ISV Hosting Toolkit for Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Part 2

The Free Trial

A potential customer found your web site somehow.  Now is your chance so you better catch their attention before they leave.  So, put a link to a free trial or demo of your software where they’ll see it.

Get CourseMax or Try it Today!

Get CourseMax or Try it Today!

On the CourseMax site, we show a link prominently everywhere someone might think about trying the software.  The experts say a graphical link on the top-right of the page works best.  The first option we offer them is a free trial but, if they are ready to buy it now, we give them that option too.

Once they click on one of these links, they are taken to a form where they fill out the minimum info we need to set them up with a free trial:

Buy CourseMax CRM or Get a Free 30-Day Trial

Buy CourseMax CRM or Get a Free 30-Day Trial

First Name:
Last Name:
Email:
Company:
CRM Organization Name:

We ask them for other pieces of information (phone, web site, etc.) but the above fields are the required fields on the form. Once this prospect submits the web form the application checks to see if the Organization Name is available (the CRM Org name must be unique), then creates an Account and Contact record in our CRM system and links the Contact as the Primary Contact for the account.

The Provisioning Workflow

There are some custom fields we added to the account record to deal with provisioning and billing.  The workflow triggers on an update of a field called “CreateOrganization”.  The Account record is actually created and saved first after the Primary Contact is created and linked then this field is updated and the record is saved again.

Each organization takes about 10 minutes to provision in the production environment.  The provisioning steps include:

  • Check to see if another Org is Being Provisioned (<1 sec)
  • Create CRM Organization (~4 minutes)
  • Import & Publish Customizations (~4 minutes)
  • Load & Register Plug-Ins (~1 minute)
  • Import & Publish Security Roles (~30 sec)
  • Create CRM User (~5 sec)
  • Create CRM Queue, POP Account, & Configure Email Router (~ 2 sec)
  • Update Account Provisioning Status to Completed (< 1 sec)
  • Send Prospect an Email Confirmation (< 1 sec)
  • Create a Bulk Delete Job in CRM Org (~14 sec)
  • Import Configuration Entity Records (~3 sec)

I left out a bunch of small steps that are specific to CourseMax but this is the bulk of the workflow.  As you can see, the majority of the work and time is in creating the CRM organization and loading the customizations.  Both of these tasks run for 4 minutes. Loading and registering plug-in assemblies takes another minute.

Lessons Learned

One lesson we learned is that the deployment service is prone to timing out.  You can try adjusting the timout periods but that can lead to more problems.  If more than one organization was provisioned at a one time, the deployment service inevitably timed out.  We had to implement a sort of a FIFO queue to make sure one provisioning task was sent to the deployment service at a time.

We also had to execute several of these tasks locally on the server where the deployment or CRM web services are running.  That meant that we had to create our own web services on each of the servers which then ran a local process to call the CRM web services. So our workflow actually makes calls to our custom provisioning web services rather than calling the deployment service and CRM web services directly.

These steps eliminated the timeout problems we experienced initially and optimized the process.  If CourseMax becomes so popular that dozens of people are requesting free trials every hour and the queue length becomes an issue, we’ll have to look at intelligently scaling out across multiple deployment servers.  But that will be a good problem to have.

Next up…more details on the provisioning and customer conversion workflows.

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ISV Hosting Toolkit for Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Part 1

The Proverbial Toolkit

The Proverbial Toolkit

In Part 1 of this series of posts I’ll summarize the parts of a toolkit an ISV needs for hosting Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  In the spirit of keeping my posts much shorter (based on good feedback), I’m going to break this topic down into bite-sized pieces.  I’ll follow-up with additional posts explaining in more detail the various pieces of the toolkit we built and some of the challenges we faced.

I mentioned in one of my first posts back in January, A Primer on Multitenancy for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, that at CourseMax we built an ordering, billing, and provisioning solution for our SaaS solution.  We host CourseMax ourselves at a colocation facility.  The toolkit is built almost entirely on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0.  In other words, we use CRM to provision and manage CRM.  That’s an intersting paradigm, isn’t it.  I always found it fascinating to think about early programmers writing text editors (vi, ed, etc.  No, don’t even say “edlin”) that they would use to edit source code to build their text editor, to build their text editor, to build their…  Is that recursion?

Control Panels, Self-Service, and Free Trials

There are many vendors out there that offer software to hosters called “Control Panels“.  These are generic and sometimes extensible.  However, a control-panel is only part of the solution.  As an ISV, you want to offer customers a simple sign-up process that starts with a free-trial and is completely self-service.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them, but if they don’t ever want to talk to you, they don’t have to.  If they have to call you to order your software, many potential customers will move on to the next option, your competitor.

