Business Intelligence in SharePoint 2010 with Business Connectivity Services : External Content Types (part 1)

2/11/2011 9:07:52 AM
SharePoint 2010 adds the notion of external content types. The content type, first introduced in SharePoint 2007, is a way of describing an entity of information stored in SharePoint. Document content types can be items such as contracts, policies, and forms. Nondocument content types can be items such as announcements, tasks, or contacts. All these are content types whose information is physically stored within the SharePoint taxonomy. Each would have its respective set of attributes, known as columns, properties, or metadata.

An external content type is just what it sounds like: an entity whose underlying data exists external to SharePoint. Just like a SharePoint content type, an external content type will also have its set of attributes or columns. Using BCS, external content types can be defined and made available for consumption within SharePoint.

Options for Building BCS Entities

In the 2007 version of the BCS—known at the time as the Business Data Catalog (BDC)—definitions of entities required third-party tools. A few competing tools were available, but they provided only functionality for building BDC entities. Two such products are BDC Metaman from Lightning Tools and MOSS BDC Design Studio from Simego.

However, the 2010 versions of Visual Studio and SharePoint Designer, both of which provide functionality for developing a wide range of other SharePoint features, introduce built-in BCS design and development. This can enable an easy definition of external content types for later consumption in SharePoint. The ability to build BCS functionality using the SharePoint tools already used for other SharePoint extensions is one improvement in the capabilities offered by the 2010 suite of products.

Developing external content types in Visual Studio 2010 requires a machine running SharePoint 2010. This can be either a 64-bit Windows Server 2008 machine running as a SharePoint server, or a Windows 7 machine, which is capable of running a development version of SharePoint.

Installing SharePoint Designer

SharePoint Designer 2010 also includes built-in capabilities for developing external content types. SharePoint Designer 2010 is a free tool that can be used to extend and customize SharePoint sites. To download and install SharePoint Designer 2010, complete the following steps:

In Internet Explorer, go to http://www.microsoft.com/downloads.

In the Bing Search box on the Downloads page, type SharePoint Designer 2010.

Select either Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 (32-bit) or Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 (64-bit), depending on your desktop operating system.

On the subsequent page, click the Download button. When prompted with Do You Want to Run or Save This File? select Save, and save the file to your Desktop. The total size of the download is 254MB for the 32-bit version and 279MB for the 64-bit version.

When the download is complete, double-click the SharePointDesigner.exe file on your desktop. This begins the installation process.

After the file extraction process completes, read the Microsoft Software License Terms, and accept the terms of the agreement; then click OK. Click the Install Now button. When the installation completes, you will be ready to start using SharePoint Designer.

Preparing to Build External Content Types

Prior to building External Content Types in SharePoint Designer, a few preparation steps are necessary. First, a SharePoint site is required. To create a new SharePoint site, complete the following steps:

On the SharePoint 2010 server, select Start and SharePoint 2010 Central Administration.

Under the Application Management, click Create Site Collections.

In the Title box of the Create Site Collection page, type BCS Sample Site.

In the URL section, select the /sites/ option in the drop-down box, and type BCSSample in the text box.

Enter one or two login accounts to serve as the site collection administrator(s).

In the Template Selection section, choose the blank site template, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Create a blank SharePoint site.


You need a server running SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server Analysis Services to proceed with this exercise.

Download and install the AdventureWorks samples databases by visiting http://msftdbprodsamples.codeplex.com/.

Click the link to the SQL Server 2008R2 product sample databases (http://msftdbprodsamples.codeplex.com/releases/view/45907), and then click the AdventureWorks2008R2 RTM.exe link; click I Agree on the licensing page. Click Save and save the installation file to a machine running SQL Server 2008.


The sample product databases for AdventureWorks will change over time, so the link above might be replaced by a newer version. If possible, locate the specific .exe file listed in this section because using an updated file might invalidate certain steps in this or future sections.

When the file finishes downloading, double-click the executable, and the self-extracting zip unloads the files. Read and accept the license terms.

On the next screen, select the AdventureWorksLT database to install, plus any additional ones that you would like to use.
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