An Introduction to Cloud Parts™ for SharePoint.

Are you an administrator of SharePoint? Are you a site owner? Are you using BPOS/Office365 or another SharePoint hosting provider? Then we have some good news for you. Bamboo has just recently made our new Cloud Parts™ available for you to try out for free in Bamboo Labs. Our Cloud Parts do not require ANY software to be installed on your servers, are a complete client-side technology, and work in both WSS3.0 / MOSS and SharePoint 2010.

In this post, I want to describe some of the architecture behind Cloud Parts. As the name implies, they utilize “the cloud”. What this means is the following:

  • They are hosted in the cloud; you don’t install ANYTHING on your servers.
  • They use services in the cloud to do processing or rendering.
For the Administrator

If you are an administrator this should make your life easier. Since you never install anything on the servers, you know that the Cloud Part cannot crash your application pool. You still have to be aware of server resources though since a Cloud Part in theory could use up too many resources. But since the Cloud Parts are created by Bamboo Solutions, you can be assured that we do extensive testing to make sure we are not calling the server any more than absolutely needed. You also need to be aware of the fact that some of the Cloud Parts send data to the cloud for processing. We NEVER save any of this data and the communication is over SSL so it is absolutely secure. If your organization doesn’t allow any data to be sent, we will offer on premises versions of our services.

For the End User

What does this mean for you as an end user? If your SharePoint administrator allows you to install Cloud Parts it is great news since now YOU can install Cloud Parts on your pages as long as you can edit the page. If you have a My Site you can now enhance it with Cloud Parts. No need to go through IT and request them to evaluate and test a third-party Web Part that has to be physically installed on your server.

Since the Cloud Part is never installed on the server it is just a matter of downloading the dwp file and adding it to your page. You don’t even have to be a site collection administrator to do this, as is the case with Sandboxed Solutions.

Cloud Parts compared to Sandboxed Solutions

The big difference between Cloud Parts and Sandboxed solutions is the fact that most of our Cloud Parts will run on WSS3.0/MOSS. The other difference is that Cloud Parts can actually do more than a Sandboxed Solution can. A Cloud Part can access an external list. That is something a Sandboxed Solution can’t do. It can also access data across site collections as long as the user has access to the site collections. A Cloud Part has access to external systems via service proxies, which is something a Sandboxed solution does not have. There are of course scenarios where a Sandboxed solution is better suited, however. One such scenario is when the Web Part needs to process large amounts of data, or it needs to update assets on the server itself. Sandboxed solutions can install event handlers and declarative workflows.

Why Cloud Parts
So why did we create Cloud Parts? One of the reasons is that there are so many services out there in the cloud that we want to utilize. There are services for pretty much anything and we want to be able to consume them. Many of our first Cloud Parts in Labs are using Google Visualization API’s to generate the charts. Second we know based on years of experience that installing software on SharePoint servers is something that can lead to trouble. There might be other third-party software installed on the server that will interfere with the libraries we install. The WSP solution deployment is fundamentally broken so unless you install monolithic packages uninstalling code might break solutions. Once you have installed software you need to upgrade it, bug fixes come out or you need to upgrade them with a new version. All this requires that the SharePoint administrators are involved and the farm will be temporarily down. This relates to the on premises scenario where you actually have access to the physical servers, but what about BPOS/Office365 or hosting providers? If you have been using BPOS (unless dedicated) you have not been able to install any Web Parts to enhance your site. The same is true if you have been using a hosting provider. With Cloud Parts you can finally install customizations that will enhance your user experience greatly WITHOUT accessing any server resources. And if we should believe the “hype” around cloud computing, the hosted scenario will only get more and more popular. With our Cloud Part ™ offering Bamboo is ready to serve these customers too.
Architecture

Let’s take a quick look at how Cloud Parts really work.

cp-arc1

Let’s look at the different actors in the above picture. We have our SharePoint farm at the bottom. As you can see, it is behind our corporate firewall. We also have our end user behind the firewall. In the cloud we have Bamboos Services in the upper hand right. We also have some additional services in the cloud.

To be able to use Cloud Parts your end users must be able to call services in the cloud, meaning you must allow Internet access. At least to https://cloudparts.bamboosolutions.com. Another important thing to be aware of is that processing is taking place in several places. We have rendering and processing services in the cloud and we also execute logic on the client. No processing is taking place on your SharePoint servers except for data access.

 

How does all this happen? Let’s take a closer look at how this works on the client in the Web Browser. When you download and add a dwp file from the Bamboo Store what you are really doing is just adding a script tag to your page.

cp-2

This will download script from our servers and it will create a sandbox (iframe) in which the Cloud Part will be executing. By using sandboxing we minimize the amount of external scripts that needs to be added to the SharePoint page. Once the Cloud Part has been downloaded it will communicate with our services on the main page using a secure cross-domain channel. The Cloud Part can now access SharePoint data and also –if needed- send this data to the cloud services for additional processing.

Walkthrough

Let’s see how easy it is to use Cloud Parts on your site. The first thing you need to do is to create an account at Bamboo, click this link. Once you have created your account, you can download Cloud Parts from this page.

store

In this example, I will install the Motion Chart.

 motion

Click Try It Free and enter your email and password. Then download the file. It is a zip file so you need to extract the dwp file.

download

Now you can go to the page where you want to add the Cloud Part. I will create a new Web Part Page and add the motion chart.

create

Now there are two ways you can upload the dwp file. If you have access to the Web Part Gallery you can add it there so it will be available for all users that can edit pages. I’m going to Upload the Web Part wile editing the page.

upload

Just browse to the extracted dwp file and select upload. After adding the Cloud Part to the page, you will see the message “This Cloud Part is not yet configured please use the tool pane to configure it.”

edit 

Click Edit Web Part. You will be asked to supply your credentials; these are the same credentials you used when downloading the dwp file from the Bamboo store.

cred

The reason you need to authenticate yourself is so nobody else can copy your Cloud Part URL and add it to their pages. This can easily be done since the script URL is visible in the HTML source. After you have successfully authenticated you will be able to configure the Cloud Part.

settings

Once you are done, press OK and the chart should be rendered.

chartview

 

Conclusion

With more and more enterprises moving to the cloud, Bamboo are ready to serve these customers with our Cloud Parts. Cloud Parts is a true zero-touch install and is continuously being upgraded. Bamboo is constantly adding services and we will soon let you run workflows in the cloud. This will allow you to collaborate across organizations without granting external users access to your SharePoint farm. As cloud computing becomes more and more popular, there are more and more services available in the cloud. Since Bamboo Services run in the cloud, we can utilize these external services to give you even more powerful solutions. If you manage on premises SharePoint installations, you can take advantage of Cloud Parts to minimize changes to your servers. Backup/Restore and disaster recovery is being simplified since all services are running in the cloud. We will also offer on premises versions our cloud services.


Posted Mar 11 2011, 12:47 PM by Jonas Nilsson

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