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Ian Woodgate is Managing Director of PointBeyond Limited, the UK’s leading SharePoint Business Application specialists. Ian has a background in financial services and and IT. He has worked with SharePoint since its first release as a developer and subsequently as a solution architect. Ian regularly speaks at events around the country, focusing on the subject of delivering business applications using SharePoint, and recently wrote PointBeyond’s white paper ‘Delivering Maximum Business Value With A SharePoint Based Application Strategy’. He also runs the SharePoint UK user group meetings in Southampton. You can contact Ian at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @IanWoodgate.
This is the first of a series of articles in which we discuss how you can use InfoPath 2010 to quickly create and deploy business applications in the cloud with SharePoint Online, part of the Microsoft Office 365 platform. We’ll show how to publish a simple InfoPath form to SharePoint Online, and future articles will build upon this example.
For those not familiar, InfoPath is a Microsoft application that allows users to easily create and publish forms for collecting structured information. The InfoPath application ships with Microsoft Office Professional 2010, and is also available for separate purchase.
InfoPath solutions can be created by both developers and IT professionals, as well as tech-savvy business users such as analysts and information workers. Users can take advantage of the powerful combination of InfoPath and SharePoint 2010 to quickly create complete browser based applications without the need for custom code.
InfoPath ships with templates for common business forms such as Absence Request, Change Order, and Status Report. You can extend the sample forms or create new forms from a blank canvas.
InfoPath allows you to add business rules to validate data being entered (e.g. data must be a number) or to allow data entry on certain conditions (e.g. only an approver can view the approvals section). Rules are added using menus and configuration, so no coding is required, though InfoPath does support custom coding to enable more advanced customisations. Information that is collected when forms are filled out is saved as XML.
You can add your own custom branding and formatting so that your forms reflect your overall corporate style. And you can interact with data located on premise or in the cloud by creating connections to SQL Server, Access, web services, or SharePoint lists.
When forms are published to SharePoint, InfoPath Forms Services, a component of SharePoint 2010, renders them as HTML web forms, so end users do not require any extra software in order to access forms and submit data. Browsers supported by InfoPath Forms Services includes Internet Explorer 7 and upwards, as well as other modern browsers such as Google Chrome and Apple Safari.
It’s no secret that with InfoPath and SharePoint, you can quickly create and deploy business applications without the need for custom code and long, costly development cycles. Perhaps less known is that you can get the same benefits with Office 365 and SharePoint Online. You do need Office 365 plan E3 or E4, or SharePoint Online (Plan 2) if you want your forms to be browser enabled though, since only these plans include InfoPath Forms Services.
InfoPath forms provide more than enough power for creating data-focused applications such as absence reporting, expense approvals, and IT help desk requests. You wouldn’t want to use InfoPath and SharePoint to replace your current ERP system, but the combination is more than acceptable for a wide range of basic applications that are on most organisations’ development backlogs.
Let’s have a quick look at how to create, publish, fill, and submit a simple InfoPath form. In this demo, we’ll use a basic purchase order request form with a simple approval process. For the purposes of this article we have kept the form self-contained and it is therefore very simple. There are many ways in which it could be extended, some of which will be mentioned later.
The form used in this demo can be downloaded from here, along with instructions on the changes that are needed for deployment to your environment or SharePoint online site.
Using the InfoPath Office client we have placed controls on the form to enable the capture of the following information:
The form allows the application of sophisticated rule-based validation and formatting options. These can all be seen on the downloadable form. For example, the Request Approval section is configured to only be displayed when the form has been submitted for approval and is only shown to the specified approver.
The form is shown open in InfoPath below. The data structure and the rules applied to the ‘Submit for Approval’ button can be seen:
Before attempting to publish the form go to site settings in SharePoint and ensure you have the ‘SharePoint Server Enterprise Site Collection features’ feature activated under Site collection features. Also be sure to make the changes in the instructions that accompany the download.
