Getting started with Dynamics CRM - Part 1

So you want to be a Microsoft Dynamics CRM guru, where do you start? In the sandbox of course!

This entry is about setting up your sandbox where you can learn, test and mess-up a CRM deployment guilt free.

 To get practiced in the ways of the CRM you typically need to understand 3 main areas:

1) What Microsoft Dynamics does out of the box.

2) How to install it and administer it.

3) How to change it to suit your particular needs.

The best way to learn the above is to install it, use it and change it. To do this you need an environment to play in hence the sandbox!

There are 3 main options for a sandbox:

1) You can download the trial virtual PC from Microsoft and be up and running almost right when the download completes. This is probably the fastest way, but for the techie not the most fun, also you miss out on the chance to learn about the installation process. But this is a good option if it is Monday and the boss wants you to have an opinion about CRM on Tuesday! You can download the trial VPC here: Remember the trial VPC has a time limit on it so eventually you will want to setup your own sandbox for a long term relationship with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

2) Install CRM on a sandbox server. For those of you are are lucky enough to have access to some server hardware you can install CRM all on one server and use this as your sandbox. There are a few drawbacks to this approach though: a) You probably don't have a server sitting around doing nothing. b) If you plan on doing plug-in or custom workflow development this setup may be a little cumbersome. [more on this later] c) You can't take the server with you! [assuming you probably don't have it Internet connected] With this option you also need a license! You can download a trial version of the software here: but this is only good for 90 days. If you have an MSDN subscription then you can download the CRM software from you subscription and use it. The MSDN license only allows 10 concurrent users but it does not expire. You will need a subscription level of "Visual Studio Professional with MSDN Premium" or higher to have access to the Dynamics products. To get more details on the MSDN subscription levels click here.

3) Virtualization! Most likely you will want to go the virtualization route. Option 1 uses virtualization but it is already built for you. Where's the fun in that? What is virtualization? It allows you to run another virtual operating system on a host computer such as your workstation. You can copy the virtual hard drive from your computer to another computer and startup your CRM environment there; cool or what? For more information on virtualization check it out here. So the idea here is that you will build a virtual CRM server and run it on your workstation. You can configure CRM, install Visual Studio develop plug-ins and debug them on your server, you can bounce and abuse your server at will and you don't even need any hardware. Plus you can run your virtual CRM server on your laptop and take it with you. Thus allowing you to start it up anywhere. Also if you want to share you virtual server you can run it on an existing workstation or server connected to your network and others can access it as if it is a real server.

I find that I do most of my CRM work on a virtual environment on my laptop which gives me the flexibility to work anywhere. Once I am done I deploy my work to the customer's environment. Also the virtual environment allows me to mimic the customer's environment. Such as the OS they are using the SQL version etc. I can quickly configure a new VPC to reflect my customer environment and I have full control over the environment to do what needs to be done. I strongly recommend this approach for the tech savvy CRM guru.

Note: This is not the option to pursue if you don't have an MSDN subscription. As you will need licenses to not only CRM but the OS and SQL server too.

 In part 2 of getting started I will walk you through the process of setting up your CRM VPC and the best practices of doing this. Until then happy CRM'ing :)