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With many organisations now moving, fully or partly, to Office 365, the way solutions are developed is evolving rapidly. In this series of blog posts, I’m going to share some of the more innovative tools available in Office 365, and the support Microsoft offers those who want to work at the cutting edge.
In this post, I’ll look at a very common requirement – SharePoint site provisioning. Site provisioning is the software-assisted creation of SharePoint sites, with certain elements already set based on default values. The business benefits to providing a site provisioning toolset include:
With an on-premise set-up, developers have multiple options available to them for provisioning new sites – site definitions, web templates, features (with feature receivers), web services, and so on.
When it comes to Office 365, though, there is only one supported way: remote site provisioning.
Remote site provisioning is the way to programmatically create SharePoint sites from any computer other than the server the SharePoint farm is hosted on.
The simplest form this can take is setting up a SharePoint provider-hosted add-in, hosted as an Azure web site. This approach uses the SharePoint add-in model, and the existing functionality around setting up add-ins, trusting them, and accessing them using an access token.
Patterns and Practices (PnP) is a code library created and maintained by Microsoft that builds on and extends the SharePoint Client Object Model. This library focuses on providing the core actions that many SharePoint developers might need while interacting with the Client-Side Object Model (CSOM). It also has a core focus on site provisioning.
Because it’s a library, PnP doesn’t come with any user interface, or any advanced functionality of its own. That means that while it is very powerful, on its own PnP is as useful to end-users as a chocolate teapot.
What it does offer is a large set of sample projects showing off its features, and some common use cases. Some of these samples are very useful, but due to the pace of change they can quickly become out of date (and the approach they suggest doesn’t always work with the modern SharePoint experience).
PnP is maintained and tested by many professionals, making it an accelerated starting point that also benefits from monthly updates. However, since it lacks a user interface, can be buggy, and makes some assumptions around what should or shouldn’t be included when sites are provisioned, PnP can’t be used on its own as a remote site provisioning engine.
That’s where ProvEn comes in.
ProvEn is CompanyNet’s smart remote site provisioning engine, which runs as a subscription service in the cloud. ProvEn takes advantage of the cutting-edge Azure stack, using services such as queues, web jobs, Logic Apps, Azure storage and web slots.
With the latest PnP library baked into its core, ProvEn not only provides a rich user interface to PnP, but also builds on its set of features. ProvEn supports not only creating new sites – which is part of PnP – but also updating existing sites, which isn’t.
When you are creating a site or updating a site the following steps are run by ProvEn:
Since PnP is a perpetual work-in-progress, we monitor the monthly changes to this library (plus any unexpected ones), and incorporate them back into ProvEn.
If you are working with PnP, there are a couple of things to bear in mind:
As an end-user, you don’t need to worry about what’s happening in PnP – by using ProvEn, you can be assured you’re always taking advantage of the latest and greatest site provisioning features.
In summary, remote site provisioning can make your life significantly easier; Microsoft’s PnP library provides innovative ways to manage SharePoint sites, but without a front-end interface it’s not much use to normal humans. That’s why we’ve created ProvEn, which provides an intuitive experience that unlocks the power of PnP for everyone.
In my next blog post, I’ll consider the options available when you’re looking to extend PnP.
Does your organisation need a better way to provision SharePoint sites? Check out ProvEn, our smart site provisioning engine.
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