Once the form is ready you can publish directly from InfoPath to your Office 365 SharePoint site. This will create a new form library in your chosen site. From the File menu in InfoPath, select the Publish tab. Click on ‘Publish form to a SharePoint Library’:
In the publishing wizard, enter the URL to your Office 365 SharePoint site and click ‘Next’:
Enter your Office365 credentials:
In the next screen ensure the ‘Enable this form to be filled out by using a browser’ checkbox is selected and select the Form Library radio button, then click ‘Next’:
In the next screen, choose to ‘Create a new form library’ to host your form or update the form if you have an existing Form Library:
Enter a suitable name and description and click ‘Next’:
Click ‘Next’ on the following screen leaving values as default:
Click ‘Publish’ on the summary screen:
The form is now available at the SharePoint Online address specified. InfoPath Forms Services will render the form as HTML, so that users can fill it in from their browser. When viewing the Form Library, clicking on the ‘Add document’ link will open the form in the browser. A user can now fill this in and submit it:
Once submitted the approver can open and review the form in a read-only view and approve/reject as appropriate:
If a form has been submitted and a non-approver attempts to open the form, the rules result in the following view being displayed:
This example demonstrates the power that InfoPath and SharePoint Online provide to quickly create form-based business applications in the cloud. This example, while quite basic, could easily be extended to accommodate more real-world scenarios. For example, you could:
We hope that this simple example demonstrates how you to quickly build and publish powerful business applications on the SharePoint Online platform using InfoPath and without needing custom code.
In a future article, we will present more advanced features such as additional workflow capabilities and integration with web services and SQL Azure data.
Chris Testa-O'Neill is a Senior Consultant for Coeo Ltd, a leading provider of SQL Server Managed Support and Consulting in the UK and Europe. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for SQL Server, sole author of the MCTS SQL Server 2008 Microsoft E-Learning courses and technical reviewer for SQL Server 2012 BI Official Microsoft courses for Microsoft Learning. He is heavily involved with the SQL Server community as a speaker and an organiser of SQLBits, a Regional Mentor for SQLPASS and he runs his own user group in Manchester, UK. As well as being certified as a SQL Server MCDBA, MCTS and MCITP in all tracks.
This blog is part two of a series of blogs about implementing a SQL Server 2012 highly available BI environment. Part one can be found here
Three worlds to consider when embarking on this journey is:
To setup a SQL Server 2012 highly available BI environment you should establish the hardware and software that is required to support the architecture. As stated in the first blog, you may have to liaise with another team in order to resource these servers. Understanding the requirements will help you have meaningful conversations with the right people. The software includes:
So what is the end game? In this example we are assuming that your organisation has a requirement to use PowerView and/or PowerPivot for SharePoint. This software and hardware is collectively used together to create the following environment.
Network Load Balancer Layer
The Network Load Balancer (NLB) layer is there to accept client requests for a SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence feature such as PowerView or PowerPivot for SharePoint that is hosted within a SharePoint 2010 farm. These requests are then directed to the first available web front end server to service the request. You should first establish with the network infrastructure team if a NLB already exists. Making use of an existing NLB will speed up the deployment of this infrastructure and can be managed by the infrastructure team. Should you require a NLB, Windows 2008 R2 Server or a hardware based solution can be used to fulfil this requirement. It is important to ensure that the NLB contains dual network cards that provides resilience should one card fail.
Conversations with the infrastructure team should also establish the IP address of the NLB. This is important as this address will be used to map to the hostname address that is decided for the SharePoint Farm which is discussed later in this article.
A second aspect that should be explored is the capability of the NLB to “probe” the web front end servers. “Probing” is a feature of NLB that is used to check the availability of servers that the NLB is directing requests to. The NLB will check to see if a server is available before forwarding requests to it. Should “probing” be employed on the NLB, make sure that the NLB does not just check for the availability of the Windows server. There could be a situation where Windows is working fine, but the SharePoint software installed on the web front end server has stopped. Check with the infrastructure team to see if the NLB can probe for the existence on running services such as SharePoint Foundation Service or other services so that there is a more realistic test of availability.
