Microsoft uses SharePoint Products and Technologies as an umbrella term to describe its two collaboration offerings—Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (SPS). The two products provide an integrated and extensible technology platform that can meet the collaborative needs of small work teams or large enterprises. However, because the base products simply can't satisfy the needs of every user or business, many third-party add-ons are available that can help you provide the best collaborative environment for your enterprise.
Before you can decide which functional areas you might need or want to extend, you need to understand how WSS and SPS deliver their collaborative services. After I explain the architecture and functionality of WSS and SPS, I look at three common deployment concerns and some add-ons and extensions that can help alleviate these concerns.
WSS—Providing a Framework for Collaboration
WSS runs only on Windows Server 2003. In fact, WSS services are provided as part of the Windows 2003 OS (WSS doesn't ship with Windows 2003 but is available as a free add-on, which you can download from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/techinfo/sharepoint/wss.mspx). WSS also supports many Windows 2003 technologies, including the Windows .NET Framework and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0, and uses ASP.NET and Microsoft SQL Server or Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE) to deliver a site framework that work teams and businesses can leverage for their collaborative needs.
Because WSS Web sites are extensible, they have many uses, but in their most basic form they offer document libraries, flexible lists (e.g., contacts, tasks, announcements), and user-created views. You can use these lists and views to gather and display any type of information you want—from maintaining a list of the top achievers on your sales team to detailing upcoming company events. You can augment these libraries and lists with data from multiple sources and serve them up through Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Windows Explorer, and Microsoft Office applications.
WSS uses ASP.NET as its Web page rendering technology. Each Web page consists of one or more Web Parts. Web Parts are based on ASP.NET Web Form controls and are typically developed using Visual Studio .NET. Ultimately, a Web Part delivers content that's displayed on a Web page, and it's up to the developer to ensure the page displays the right content. For example, a Web Part might deliver news content from an external source or sales data from an internal database. The creator of a Web Part can also let end users customize a Web Part's content and appearance. Typical out-of-the-box Web Parts contain data from document libraries and lists, but you can use custom Web Parts to retrieve nearly any type of content.
A key part of any WSS deployment is deciding which Web Parts will help you meet the proposed purpose of your various Web sites. For example, a sales team might need a Web site with Web Parts that show information about current prospects, whereas a Web site created to help a team prepare for an upcoming event might have Web Parts that show accommodation and transportation details. Figure 1 shows a default WSS site.
Differentiating WSS and SPS
SPS is an example of a product that harnesses and extends WSS functionality. In fact, WSS is a prerequisite for running SPS, and you have the entire WSS feature set available for your needs. So why would you need to implement SPS if both products facilitate collaboration?
A simple way to differentiate the two products is to understand their primary purpose: WSS enables people and small work teams to create and collaborate on team-related information; SPS makes relevant information available across departments and organizations. And relevant information can come from multiple sources—perhaps a piece of news, the contents of a document, details about a particular person, or output from a business application.
Let's consider the following example. A company has several work teams that use WSS to create Web sites on which they generate and collaborate on information. However, each team's information is in a separate silo; one team can't discover relevant information that another team might be generating. SPS lets these teams discover and share information by using a variety of methods (e.g., linking WSS sites together through navigation, providing a browsable directory of all WSS sites, enabling searches across all WSS-based content, providing publishing areas that store topic-based, navigable subject matter). Figure 2 shows an example of a basic SPS site. For more information about WWS and SPS, see the SharePoint Resources box.
SPS's Major Features
Let's look at some of the major SPS features that let you connect people to information across all levels of an organization. This information will let you determine functional areas that you might want to extend to suit your environment's collaboration needs.
Portal areas. SPS leverages the WSS site framework to create portal areas that support portal content. Each portal area is a WSS-based Web site that can contain document libraries, lists, views, and Web Part pages. You typically use these portal areas to maintain content relevant to a particular subject matter.
Portal content navigation. SPS provides a flexible, content-related hierarchical structure that aids navigation and information discovery within your portal. As you create portal areas, you assign the area a relevant position within the hierarchy. The hierarchy is exposed to end users through various portal site Web Part pages.
Portal listings. A portal listing is a piece of information you make available from your portal by linking it to the portal hierarchy. A list item can be manually entered when you create the list (e.g., an announcement), or it can be a link to another piece of information. Therefore, a listing could point to an Internet Web page, a custom list within a WSS site, or a document in a portal area's document library. The News capability that SPS provides out of the box is an example of portal listings in action.
Enterprise search. People interact with information from many different sources (e.g., internal and external Web sites, email, file shares, WSS sites, people directories, public folders, custom applications). SPS enterprise search capabilities let you index data held in multiple content sources, enabling efficient and relevant search results. End users can access the search service through options on portal site pages, and you can include search capabilities in Web Parts and custom applications.
