Tactical Advice

Effortless Extranets

Newest release of Windows SharePoint Services provides a fast and easy solution to building Web sites.
This story appears in the June 2006 issue of BizTech Magazine.

 


Photo: Paul Souders
Betti Fujikado, co-founder of Copacino+Fujikado, challenged her IT team to build extranets to “boost productivity and profits.”

Advertising agencies notoriously are driven by intense deadlines and last minute changes to ad campaigns. Copacino+Fujikado, LLC, a Seattle agency is no exception, constantly passing around scripts, spreadsheets and artwork, both internally and externally to clients. But when co-founder, Betti Fujikado, challenged the IT manager to provide a means to collaborate on files and information with clients over the Internet, he hesitated. The firm didn’t have in-house Web developers, nor much of a Web presence. Most hosted solutions were expensive and difficult to support.

 

“We needed a solution to boost productivity and profits by facilitating department interactions and client collaboration,” recalls Fujikado. Along came Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). WSS is an update to SharePoint Team Services (STS) — a buggy little product nobody used. But WSS was a significant upgrade. With document versioning, picture galleries, event calendaring and a ton of other features, WSS is among the easiest ways out there to get Web sites up and running.

With a little IT savvy and knowledge of Microsoft Frontpage, the IT team was able to get sites posted and customized in no time. They feature client logos and language reflective of unique relationships, and contain contact lists, art galleries and collaborative documents (used in media planning, account planning and brand strategy). There’s no more e-mailing large files back and forth, and no more FTP sites, just a centralized repository and a lot of happy clients.

And the best part is that WSS is free. That’s right; it comes with Windows Server 2003. The only other software you might need is SQL Server 2000 or later. But don’t confuse WSS with its souped-up cousin, SharePoint Portal Server. Portal Server is cool, but it’s also expensive, and overkill for most small businesses with limited IT resources.

Copacino+Fujikado used WSS to build extranet sites for each of its clients that allowed it to post working documents for review and collaboration. The firm also used WSS to create an intranet so the staff would have a centralized online repository of all HR and agency information. With these few tools, any business can deploy WSS, and start building a Web presence, too.

Quick Start

To get WSS up and running quickly, the target servers must have processors with a minimum speed of 550MHz, at least 256MB of RAM, and 10GB of free hard-disk space. It needs Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Datacenter Edition or Web Edition, configured as a Web server, running Internet Information Services (IIS) and ASP.NET. Users must have Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or Netscape version 6.2 or later. Last, the server needs Microsoft Server Desktop Engine (MSDE) or Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Service Pack 3.

Install the Windows components for ASP.NET and IIS. On the Details tab of IIS, make sure the boxes for Common Files, Internet Information Services Manager, and World Wide Web Service are checked and the box for FrontPage 2002 Server Extensions is unchecked.

Run the executable file for WSS (STSV2.exe). For a single Web server running WSS use the Single Server configuration; choose the Server Farm configuration if you’ll need multiple Web servers to run either WSS or SQL Server.

Set the SharePoint Administrators Group. Although the administrator can perform central administration tasks on the local server, only the SharePoint Administrators Group can perform them on any SharePoint Services server, which can come in handy in a server-farm configuration. Create an administrator account in Active Directory, clearly identifying this group. Open the SharePoint Central Administration program, and under Security Configuration, choose Set SharePoint Administration Group. In the Group Account Name text box, type the name of your group in the format domainname\groupname.

If you want to receive important system alerts, enable Anonymous Access in IIS and configure the default e-mail server settings. When finished, download WSS Service Pack 2 from: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/
prodtechnol/sppt/wss/default.mspx
. Your installation should now be current and complete.

A helpful technique in administering WSS is configuring usage analysis processing. This feature allows you to gather data for your Web sites. If you decide to change the default location for the data log, you must grant the STS_WPG user group Read, Write and Update permissions to the folder.

WSS contains helpful, built-in security controls, such as an extensible list of blocked file types. Virus control is very important, and products designed to work with WSS, such as McAfee PortalShield 1.0.1, are your best bet. This program is still in Beta but has some of the best management tools and controls. Using it, Copacino+Fujikado has had no outages or virus infections on its intranet or extranet sites.

Backing up WSS is tricky. Content is stored either in a SQL Server or a MSDE database, depending on which you select during the initial installation. MSDE does not include tools for backing up and restoring the database, which is reason enough to use SQL Server. If you use MSDE, you should back up the entire C: drive. That way you can be sure to get everything.

There are two options for backing up and restoring WSS: the Backup and Restore Web Site features in FrontPage 2003 and the SharePoint Migration Tool. The SharePoint Migration Tool (smigrate.exe) is a command-line tool, available in the %CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\60\BIN folder. Both applications generate log files located in the user’s %TEMP% directory.

Because WSS stores all content in Structured Query Language (SQL), you can use SQL tools to back up the entire configuration database and each content database on your server. This method gives you a complete backup of the databases, including security and permissions and all Web site content.

In order to restore your sites in the event of a problem, create an empty target site. If you are restoring the backed up site to a different URL, you must create another content database. Use smigrate.exe first to create a backup file, and then to restore the Web site. Create the virtual servers to host your Web site content in IIS. Using the SQL restore tools, restore the databases from your backups. In IIS, create the application pools for the content virtual servers. Install WSS and connect to the restored configuration database. Voila! Your site should be as good as new.

WSS has come a long way from its STS roots and is now an invaluable tool for small businesses. “WSS is now essential to the business,” asserts Fujikado. “Reverting to our previous method of operating is unthinkable.”

CEO takeaway
Windows Sharepoint Services provides an inexpensive way to build company intranets and extranets that won’t strain your IT resources. Here are some factors to consider in evaluating the intranet/extranet solution that’s right for you:
Who is your audience? If it’s largely internal, you can save time and money by skipping extravagant site design.
How will they access the site? If at all possible, have clients or customers access an extranet via a link on your company’s home page, exposing them to your most valuable piece of cyber real estate.
What information will you disseminate? File types can play a big role in the choice between in-house applications or a hosted program. Make sure that any files created by third-party applications are compatible with your site.
To host or not to host? If you intend to host the site on an internal server, make sure you have the network bandwidth necessary to handle the increased traffic, the hard-disk space to store all the necessary files, and the security protocol to ensure the integrity of your network and data.
Britt East is the IT manager at Copacino+Fujikado, LLC, an advertising agency in Seattle.
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