Web Front End Layer
The SharePoint Web Front End (WFE) is the layer between the applications that are stored in the SharePoint farm and the client requests to the applications. The WFE will direct requests for SharePoint services to the appropriate application server. A minimum of two WFE servers are required to facilitate a High Availability BI solution and the recommended hardware requirements for the WFE layer are:
Ensure sufficient space for the base installation and additional space for diagnostics such as logging, debugging and creating memory dumps.
The following software should be installed on each of the Web Front End servers
Additional WFE servers can be added to support higher concurrent connections to the SharePoint Farm or to provide dedicated servers for specific services such as Reporting Services or SharePoint Search Service.
Although WFE servers can be setup on dedicated hardware, they are typically setup within Hyper V. The key point when virtualising the servers is to ensure there is enough resources to host the virtual machines that are to be used within the virtualised environment. The virtualised environment can also have its own availability features to provide further resilience. Discuss these options with the team responsible for managing virtualised environments.
The application layer hosts the applications that are consumed by users of the SharePoint farm. From a SQL Server perspective this will include SQL Server Reporting Services, PowerPivot for SharePoint and Powerview. For the purpose of this article, a minimum of two application servers will be required to provide high availability. This is achieved by duplicating services on each server. It should be noted that you can add additional application servers for non-high availability reasons. An example could include offloading an application to a dedicated server that requires more power than other services. So you should consider which services require high availability and which services that do not.
The recommended hardware requirements for the application layer are the same as the WFE:
Note that you may require additional resources dependent upon the services you run on the application servers. As an example, the Visio Graphics Service in SharePoint may require additional memory should this be extensively used.
The following software should be installed on each of the application servers
Like the Web Front End layer, the application layer can too be virtualised and should be resourced appropriately to ensure the application servers do not suffer from resource contention
SharePoint Database Backend Layer
The SharePoint Database backend layer is used to host the SharePoint configuration databases from the SharePoint Farm. At the time of writing it is not clear if these databases can be stored or supported using SQL Server 2012 Always On availability groups. As a result the SQL Server Instance on which the SharePoint databases are installed can use an Active Passive cluster to ensure high availability. Keep an eye out for developments in this area.
Also ensure that the firewall ports are opened up to enable inbound communication from the SharePoint Service. As applications are installed and enabled within the SharePoint farm, SharePoint will create databases within the SharePoint backend layer.
While not strictly within the scope of the high availability BI infrastructure, you should make a note of all the Database Engine, Multi-Dimensional and Tabular SQL Server instances and the associated service accounts that Reporting Services, PowerPivot and PowerView will use as data sources for the creation of reports. This will become important should you enable Kerberos authentication and delegation within the SharePoint farm, discussed in part three of this series.
For a complete high availability solution, you should also ensure that the identified data sources are also configures in a highly available solution. Otherwise the data sources could be the source of a loss of service that reflects badly for the BI environment
What’s in a name?
To use features such as SQL Server 2012 Power View, there is a requirement to setup a SharePoint 2010 SP1 Farm. If your organisation does not have one already, give serious consideration to the url name that the users will type in a web browser to access the SharePoint environment. This is a decision that you will want to involve the business in as well. The name should reflect the purpose of the environment. As many of my engagements involve setting up a BI platform, customers will choose a name such as CompanyBI, an example being coeobi. Ultimately, this means that the users will type in http://coeobi in order to access to SharePoint 2010 platform.
From a technical perspective, the name must be registered in Domain Name Services (DNS) so that communication can happen seamlessly within your infrastructure. DNS is a name resolution service. Its primary purpose is to resolve a hostname to an IP address, similar to searching for the telephone number for an individual within a telephone directory. There are many other features that can be discussed about DNS. There is however a key point that is very important to the setup of your SharePoint name in DNS.
