Chapter 1: Overview
Published: February 28, 2008
The External Collaboration Toolkit for SharePoint (ECTS) is a collection of software and guidance that will help you easily deploy an environment for collaboration with external parties. The ECTS can be installed on a single server in less than a day, which means that your users can begin collaborating with external partners very quickly. In addition, because the ECTS software is built on Microsoft® Windows® SharePoint® Services 3.0, it is designed to be both familiar and very easy to use so that users will be more likely to use this solution and not revert to e-mail for collaboration. Finally, the ECTS software provides a secure platform that protects the data it stores.
Note Although the solution is designed to work using Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, it also works on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. If you want to install it in a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 environment, please review Appendix A, “Installing in Larger Environments,” for more information.
This solution is intended for organizations whose users need to collaborate with various people outside the organization such as partners, contractors, clients, customers, and so on. Although the ECTS and Windows SharePoint Services provide strong external collaboration capabilities, companies that have highly complex collaboration needs, or need very high levels of security may not have their specific needs met by the ECTS.
Choosing an External Collaboration Solution provides guidance to help you determine if SharePoint Products ad Technologies and the ECTS are well suited to your specific situation.
How the Solution Works
The ECTS allows users inside and outside the firewall to share documents, lists, calendars, and so on, using the features and functionality provided by Windows SharePoint Services. Internal users access the collaboration site through an internal URL and are authenticated against the organization’s Active Directory® domain as usual. External collaborators use a typical Internet address to access the site (for example, https://collab.treyresearch.net). They log on using a form, and are authenticated against a separate Active Directory Application Mode (ADAM) directory that contains only external users.
The following figure shows the basic logical diagram of the solution.
Figure 1.1 Logical diagram of the ECTS solution
This diagram shows how external and internal users navigate to a common SharePoint installation, which is connected to two different identity stores for authentication. Internal users access the collaboration site through an internal URL and use their Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) account to access shared content whereas external users use a typical Internet address to access the site, are provisioned in a stand-alone ADAM instance, and log on using a form. Placing external users in a distinct directory effectively segregates them from the internal network infrastructure. The solution provides custom components that integrate seamlessly with Windows SharePoint Services and allows you to manage external users similarly to the process used for internal users.
When internal and external users are logged on, they can store documents on the site and otherwise interact with the site as they would with a typical SharePoint site.
Capabilities and Features
The ECTS provides the following capabilities and features that streamline the process of setting up collaboration with external parties.
Provision New Site Collections
Windows SharePoint Services usually allows users to create sites inside a site collection. Unfortunately, sites do not provide the level of security isolation required for an external collaboration environment. However, site collections provide appropriate security isolation so that users who have access to one collaboration area will not have any access to another collaboration area. The ECTS allows users to create a new site collection either with or without administrator approval. This streamlines the process of creating new collaboration sites, and gets users collaborating quickly. The ECTS provides the following components that enable this capability:
Provision New Users
It is very easy to provide access to a SharePoint site for users that already exist in your AD DS domain. However, when the user is outside the organization and does not have an internal account, the process is much more difficult. Usually, it requires a request to the administrator to create an account, after which access can be granted. With the ECTS, the collaboration site owner can easily create new external users and give them permission to access the sites. This process can be set up either to require administrative approval or not. The ECTS provides the following components that enable this capability:
The ECTS also provides some additional features that help make using and administering the system easier. These features include: