Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Why an On-Premises SharePoint Extranet Makes So Much Sense (and Can Be Easy to Set Up)

You’ve already invested in your on-premises SharePoint 2013 farm. You have already paid Microsoft for the server licenses and CALs for all of your employees to use SharePoint.

Did you know that there is a secure and easy way to also use your farm to provide an extranet for collaboration with customers, vendors, and other business partners – without paying Microsoft another penny?

Let’s take a quick look at how you would accomplish this – in as little as 30 minutes.

In Central Administration, your list of web applications might currently look something like this:

SharePoint Web Applications List

In this example, there is a web application provisioned for Central Administration and another one for the company’s Intranet.

To add an extranet, the first step is to create a new web application that is configured properly to be a secure extranet:

Create New SharePoint Web Application

When you create the new extranet web application, you will configure it to use Forms-Based Authentication, in addition to Windows Authentication.

This will allow your employees to login to the extranet with their normal Active Directory accounts and your external users (non-employees) to login using a web form with their accounts that are stored in the ASP.NET Membership Provider database:

Configure Forms-based Authentication on SharePoint Extranet Web Application

Of course, you would also give the new web application an Internet-resolvable URL and secure the web application with an SSL certificate:

Configure URL and SSL on SharePoint Extranet Web Application

You would also store all of the extranet web application’s content in its own content database so that it is separated from your Intranet content:

Dedicated Database for SharePoint Extranet

The end result is that your SharePoint farm now runs two separate web applications (not counting Central Administration) with each having its own content database:

  1. Your Intranet web application that has a URL that is only resolvable internally and only allows Active Directory authentication
  2. Your Extranet web application that has a URL that can be resolved over the Internet and allows your employees to authenticate with Active Directory and your non-employees to authenticate with a non-Active Directory account using a simple sign-in form.

New SharePoint Extranet Web Application Created

There is a lot to like about this:

  1. You have a strong security boundary between your Intranet application\content and your Extranet application\content. The two applications have completely different URLs, both require proper authentication, and their content is stored in completely separate databases.
  2. You have further leveraged all of the investments (software, hardware, training, personnel) that you have already made in SharePoint and are gaining additional value from them.
  3. SharePoint 2013 includes unlimited licensing for your external users (non-employees) – there are no additional licenses to buy from Microsoft. (Read Scenario B: Extranet in Microsoft’s Licensing SharePoint Server 2013 PDF)

Now, the above steps only take a few minutes to complete, but you are not finished setting things up for your new extranet. SharePoint clues you into this fact as soon as the new web application has been created:

Additional FBA configuration requirements

You can follow that link and eventually wind up at TechNet and spend a lot more time reading up on the manual edits you will need to make in the web.config files for this new web application in order for it to use Forms-based Authentication and the ASP.NET Membership Provider. After that, you will have a lot more work to do to actually implement what you have learned.

OR, you can take the easy and painless route provided by the Extranet Setup Wizard of PremierPoint Solution’s Extranet Collaboration Manager 2013 R2 add-on to SharePoint:

Extranet Collaboration Manager (ExCM) for SharePoint 2013

ExCM Extranet Setup Wizard

After the wizard runs, your extranet web application will be properly set up and ready to go. In most SharePoint farms, it takes less than 15 minutes!

Here is a short video (3.5 minutes) that gives you an idea of what the end user experience will be like once you have your SharePoint extranet, powered by Extranet Collaboration Manager, up and running:

Of course, there are many other features that Extranet Collaboration Manager adds to out-of-the-box SharePoint that really make SharePoint an outstanding extranet platform. Visit the ExCM product page on our website to learn about all of them.

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