The Tools in the Toolbox

Here are the parts of an ISV Hosting Toolkit:

  • Customer Sign-Up Forms
    • Free Trial, Buy Now
  • Tenant Provisioning Workflow
    • Automatically Provision CRM Organization, Customizations, etc.
  • Conversion Workflow
    • Can We Help, Free-Trial Expiring, …
  • Free-Trial Conversion Form
    • Payment Method/Term, Process Payment, etc.
  • Automatic Billing Workflow
    • Send Monthly/Semi-Annual Invoice
    • Send Invoice Reminders
    • Update Payment Status when paid
    • Disable CRM Organization (Payment late)
    • Redirect CRM URL to Payment Page (When grace period begins)
    • Backup CRM Database
    • Delete CRM Database (When grace period expires)
  • Tenant Self-Service Seat Management
    • Manage Licenses (Increase/Decrease Number of Seats)
    • My Account
      • Account History
      • View Invoices
      • Pay Invoice
    • Manage CRM Users
      • Apply Licenses to Users
      • Add Users
      • Disable Users
  • Operational Control Panel
    • Update Customizations on Multiple CRM Organizations
    • Deploy Reports…
    • Register Plug-Ins
    • Deploy Data-Maps

Making it Easy

The key is making it easy.  By that, I mean make it easy for you and easy for your customers.  That’s why computers were invented, wasn’t it.  Having a click/try/buy option on your website is a big advantage for you over your competitors that don’t have this option.  Having automatic billing means that you don’t have to hassle as much with billing and collections.  I promised to keep it short so that’s all for now…

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Is Microsoft Dynamics CRM the Right Platform for My Software Business?

The title of this post is a question I was asked by a software executive (Let’s call him Mike althought that isn’t his real name) recently. Mike is considering launching a new software application for a niche vertical industry and he wanted to get my feedback on the pros and cons of building their application using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a platform. I’m intentionally omitting his real name and the vertical here because they are in “stealth mode”.

Mike called me after attending a webinar with Rick McCutcheon of Full Contact Selling speaking about Don’t Count the Customers You Reach – Reach the Customers Who Count. Rick mentioned CourseMax as a good example of a vertical CRM solution.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is a great platform for building industry vertical solutions that you can deploy in the SaaS (Software as a Service) or On-Premise model.  In the SaaS model, it fits into the category of “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) if you choose to work with one of Microsoft’s hosting partners.  You can also host it Microsoft Dynamics CRM in your own data center and use it as a SaaS platform.  Dynamics CRM is a good fit for many would-be applications but it is also frequently not right choice. 

The following are my Top 5 questions you should ask yourself when you are consider whether to build commercial software on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Platform

  1. Will customers be willing to spend $100 per month per user for this software?
  2. Do customers need CRM features (sales force automation, marketing, customer service)?
  3. Do most customers use Microsoft Outlook?
  4. Do customers want a solution they can customize?
  5. Do most customers use Internet Explorer

The Situation

So, here is the scenario for Mike’s business:

Competition:
There are two main players in the niche that you could describe with the following attributes:

Features: Old technology and a limited feature set
Customization: No customization, Not extensible
Workflow: Workflow non-existent in one, minimal in the other
Price: Low-price point ($295/user perpetual license)
Platform: Single-user desktop application, no common database for multiple users

Market:
Size
: Fairly large niche market
Typical Customer Size: from 1 to 100 users (Small businesses)
Customer Attributes: Use the web extensively, Low-tech, not power users, sales people, good networkers

There are a lot of small businesses in the market for Mike’s software concept.  One strategy for approaching this market is to offer an easy to deploy, low-cost solution that you can sell over and over to these customers with little trouble.  They like to use the Internet and probably don’t want to deal with managing and maintaining hardware and software.  That has SaaS written all over it.

Don’t Play Their Game…Change the Game

The one thing that stands out in looking at the competitors is the price point of $295.  The two competitors have probably undercut everyone else out of the market.  For the two left standing, price is one of, if not the most important factor when they compete.  That’s the definition of a “red ocean” marketplace as defined in the popular business book  “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.  It’s called a red ocean because there are sharks swimming around battling over the same fish and there is blood all over the place.  This is not a market you want to be involved in if you are a start-up.  You can’t beat the big-entrenched players because you can’t compete with them on price.  Even if you could, who would want to be in a low-margin business like that? 

