with YouTube for video support
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Monday, January 05, 2009

Why to stay away from the SharePoint External Storage API

I got this question when teaching a class about architecting Document and Records Management solutions with SharePoint - is it possible to store the documents outside of the SQL database and the metadata within SharePoint?

Yes, this is possible - take a look at the External storage option for Binary Large Objects (BLOBS) in Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

However, there are some reasons to stay away from it - at least for now - recently some more information was added to the SDK - External storing of BLOBs -  Operational limits and trade-off analysis - which contains some interesting information:

The external BLOB storage feature in the present release will not remain syntactically consistent with external BLOB storage technology to be released with the next full-version release of Microsoft Office and Windows SharePoint Services. Such compatibility was not a design goal, so you cannot assume that your implementation using the present version will be compatible with future versions of Microsoft Office or Windows SharePoint Services.

There is however at least one vendor which has written it's own implementation using this API - Open Text Storage Services for SharePoint.

SharePoint in the Life Science sector and beyond ...

Life science companies are traditionally strongholds for typical ECM vendors such as IBM FileNet and EMC Documentum. But what about SharePoint Server 2007? My guess is that SharePoint is being adopted but not as an alternative to the traditional ECM players but as a complement. Especially the collaboration part is being strongly embraced  but with regards to pure ECM functionality I have my doubts - and trust me I'm a strong believer in SharePoint.

Traditional players seem to draw the "be nice to Microsoft and let's integrate with SharePoint" card.  Interesting quote I recently got from a Documentum guy -  "SharePoint has a good UI - probably better then our own ... but if you really need a safe - read compliant  - environment you probably still want to use our tools." 

This means that pure play ECM vendors are moving into the back-end and  their components will be eventually considered as a pure unstructured data storage layer components - similar to the way that we think about relational databases. Is this really the sweet spot that vendors are looking for?

I'm wondering what the Introduction of Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification will do to further accelerate this trend?

 Related links:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Google Insight for Search

Something cool to take a look at -  Google Insight for Search

I just tried it out to check out how "SharePoint Server 2007" search usage evolved over time -