Office Server: What You Need to Know

Microsoft Office has traditionally been a desktop-oriented application where users go to do their work -- open, save, close, no need for server attention. But today’s IT world is changing, and there’s a wealth of data in Office applications that can be harnessed at a higher level and integrated with the rest of the enterprise. Microsoft has created several Office-based server products that help accomplish this, but they don’t receive much mainstream attention.

In this article, I’ll discuss Excel Services, Project Server 2007, Project Portfolio Server 2007 and the three components of Groove Server; give you the lowdown on their purpose; and tell you how they integrate with their desktop brethren.

Excel Services

In your work, have you ever found a need to have spreadsheets on the server -- for instance, to share spreadsheets among members of a workgroup? You might tire of having to collaborate via e-mail attachments, which makes it tough to determine who made what changes and what the latest version of a file is. Excel Services is a new stack of functionality that lets you save spreadsheets to a server -- perhaps to a SharePoint document library -- and then view those spreadsheets from the Web, perform calculations and integrate them with other data sources available on the network.

There are really three components to Excel Services:

  • Excel Web Access -- like Outlook Web Access and Project Web Access (featured later in this article), this is a Web-based client that hosts ready-to-use workbooks. It’s essentially like a copy of Excel, with most of the functionality -- it doesn't include things like opening old Lotus 1-2-3 worksheets -- simply exposed via a Web page rather than a desktop application. Excel Web Access is the user’s front end to the whole Excel Services stack.

  • Excel Web Services -- this component is like an application programming interface (API) back to Excel Services. In your custom applications, you can call on Excel Web Services to perform calculations and create and edit server-side workbooks as well as refresh external data connections. Excel Web Services is the programmatic front end to the whole Excel Services stack.

  • Excel Calculation Services -- this takes workbooks, loads them into memory, performs any calculations needed, runs any custom code needed and then refreshes sources connected to those workbooks. It’s really the back end that does all of the grunt work.

Excel Services is actually a component of Office SharePoint Server 2007, which has been covered extensively in another article.

Project Server

Microsoft Office Project Server 2007 works with the classic client, Project and the newer Project Web Access component, which allows most of the functionality available in the client to be accessed in a convenient Web-based client. For example, you can see projects that span different fiscal periods, use server-side scheduling to manage resources across different teams, manage cross-project dependencies and subprojects that key off other products, and track deliverables at a higher level than at the individual project. Features include proposals, activity planning, a reporting data service and a cube-building service, which you can use to select data to build analysis cubes for really sophisticated metrics.

Project Server 2007 is completely programmable -- it uses the .Net Framework, so you can make enhancements and extensions in managed code and deploy them onto Project Server. And in the 2007 release, Microsoft moved the scheduling engine off the client and onto Project Server, which eliminates the need to run the full Project client behind any custom front-end you develop. Plus, you can integrate Windows Workflow Foundation into projects to help streamline your business processes into project planning.

Another server in the Project family, Office Project Portfolio Server, allows you to take all the data, entries and information within Project clients and Project Server machines in your enterprise, combine all this at a slightly higher level and then analyze that data across the entire department or company and make better overall strategic decisions with it.

Groove Server

Groove is Ray Ozzie’s old company and the product that Microsoft bought. Groove is a desktop-based collaboration environment that allows for more free-form thinking, sharing and idea creation. While the desktop client is great, the server components keep teams that are part of a larger organization more in the groove (apologies for the bad pun).

Groove Server consists of three separate products -- the Office Groove Server 2007 Manager, Relay and Data Bridge. Each of the following products has its place in the Groove stack:

  • Office Groove Server 2007 Manager takes care of service management, providing functions such as configuring accounts, setting up policies and monitoring use. Users can navigate to a Web-based console where all the Groove management features are centrally located. Facilities in the console include controls for Active Directory integration, security policy and encryption configuration, identity management, backup and recovery functions, and auditing.

  • Office Groove Server 2007 Relay serves as an intermediary proxy between Groove 2007 clients when, for any reason, they’re unable to connect directly to each other. This is a reasonably common occurrence these days, as team members are often in disparate geographic locations. The networks to which these teams are connected may not allow ad hoc incoming connections from untrusted peers. And the files that these teams are using within the Groove client are often large and difficult to transfer over peer-to-peer connections, even if the first two concerns aren’t a factor. The Relay server allows for a central pass-through in a managed environment; Groove clients can share "connectedness" even if they aren’t directly connected to each other.

  • Office Groove Server 2007 Data Bridge creates a centralized platform for integrating Groove Services with existing data sources in the enterprise. Data Bridge lets you connect other systems in your business to Groove and trade data and other information directly within Groove.

The Office Server tools have a lot to offer you if you’re looking to take the features and capabilities of the desktop-based programs and collate their work across the enterprise.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor at Apress Inc., a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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