The only way you can win in this market is not to compete with them head-to-head.  You would have to redefine the market or create a new market by coming up with at a Blue Ocean Strategy.  A great example of Blue Ocean is the Nintendo Wii.  The Wii’s graphics aren’t nearly as good as the Sony Playstation or Microsoft’s XBOX.  The processor isn’t nearly as fast.  To a hard-core gamer, graphics and processing power are what they are looking for.  So then, why is the Wii so popular?  It isn’t the hard-core gamers that are buying the Wii, it is the rest of the world who aren’t hard-core gamers.  The Wii is fun and it is easy to use.  You don’t have to be hard-core, you can just plug it into your television set and start playing.  It’s popular with a whole different set of clientele and Nintendo isn’t competing in that red ocean.  They changed the game, went after an untapped and under-served market, and they’re sailing on calm seas in their nice, blue ocean.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0: Great Platform but Not Packaged Like a Platform…Yet

So then, how does this apply to Mike’s question?  If he builds his application on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform, he will have far more features/functionality than his competitors.  CRM 4.0 comes with a very powerful workflow engine, it’s highly customizable, it has built-in multi-tenancy, security model, form-builder, etc.  It is a full-blown, multi-user CRM application with far more features than Mike’s competition offers.  However, the price tag for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is $1,000 / user and a couple thousand for the server if you run it on premise and that doesn’t include labor for installation, support, etc.  If Mike offers it as a SaaS solution, he would have to charge at least $75/month and it probably isn’t worth doing unless he charges $100/month.  CRM Online and Partner-Hosted CRM cost approximately $55/month with no add-ons.  The problem is that, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, Mike has no choice but to offer all of these features to his customers.  Well, let me put that another way…his customers are going to pay for these features whether or not Mike’s company offers them.  You see, CRM 4.0 isn’t really a platform, at least not in the way in which Microsoft packages and prices it.  From a technical sense, it is a great platform.  It has everything you need to rapidly build an application that can be offered in either the SaaS or On-Premise model.  However, until Microsoft de-couples the CRM functionality from the platform and allows you to pay for it that way, it doesn’t really make sense to use it as a platform if your customers don’t need the CRM stuff.  From what I can gather, Microsoft will be addressing this issue and offering CRM packaged as a platform when CRM Services are rolled out in Microsoft’s Azure services cloud.  However, the timing for Azure CRM services is supposed to coincide with the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 5.0.  I don’t expect a release of CRM 5.0 until at least Q1 2010 so we probably can’t start any serious development on Azure CRM services for quite some time and we don’t know what the pricing model will look like.

Will Mike’s customers be willing to pay $75 or $100 per month for the additional features.  This is question number one.  If you can’t answer “Yes” to that question then there’s no point to asking the rest of the questions.  The answer for Mike is a definite “maybe”.  The only way to know is to do some market research by asking around, calling people, posting questions to LinkedIn, etc.  Even then, you really don’t know until you actually start trying to sell the software.  You have to be careful that you are asking the right questions or you’ll get the right answer to the wrong question and waste a lot of money building it and finding out that no one will come.  But asking the potential customers is critical and it’s also a good way to “pre-market” your solution and generate some interest.

Answering the Question

Is there any Blue Ocean out there for Mike?  The following chart is a good way to visualize the your value proposition against the competition:

value-curve

So we blow the competition away in features, customization, workflow, and multi-user capability.  But is this enough to offset the large difference in price?  The best way to know is to ask your potential customers.  However, when we ask the question, we would be smart to segment the market by the size of the customer and any other important attributes.  My guess is that the smaller shops, particularly the one-woman show types, will not be willing to pay a lot more to get the features, customization, and workflow capabilities.  They certainly won’t care about the multi-user functionality.  If these things are true, then Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is not a good choice of platform to go after the long-tail SOHO segment of this market.   On the other hand, Dynamics CRM 4.0 might be the best choice to go after the segment of the market with 10-100 users. 

These customers may be happy to pay the higher price because the multi-user database and other features increase their productivity or otherwise brings them enough value to justify the additional cost.  They are probably feeling some pain because each person on their staff has a different database and they can’t share information.  So the answer is probably to talk to these small businesses in the target range, explain the value proposition, and find out what they’d be willing to pay for your app.  If they’ll pay $2,000 per user or more for a perpetual license or $100 per user a month then you might have a viable business on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform.

Other Platform Options

If not Dynamics CRM then what would be the right choice of platform? 

SalesForce.com is an obvious alternative since they are a direct competitor to Microsoft in the CRM space.  However, you won’t find any price relief here.  SalesForce.com’s Force.com platform is more expensive than Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Force.com has three pricing levels, $25, $50, and $75 per user per month.  The $25/month version is not viable for any likely scenario because it has limits of 1MB storage per user and 8 custom objects.  This follows the Salesforce.com strategyof low entry-level prices to get you hooked then once you’ve committed time and effort, you figure out that you need the much more costly version.  I’m not condemning SalesForce.com.  This is clearly a smart strategy and their pricing levels and limitations are published for anyone who takes the time to read them.  However, as a buyer you should beware and know what the cost structure looks like to remove the limits once you have reached them.  In SFDC’s favor, they have created AppExchange which is a marketplace where you can list your solution and customers can buy it.  Unfortunately, AppExchange is known for the large number of low-quality apps offered.

