So in the first five parts we have looked at the standard stuff, now lets dive into a real product and we'll tackle the one I am most familiar with: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0. Thankfully MSCRM 4.0 is the first version of the product to really support a hosted model. Somehow MSCRM 3.0 could do hosted, but based on the architecture you would have ended up hacking a lot in it to get it to work. I never did hosted MSCRM myself in version 3.0 so that thinking is just based my understanding of the architecture of MSCRM 3.0.
So how is MSCRM 4.0 different from 3.0 and how does that allow it to be easily hosted? Well firstly you can now have a single deployment with multiple databases, one for each organisation. This means that each organisations data, settings and customizations are completely separate! This is great if every machine is on the domain but in hosting you need a way to provide a way to login over the web or via a special client. This is because in a hosted model, despite the fact you have a domain, your end users may be on a separate domain. Thankfully MSCRM 4.0 provides BOTH! This is configured using the IFD tool which actually enables MSCRM to look at what the source IP address is, and if it is a local network IP uses standard NTLM authentication. However if it sees it as external IP address it presents a form based authentication which the user can use to login with, this means that not only does the web interface work over the Internet but it also means the outlook client works too.
If you are a regular MSCRM user you likely love the dynamic export to Excel, and for those who don't know what it is let me explain briefly. In MSCRM you can export almost any data to Excel and it can be updated dynamically live from within MSCRM. This works by creating a data set in the Excel spreadsheet and putting the SQL for your query in the data set. The problem with this scenario is that Excel uses direct connections to SQL to do this, so does this mean you need to expose your SQL server? Not at all, if you are running the Outlook client a button is added to Excel which actually reverses the SQL and uses the normal MSCRM web services to get the data! So you can still just expose MSCRM to the net, keeping security high, and lowering administrative overhead. Note: This is only available if you are using IFD deployments.
If you are planning to do hosted MSCRM you may find the hosted deployment guide interesting, as it explains how to setup MSCRM 4.0, however it is not the most logical guide as it is broken into three sections. The first section is how to configure your environment for hosted MSCRM. This is actually the exact same information as included in the HMC guide for configuration of the environment, which brings us to the second section how to use HMC with MSCRM. So not only do they repeat what is in the HMC guide, they then tell you to do go through that guide. It's pointless and a massive waste of space. The only advantage is that if you had never heard of HMC this might point you in the right direction. The last section in contrast has some interesting and useful information on the additional steps for MSCRM to get it to run in an IFD mode like how to edit the install configuration file to setup IFD from the install (but the easier and less error prone route is to use the IFD tool) and any extra configuration needed for hosted (such as changing the security of the web site in IIS to anonymous).
Something that is vital for a happy hosting environment for MSCRM is that you must make sure the async service is running all the time. This is vital not only because it manages the workflow (and what good is MSCRM without workflow), imports and background processes but in a hosted scenario it also handles logins which are done via the forms based authentication.
Really MSCRM is pretty easy to get hosted and setup and while the demo HMC web console doesn't provide automatic provisioning tools, a lot of the third party ones do have options for MSCRM. Something I have learnt is that when you deploy MSCRM 4.0, even if it is not a hosted deployment it is worthwhile to make every MSCRM deployment an IFD. My reasoning for this is two fold:
- Authentication is handled in a superior way, as you have normal NTLM and forms based. This can give you a way to solve those complex Kerberos based issues caused by problems in AD without needing to mess around with AD.
- If not now, at some point in the near future, someone in your business will want to work from home or while on a business trip. You can save them having to mess around with VPNs and just point them to the same URL as they normally use (provided you have setup your DNS and firewall right), so you will save some headaches for you and your users.
If this has interested you, make sure you go to TechEd Africa as there is a IFD Tips and Tricks session for Microsoft CRM!