Personal sites. Personal sites enable portal users to have their own WSS site—typically called My Site—with their own libraries, lists, views, and Web Part pages. Personal sites also provide a location for others to display user-targeted content. For example, a piece of news might be relevant for only a particular group of users, so it can be targeted at this group and displayed in the News For Me Web Part on each user's My Site. Personal sites also collect and display SPS-generated alerts that notify users about changes to information, documents, or applications.
Audience targeting. Audience targeting lets you ensure that the right information is delivered to the right people. You can specify content to appear in special audience-targeted Web Parts such as Links For You. These Web Parts would typically appear on a user's personal site but can also appear on any main portal page.
Single sign-on. Single sign-on (SSO) technology lets you store and map account credentials so that users don't need to sign on again when portal-based applications retrieve information from other enterprise applications.
What Extras Will Your Deployment Need?
All enterprise WSS and SPS deployments require careful design and management. The three areas of most concern to any deployment are overall administration, extending the platform's reach, and delivering relevant information. Many third-party tools can extend WSS and SPS functionality in these areas. As you investigate third-party add-ons, make sure that they specifically support WSS or SPS 2003. SPS 2003 architecture is completely different from that of SPS 2001, so suppliers will need to release new versions of their products for SPS 2003. Table 1 lists some vendors of WSS and SPS add-ons.
The three-tier WSS architecture is designed to support thousands of Web sites containing numerous documents and lists. This huge hierarchy is enough to send most administrators into a panic wondering how they'll manage and administer such a large beast: Can I meet my service-level agreements (SLAs)? Can I adequately protect the data? Do I have enough storage? Can I keep my system healthy?
SPS allows some life-cycle management in terms of controlling the number and size of Web sites and identifying candidates for deletion. However, certain administration areas fall short of an enterprise's needs—in particular, backup and restore, antivirus protection, and archiving.
WSS and SPS provide different backup and restore tools, which can be confusing for administrators. Furthermore, although you can script WSS to back up and restore individual sites, SPS can restore only an entire portal. Most administrators require more granular restoration, such as single-item restoration, to meet specific SLAs. Third-party products available from companies such as AvePoint, VERITAS Software, and CommVault Systems can augment the backup and restore process and provide more granular functionality.
When you empower users to populate document libraries, they can unwittingly introduce viruses into your organization. Simply providing virus protection on the desktop isn't adequate. You need to provide protection at the server and application level also. Microsoft has provided hooks in the product that antivirus vendors can exploit in much the same way they can hook antivirus products into Microsoft Exchange Server. Products from companies such as Sybari Software and Trend Micro can safeguard your important intellectual property from viruses.
Although you can manually archive site information with the base administration tools, no easy end-user retrieval mechanism is available. Given that some industries require data to be kept—and, more important, easily retrieved—for a certain number of years, a more elegant solution is required in this area. Products from companies such as KVS, asOne, and Documentum can provide additional archiving and retrieval functionality.
A few other administration areas might require extended features to meet your enterprise needs. For example, monitoring and reporting can be addressed through Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) feature packs or the HP OpenView product suite.
Extending the Platform
The two most common ways to extend the SPS platform are extending the reach of enterprise searches and controlling the document life cycle. If companies want to fully exploit all their intellectual property, they need to make that content easily discoverable regardless of its source. Here's where SPS enterprise search capabilities become important.
SPS enterprise searches rely on the program's content-indexing capabilities. SPS can index content contained in WSS sites, file shares, public folders, Web sites, and Lotus Notes databases, and it supports all Office documents as well as .html, .tiff, and .txt files. The SPS indexing architecture supports extending the content sources and file types through mechanisms called protocol handlers and Ifilters. Many third-party Ifilters are available, including those that support PDF format and Microsoft Project files. Meridio is an example of a company that provides a protocol handler that indexes its database content. You can also find products that enhance the presentation of search results, such as those that Tzunami Information Works provides.
The need to control document creation and document life cycles has led to many interesting extensions. Workflow management typically means ensuring that users adhere to particular business processes when they create and publish documents and finally lay them to rest. Because workflow is typically business-process-specific, you tend to find extension toolkits rather than fully functional applications in this space. Companies such as Ultimus and HP provide add-on products that address workflow management.
Fit-for-Purpose Web Sites and Web Parts
Content displayed inside a Web Part can come from most any source. You need to consider what the purpose of your Web site is before you can decide whether you require built-in, third-party, or custom Web Parts. Third-party Web Parts are available for many purposes, such as displaying Active Directory (AD) information, receiving live news feeds, and integrating enterprise applications. You can find a list of such Web Parts on the SharePoint Products and Web Component Directory (http://www.microsoft.com/sharepoint/downloads/components/default.asp).
The combination of WSS and SPS provides a healthy communication and collaboration platform for your enterprise. To get the most from your platform, you'll need to outline your information-sharing requirements, carefully plan your deployment, and determine the extensions and add-ons that best suit your needs.
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