There are several other CRM solutions that can be used as an application platform.  You’ll probably run into the same scenario with these products as well in that they are as expensive or more expensive than Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

You could also look at open-source products such as SugarCRM.  The open-source version of the software itself is “free” but you’ll still need to consider the cost of hosting your solution.  The trouble with the open-source version is that it’s open-source.  The SugarCRM Partner FAQ page states:

“Any customizations to Commercial Open Source must be made available to the entire community free of charge. Many clients may view their customizations as a competitive advantage and would not want these made publicly available. This does not apply to the commercial license “

If you don’t want to give your intellectual property away to the general public, you’ll need to become a partner and resell the commercial versions of Sugar’s products.  There are, of course, fees involved here.  Like SFDC, Sugar has a marketplace where you can list and sell your application.  Interestingly, Sugar’s marketplace is called “SugarExchange” which sounds a lot like SFDC’s “AppExchange”.

If you don’t need the CRM functionality, there are many other options.  Google’s AppEngine is, like Microsoft’s Azure, immature, offers limited functionality, and is not yet released for production.  It is a community preview so you might not want to bet your business on it yet.  You’ll also have to develop your application in Python since that is currently the only supported development language.  The anticipated pricing model (found under Google’s Terms of Service Page) for Google AppEngine is true utility computing where you pay based on how much bandwidth, storage, and CPU cycles you use.  The best part of the pricing model is that it is absolutely free until you surpass some pretty sizable limits.  Your business will likely be hitting some pretty good revenue numbers by the time you have to start paying for anything.  That’s a great scenario for a start-up company.  I’ll be keeping an eye on AppEngine as the platform evolves.

There are many other players in the Platform as a Service space and more pop-up every day.  At some point, one or more of them may get enough traction to show up on my list of viable platforms.  They’ll need to prove that they have staying power before I would consider them or recommend them.

There’s always the old-fashioned way too.  You can build a completely custom application from the ground-up.  Your up-front capital expenditures are usually much higher in this model.  If you have the capital and don’t need the features of a CRM-based platform this might be your best option.  As with many things in life and business, there is no concrete answer to which platform is right for you.  You need to evaluate the alternatives, study your market, and choose the alternative that fits your situation best.

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A Primer on Multitenancy for Microsoft Dynamics CRM

There seems to be some confusion around how to configure and use multitenancy in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0.  In simple terms, multitenancy means that more than one “tenant” shares a single implementation of a web application.  A tenant might be a single customer to a vendor that hosts the software for many customers.  Or, it might be a division or department in a large organization.  The big benefit of multitenancy is economy of scale.  You can install all of the software on a set of servers and serve several customers with one implementation.

For Microsoft CRM, multitenancy first became available with the release of Microsoft CRM 4.0 back in December 2007.  Prior to 4.0, you needed to install a separate copy of the software for every tenant. I’ve learned a great deal about the specifics of Microsoft CRM’s multitenant functionality over the last year from architecting CourseMax’s datacenter, consuming all of the documentation out there, bending the ear of many of my friends at Microsoft and some key partners, and doing consulting work for other ISVs who are in the process of launching apps on the CRM platform.  

Most of what you need to know to implement multitenancy can be found in documentation provided by Microsoft.  So why, you might ask, am I blogging about it.  Well, my experience has been that finding the right documentation is not easy because:

  • The available documentation contradicts itself (mostly cleared up in newer versions)
  • You have to know where to find the right information which is in different places
  • There is a large volume of very technical information to consume
  • It is difficult to pinpoint the information you need
  • There is not a good summary to give you the big picture.

I’ll follow up with additional posts and drill deeper into the various topics.  Hopefully I can demystify this topic, clear up some of the misconceptions, and help others get up and running on multi-tenant CRM more easily.

Installing CRM to Meet Multi-Tenancy Requirements

General Requirements:

  • Meet all of the normal requirements for installing CRM (not included here for the sake of brevity)
  • Enterprise version of CRM is required to support multitenancy
  • Install CRM Server Roles on separate servers as required to meet performance requirements (brevity note applies here as well)
  • Deploy (provision) CRM organizations using CRM Deployment Manager or programmatically using the deployment service

Requirements for Off-Premise access to CRM

  • Configure the Internet Facing Deployment (“IFD”) option either at time of install or after install using the IFD Config tool
  • Obtain and install a wildcard SSL certificate on the CRM Application Server(s)
  • Configure hostnames in DNS or set up wildcard DNS for off-premise FQDNs

Completing off-premise access requirements will enable forms-based authentication.  Forms-based authentication presents a login form to the end user as shown in the image below.  When the user logs in through this form, the CRM server then proxies the authentication to ActiveDirectory for the user.