Ultimately the name you have chosen for your SharePoint Farm, in our example coeobi, must be mapped to the IP address of the Network Load Balancer. When discussing the creation of the DNS record, stress to the infrastructure team that the DNS record registered is either an A Resource Record that maps the name to the IP address if using IP version 4 or an AAA Resource Record that maps the name to the IP address if using IP version 6. Experience has shown that an assumption is made to create CNAME Record in DNS instead. This causes problems within the SharePoint farm in terms of authenticating users as the Kerberos protocol does not work well with CNAME records.
So in summary the following points should be established to get the foundation of the high availability BI farm up and running
In part three we will look at the impact of Active Directory and Kerberos on a high availabilty architecture
Chris Testa-O'Neill is a Senior Consultant for Coeo Ltd, a leading provider of SQL Server Managed Support and Consulting in the UK and Europe. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for SQL Server, sole author of the MCTS SQL Server 2008 Microsoft E-Learning courses and technical reviewer for SQL Server 2012 BI Official Microsoft courses for Microsoft Learning. He is heavily involved with the SQL Server community as a speaker and an organiser of SQLBits, a Regional Mentor for SQLPASS and he runs his own user group in Manchester, UK. As well as being certified as a SQL Server MCDBA, MCTS and MCITP in all tracks. Chris is also a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer in Windows 2000 and Windows 2003. In his spare time Chris loves playing in a band as a guitarist/lead vocalist. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter as @ctesta_oneill.
Over the last 5 years I have observed Microsoft persevere with the notion of Self Service BI over a series of conferences as far back as SQLBits V in Newport. The release of SQL Server 2012, improvements in Excel and the integration with SharePoint 2010 is making this a reality.
Business users are now empowered to create their own BI reports through a number of different technologies such as PowerPivot, PowerView and Report Builder. This opens up a whole new way of working; improving staff productivity, promoting efficient decision making and delivering timely business reports.
There is, however; a serious question to answer.
What happens should any of these applications become unavailable? More to the point, how would the business react should key business users be unable to fulfil reporting requests for key management meetings when they require it? While the introduction of self-service BI will provide instant access to the creation of management information reports, it will also cause instant support calls should the access to the data become unavailable.
These are questions that are often overlooked when a business evaluates the need for self-service BI. But as I have written in other blog posts, the thirst for information is unquenchable once the business users have access to the data. When they are unable to access the information, you will be the first to know about it and will be expected to have a resolution to the downtime as soon as possible.
The world of self-service BI is pushing reporting and analytical databases to the tier 1 application level for some of Coeo’s customers. A level that is traditionally associated with mission critical OLTP environments. There is recognition that by making BI readily available to the business user, provisions also need to be made to ensure that the solution is highly available so that there is minimal disruption to the business.
This is where High Availability BI infrastructures provide a solution.
As there is a convergence of technologies to support a self-service BI culture, there is also a convergence of technologies that need to be understood in order to provide the high availability architecture required to support the self-service BI infrastructure. While you may not be the individual that implements these components, understanding the concepts behind these components will empower you to have meaningful discussions with the right people should you put this infrastructure in place.
There are 7 worlds that you will have to understand to successfully implement a highly available BI infrastructure
1. Server/Virtualised server hardware/software 2. DNS 3. Network Load Balancing 4. Active Directory 5. Kerberos 6. SharePoint 7. SQL Server
I have found myself over the last 6 months reaching out to knowledge that I learnt years ago when I studied for the Windows 2000 and 2003 (MCSE) Microsoft Certified System Engineer. (To the point that I am resuming my studies for the Windows Server 2008 equivalent to be up to date with newer technologies). This knowledge has proved very useful in the numerous engagements I have undertaken since being at Coeo, particularly when dealing with High Availability Infrastructures.
As a result of running my session at SQLBits X and SQL Saturday in Dublin, the feedback I have received has been that many individuals desire to understand more of the concepts behind the first 6 “worlds” in the list above.