CRM IFD Login Page

How to Deploy (Provision) Organizations

You can deploy organizations manually using the CRM Deployment Manager MMC snap-in.  Deployment Manager is installed on servers where you install the CRM Application Server role.  You must provide the following information to create a new organization:

  • Display name (Shown on the header of the CRM application)
  • Name (this is the unique organization name)
  • ISO currency code
  • SQL Collation
  • SQL Server (Selected on a screen that follows)
  • Report Server URL (Entered on a screen that follows)

Deployment Manager - New Organization

After you have input the above information, the wizard will validate the input and attempt to connect to the SQL Server and SRS.  If validation is successful, you can select finish to create the organization.  The wizard will:

  • Create a New Database named “Name_MSCRM” on the specified SQL Server
  • Create all CRM tables, filtered views, etc. in the Name_MSCRM database
  • Update the MSCRM_CONFIG database

If you are a service provider or ISV, you’ll probably want to buy or build some software to automate the provisioning of CRM.  There are a couple vendors who have built this kind of tool specifically for CRM.  There are also several generic ordering/billing/provisioning systems you can buy but you’ll need to do extensive customization of these to get them to work with your CRM implementation as they were not built with CRM in mind.  If you are a “plain-vanilla” CRM hoster, one of these may do the trick.  Unfortunately, if you are an ISV and you want to offer a SaaS option, you’ll probably need to build your own ordering/billing/provisioning system.  This is what we did at CourseMax.  I would have strongly preferred to buy this software but nothing came close to meeting our requirements.  We spent considerable effort building an OBP system as a customization of CRM using custom workflow plug-ins.  While it took a lot of time for us to build the tool, it automates a large part of our business and it is very flexible.  I may post more information about what we did in a future post if there is enough interest.

Understanding CRM’s Database Multitenancy

Each CRM Organization (tenant) has its own database named using the convention of UniqueOrgName_MSCRM.  There is one database named MSCRM_CONFIG that holds mapping data to link a URL that is unique to the organization to the organization’s database.  MSCRM_CONFIG also contains other metadata that pertains to the the CRM implementation.  There is quite a bit more to discuss about CRM’s database multitenancy and the schema of the MSCRM_CONFIG and OrgName_MSCRM databases.  Perhaps I will detail this in a future post.

Misconception #1: “The  MSCRM_CONFIG database holds all of the CRM metadata.”  Not true.  There is metadata in each organization database as well that is specific to that organization.

URLs for Accessing an Organization

On-Premise:

http://CRMSERVERNAME:5555/UniqueOrgName 

Breakdown of the On-Premise URL:

http://
The protocol portion of the URL can be http or https.  Since you are only exposing this traffic to “trusted” networks, it is common to use http (unencrypted).  I fully expect some security professionals to chastise me here for even considering not using https even though it is inside the firewall so I’ll preempt you first.  Every organization has to make their own decision which typically pits greater security against performance and ease of use.

CRMSERVERNAME
The server name portion of the URL can be the “NetBIOS” name of the server as it is shown above or you can use a fully-qualified domain name such as “crmservername.domain.local”.  If you use the NetBIOS name, you’ll need to ensure it can be resolved by all of the PCs on your network using WINS, LMHOSTS, broadcast, or DNS by appending the local or parent paths.  If you use a fully-qualified domain name (FQDN), you’ll need to make sure that all hosts can resolve the name using DNS and you’ll also need to ensure that the FQDN is included in the list of hosts in the Local Intranet zone in the Internet Explorer configuration of every PC on the network.  By default, when the server is identified as being in the “Local Intranet” zone, IE uses automatic Kerberos or NTLM authentication using your domain login credentials.

:5555
TCP port “5555” is not mandatory but it is the default port if you create a new website for CRM during installation.  So, you could also use any of the following URLs:
http://CRMSERVERNAME/UniqueOrgName
http://CRMSERVERNAME:6789/UniqueOrgName

UniqueOrgName
The UniqueOrgName part of the URL must match the unique name you gave the CRM organization when you provisioned it.  Note that the UniqueOrgName is given as a “Virtual Directory” of the CRM application.  This part of the URL is what tells the CRM application which database to use.  Word of warning…be careful when you name an organization.  You cannot easily change this unique organization name after the organization is deployed.  The only way to change it is to restore or reattach the databse then “import” the organization using a different name.

Off-Premise:

https://UniqueOrgName.domain.com

Breakdown of the Off-Premise URL:

https://
While not “technically” mandatory, https (http over SSL encryption) should always be used on untrusted networks.  Your users will be passing credentials over the Internet in clear text if you do not use https.

UniqueOrgName
Again, this part of the name must match the unique name you gave the organization when you provisioned the organization.  Note that the UniqueOrgName is given as a “hostname” for the off-premise URL (as opposed to the use of a “Virtual Directory” for the on-premise URL)

Misconception #2: “You configure CRM’s IFD URL to use a hostname or a virtual directory to refer to the organization.”  False: The IFD URL must be specified as a hostname.  Only the on-premise URL uses a virtual directory to refer to the organization name.

Misconception #3: In the URL “something1.something2.com” something1 is called a subdomain.  I don’t care if this is technically correct or not (somebody can research the W3C spec for me if you like).  “something1” has always been and will always be a hostname to me.  Most of the cheap-o domain registrars and hosters (yes, I use one too) have decided to call everything a subdomain even if it is being used as a hostname.  Perhaps they think this is less confusing to their customers.  I’m not sure why they do it but it doesn’t make sense to me.

domain.com
The domain and TLD (Top-Level Domain e.g. “.com”) portion of the url can be a first-level domain or a subdomain at any level.  However, you can have only one domain or subdomain name for the CRM implementation.  So, you could also use any of the following URLs:
https://UniqueOrgName.subdomain.domain.com
https://UniqueOrgName.subdomain-n.subdomain.domain.com

The wildcard domain certificate must match “*.domain.com” (or “*.subdomain.domain.com” if you are using a subdomain).  See the section on wildcard domain certificates below for more details.

:5443
Yes, I fooled you, there is no port in the above “Off-Premise” URL.  However, you can use a unique TCP port other than 443 and append it to the above URL if you like.  Of course, you will need to configure this port as the SSL port for the web site using IIS Manager in addition to configuring the port in the CRM server configuration.  You’ll need to allow access on your firewall to the CRM server over whatever TCP port you choose here.

Configuring the Internet Facing Deployment (“IFD”) Option 

You can configure IFD either at the time of install using an XML file or after install using the IFD Config tool.  So, do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?  If you chose the easy way, then go ahead and install CRM then use the IFD Config tool afterwards.  Before the IFD Config tool was released, the only way to configure IFD was to use a crminstall.xml file.  There was not and still is not an option to configure IFD in the setup wizard.  There is also not an option to install individual CRM server roles through the setup wizard.  In the wizard, you have only two choices “Application Server” (roles: AppServer, HelpServer, SDKServer) or “Platform Server” (roles: Async, SDKServer, DeploymentService, DiscoveryService) which are groupings of individual server roles.  You WILL need to use an XML file to install individual roles on a server if the role groupings are not what you want (in many cases they are not and so you might end up doing it the hard way anyway).

Download and read the following document for details on configuring IFD using the IFD Config Tool or the crminstall.xml file:
How to configure an Internet-Facing Deployment for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0

No mater which method you use, you will need to specify the following parameters:

IFD Internal Network Address and Subnet Mask
You can add one or more internal networks to this configuration parameter which are stored in the registry on the CRM Application server.  If the CLIENT’s IP address is found within this network, they will be authenticated automatically (no login form presented…IE just does the authentication automatically) with their domain credentials using Kerberos or NTLM.  If the client’s IP address is not found in this network, they will be presented with the login page.  Keep in mind that the “client” could be any of the following:

  • End-User accessing CRM with Internet Explorer
  • End-User accessing CRM with the CRM Client for Outlook
  • Another Application accessing the CRM Web Services

It is important to note that the client will need to provide the correct URL (see “URLs for Accessing an Organization” above).  The CRM server will not do any automatic redirection. 

A basic understanding of IP Subnetting is helpful in determining what to specify for the IP Address and subnetmask.  Typically, I would recommend that you add all of your internal network addresses that exist behind the firewall.  This will allow you to provide users with a single-sign-on experience.  They will not need to log in to CRM at all.  They will simply access the On-Premise URL and IE will automatically pass the credentials they used when they logged into their PC.  It goes without saying that they should be logging into the corporate domain.  Most organizations use IANA private IP addresses in one of the following ranges:

Network Address: 10.0.0.0 Subnet Mask: 255.0.0.0  (10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255)
Network Address: 192.168.0.0 Subnet Mask: 255.255.0.0 (192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255)
Network Address: 172.16.0.0 Subnet Mask: 255.240.0.0 (172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255)

If you use the 10 network for internal addresses, the easiest thing to do is configure the whole 10 network by using 10.0.0.0 for the network and 255.0.0.0 as the subnet mask. The same would go for 192.168.x.x or 172.16.x.x.

My guess is that this parameter is the source of the most confusion for configuring IFD.  I’m not sure why except that perhaps there is a general lack of knowledge around IP subnetting.  I have read a number of different blog and forum posts where someone has given bad advice regarding this parameter.