Over the coming weeks, a series of blog posts will be put on this site to help understand the key concepts of each area as it pertains to a High Availability BI Infrastructure. Each post will not provide exhaustive coverage of the topic. For example DNS can be a book in its own right when you consider that there are so many different configuration options with Forward Lookup, Reverse Lookups, AD Integrated Zones and DNA forwarders to name some examples. What I want to do is share the pertinent points as it pertains to the BI infrastructure that you build so that you are equipped with the knowledge to have the right discussion when planning this infrastructure.
Next, we will focus on the server infrastructure that will be required to support the High Availability BI Infrastructure, from both a physical box and virtualised perspective.
Microsoft Trustworthy Computing team have recently published the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (SIR) which provides information about the changing global threat landscape of exploits, vulnerabilities, and malware.
This special edition of the SIR provides summarized information about how malware (and other forms of potentially unwanted software) has evolved over the last 10 years:
You can download either the full report or the summary report here: http://www.microsoft.com/security/sir/story/default.aspx#!10year
Every couple of weeks we bring out the book of the fortnight in our TechNet Flash Newsletter. What you may not have noticed is that in with that we usually offer the book of the month at a significant discount. So it’s worth signing up to the newsletter to get these discounts as well as the server and tools news direct to your inbox.
This fortnight we’re sticking with our cloud theme and the book of the fortnight is Working with Microsoft Office 365.
Take control of your small business communication and increase your productivity-with Microsoft Office 365 cloud services. Through extensive walkthroughs, easy-to-follow procedures, and real-world tips, you’ll learn how to implement Office 365 for professionals and small businesses-without having to be an IT expert. You’ll also gain valuable knowledge on configuring, deploying, and maintaining Office 365 no matter which plan you choose.
Discover how to:
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This month our newsletter was all about cloud services and learning. We brought you content on subjects such as InfoPath, Office365, Windows Azure and the latest update on our Training and Certification programme.
We publish our newsletter every other week and it’s a great way to keep on top of the latest Microsoft news relating to your work. If you haven’t already registered for our newsletter you can do so by going here.
Internet Explorer 9 – it’s blisteringly fast, elegantly designed and the securest browser yet. Now you have two ways to win by voting for your favourite IE9 videos.
We’ve launched a competition to ask people what they would do to get IE9 at work and we’ll be posting the best examples of how far they’d go on TechNet from 28 May to 22 July. You’ll then be able to vote for your favourite between 9-22 July and be in with a chance to win a fantastic prize - £500 lastminute.com and £500 of Virgin Experience Days vouchers, plus a limited edition Xbox 360 320GB Star Wars Kinect Console!
In addition, we’ve produced three videos of our own to show just how far some people are prepared to go - if you vote for the one that ends up being the most popular, you’ll be entered into another prize draw. Head to TechNet now to vote for your favourite Microsoft video before 22 July and you could win £500 of lastminute.com and £500 of Virgin Experience Days vouchers.
Streaming live from San Francisco on June 7th, 2012
An innovative online and in-person event introducing cloud-based development technologies from Windows Azure. Make sure you watch the event live online at 21:00 – 00:00 BST
Steve Plank sat down with Jim Chapman, CEO of Retail Manager Solutions, who talks about their move from on-premises software to the cloud and then tells us how Windows Azure has changed their business. Sales cycle times have been dramatically reduced, customers save money and there is less work to do to get a solution up and running for one of their customers.
To find out more about Windows Azure and to take a free trial of the platform just pop over to the website: http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/
We have had range of content that is just waiting to be delved into when you have a spare moment. If you’re into cloud content then this week is the week for you!
Pop over to the insights video as it is perfect for you. Also it’s worth looking at out Cloud Ninja post as well which provides the details of our certification program. We’ve also provided a set of details around cloud based labs and evaluation software.
As an added bonus anyone with children or friends and family in full time education will be interested in our DreamSpark article. If you would like to get this news direct to your inbox why not sign up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.