Misconception #4: You should always use the IP Address of the Server and 255.255.255.255 for the subnet mask when you configure the IFD Internal Network Address.  False: If you follow this advice, you will force all clients to use IFD unless they are logged in to the console of the CRM server itself.  This would preclude offering single-sign-on to users who access CRM on-premise.  Even if you are running a hosted implementation and all of your USERS are outside of the firewall, you may want to allow for Kerberos authentication for APPLICATIONS that access the CRM web services on the network.

The following three parameters together define the URL that clients will need to specify to access CRM from outside the firewall (Off-Premise):

IFD Domain Scheme
This parameter can be either HTTP or HTTPS.  For security reasons this should always be HTTPS.

IFD App Root Domain
This parameter will be the domain or subdomain that is appended to the unique organization name to form the Off-Premise URL.  For example, if you want clients to use “https://UniqueOrgName.coursemax.com&#8221;
you would use “coursemax.com” for this parameter.

IFD SDK Root Domain
This parameter will typically be the same as the IFD App Root Domain.

The following three parameters together define the URL that clients will need to specify to access CRM from inside the firewall (On-Premise):

AD Domain Scheme
This parameter can be either HTTP or HTTPS

AD App Root Domain
This parameter should be the hostname and port to access the CRM server.  For example, if you want clients to use “http://CRMSERVERNAME:5555/UniqueOrgName&#8221;,
you should specify “CRMSERVERNAME:5555” for this parameter

AD SDK Root Domain
This parameter will typically be the same as the AD App Root Domain.

How to Obtain and Install a Wildcard SSL Certificate for a Multitenant CRM Implementation

While it is possible to create your own CA and generate your own SSL Certificate, you will probably NOT want to do this.  If you do this, you will need to configure the CA as a “Trusted Root CA” in Internet Explorer on every one of your users PCs.  In most situations, this is not practical.  You will probably want to purchase a certificate from a Trusted CA.  Depending on which CA you use, you will pay between $100 and $1,000 (yes there is a wide range of prices, but I won’t get into that here) for a wildcard certificate.

At this point you may be thinking “what is a wildcard SSL certificate and why do I need one.”  If you have ever configured SSL on a web server, you know that you need to acquire and install a certificate which has a “common name” that matches the URL users use to access your web site.  The trouble is that the URL is different for every tenant.  For example, you might have the following Off-Premise Tenant addresses in use:

https://acme-explosives.yourdomain.com
https://northwindtraders.yourdomain.com

https://somethingelse.yourdomain.com

In this case, you would want to purchase a wildcard certificate with a common name of  *.yourdomain.com.  All browsers (we’re only concerned with IE here because that is the only browser Microsoft CRM supports) will accept this SSL certificate as valid for any HOST in the domain yourdomain.com.  Notice that I capitalized the word “host”.  Don’t make the mistake (this nearly cost me some money) in assuming that if you purchase a wildcard SSL certificate with a common name of *.yourdomain.com that it will be valid for SUBDOMAINS within yourdomain.com.  Internet Explorer will NOT accept this certificate if the URL is for a host in a deeper subdomain such as “northwindtraders.crm.yourdomain.com”.  As an aside, Firefox will actually accept a wildcard cert as valid for any host in the domain or a subdomain.  The implementation of this specification varies between browsers.

How to Setup DNS for Multitenant CRM

You’ll need to set up DNS so that your clients can access every organization.  There are two options:

  1. Add an “A” or “CNAME” record every time you provision an organization
  2. Use wildcard DNS

Option 1 is best if you have a small, fixed number of organizations.  You can configure a single A record for your default organization then configure a CNAME record for each organization.  The A record would have a name like “crm.yourdomain.com” and the IP address of your CRM application server (or the VIP if you are using load-balancers).

Option 2 is best for service-providers or ISVs who will be continually provisioning organizations.  You simply configure an A record with the name “*.yourdomain.com” and the IP address of your CRM application server (or the VIP).  I’ve seen another method of doing this documented in a Microsoft knowledgebase article that involves creating a *.yourdomain.com subdomain and configuring a host record for the . address.  However, the prior method works just fine for me so why go to the trouble.  Keep in mind that any URL someone enters that is not specified in another A or CNAME record will resove to your CRM application server or VIP.  So, if someone types “fubar.yourdomain.com” it will resolve to the app server whether you have a fubar organization or not.

The “Default CRM Organization” and “The Mysterious Discovery Service”

I wanted to write something about these subjects but I’m really tired of typing and I think this post is long enough.  In short, use careful consideration when choosing the name of the first CRM organization you provision when installing CRM because it will become the default organization.  The default organization is difficult to impossible to change after the fact (I haven’t found any credible documentation on how to do it that works.  If someone knows how to change it, please share) and in certain situations, this organization will need to contain certain users (another undocumented issue you may run into if you are developing SDK customizations) that you may not want in your customer’s organization.  My advice is to use “CRM” or something generic then don’t plan to use it as a tenant organization. 

The discovery service is just poorly understood and not well-documented in my opinion.  Another blog, another time… 

Relevant Documentation

You’ll need to know where to find all of the documentation you’ll need.  Here’s the list with a summary of what’s included with each document:

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0: Planning and Deployment Guidance for Service Providers
Although the title says “Service Providers” the information is relevant to anyone hosting multi-tenant CRM.  This could be a Service Provider (hosts “vanilla” CRM), an ISV (provides their own customized software built on the CRM platform), or an enterprise hosting multiple instances of the software.  To get this, you’ll download an archive that contains three documents and the “Dynamics CRM Deployment Config Tool”.  The documents are the “Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Planning Guide for Service Providers“, the “Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Deployment Walkthrough Guide for Service Providers“, and the “Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Development Guide for Service Providers”.  As stated in each of these socuments, they “should be considered a supplement to the main product documentation.”  In other words there is an assumption that the reader is familiar with the main product documentation in addition to having knowledge of Windows Server, Active Directory, IIS 6.0, DNS, SQL Server 2005, Exchange Server 2007, and fundamental networking concepts.  However, there is a lot of overlap between the main product documentation and the 319 pages of documentation contained in these three documents.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Planning Guide for Service Providers (PDF, 73 pages)
This is a technical guide that provides a broad range of information for technical professionals who want to host CRM.  Multitenancy is one of the many topics covered.  This is not a short read but it should be on your mandatory reading list.

CRM 4.0 Deployment Walkthrough Guide for Service Providers (PDF, 172 pages)
This is a “how-to” guide with step by step instructions on how to install and configure CRM in various hosting scenarios, including how to enable the Internet-Facing Deployment (IFD) option during the install (it can also be enabled after the install).  The trick in reading this document is to find what is pertinent to your implementation among the 172 pages.  The document goes to great lengths to discuss hosting Exchange in conjunction with CRM, including the side-by-side provisioning of Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (“HMC” which is a solution for SPs to host Exchange and Sharepoint).  If you don’t need to host Exchange, much of this document will not be relevant to you.

How to configure an Internet-Facing Deployment for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0
(12/8/2008, Word Doc, 24 pages)
 This is a brief guide on how to set up CRM so that it will provide a logonform to someone who is accessing the software over the Internet, from outside the firewall.  This is known as forms-based authentication.  This document is an update to the original document released on 1/14/2008 which was an 8 page PDF.  It includes instructions for configuring IFD at install time and using the IFD Configuration tool.  You could also use the info to gain an understanding of how to manually configure IFD by editing the registry, SQL tables, and the web.config file.  Of course, I would NEVER recommend (at least not publicly) editing the SQL tables directly (add all the pertinent warnings about editing the registry or SQL tables directly here).  Seriously though, I would not recommend doing a soup to nuts configuration of IFD manually.  It’s much safer to use the xml configuration file or the IFD Config tool, but it is good to know what to change if you need to do some troubleshooting.  If you have a copy of the original document, delete it and use the new one.  The updated document is much more comprehensive and accurate.

Helpful Posts

Internet Facing Deployment (IFD) Installation Basics (9/18/2008, CRM Team Blog, Shashi Ranjan)
Brief blog post from Shashi Ranjan of the CRM Team summarizing the use of an XML setup file to configure IFD during installation.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM URLs (8/1/2008, CRM Team Blog, Jagan Peri)
Jagan summarizes what URLs to use to access various pages when on-premise or off-premise (outside the firewall)

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 : Multi-Tenancy with John O’Donnell
Video by John O’Donnell, Microsoft Dynamics ISV Architect Evangelist (no, not the Jimmy Swaggart kind, the Microsoft kind).  John walks through various topics around multitenancy for Microsoft CRM in this 14 minute video.  It’s well worth the time spent.

Lessons learned from using the CRM IFD tool (Customer Effective Blog)
Some helpful tips from our friends at Customer Effective.

Multi-tenancy in CRM 4 (CRM Team Blog, 1/18/2008, Jagin Peri)
A good, brief post on multitenancy in CRM and creating organizations manually or programmatically.

Make Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 client-to-server network communications more secure
Good article on configuring SSL for CRM including a section about how to “Configure Microsoft Dynamics CRM client-to-server communication for Internet-facing deployments.”

I hope this post saves someone countless hours of searching for information and trying to understand CRM 4.0 multitenancy and IFD.  Write a comment and let me know if this post helped please.  Thanks!

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