The blessing of the app-model in SharePoint 2013

Informed Group notebook

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Last week, we as Informed Consulting, attended the SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas and we all came back to our cold little country with lots of information and lots to think about.

But first, what a week! For me, this was my first big conference and the first time in Las Vegas, and it was a combination I will never forget. Absolute brilliant organisation by Microsoft, providing over 10.000 people, hungry for food and information, with their tasty meals, ready in no more than 10 minutes and so many interesting sessions to choose from that you are obligated to watch the sessions online that you could not attend at the conference itself!

When Microsoft launched the beta of SharePoint 2013, the biggest new feature for me was the whole app-model that was introduced.
But unfortunately, I could not get it working on my development machine, mainly because I did not have enough internal memory available to smoothly run the SharePoint 2013 VM.
Also, I did not get the whole app idea. Okay, it is cool to have a store where everybody could sell their apps, but how many corporate companies would allow users to install 3rd party apps on their corporate intranet? None I think, so why should we as developers stop creating WebParts and start building apps?

With that question in the back of my mind, I scheduled as many interesting sessions about apps in SharePoint 2013 as I could, hoping to get back with a well-founded answer.

And YES, Microsoft has made a huge step forward with the introduction of the SharePoint 2013 app model!
Apps in SharePoint 2013 are not about selling and distributing them in the appstore, it is all about creating functionalities on top of SharePoint that work just as good on premise as in Office 365 in the cloud. And also important: do not break SharePoint.

The current version of Office 365 is based on SharePoint 2010, and allows developers to create only SandBoxed WebParts. The big limitation of SandBoxed WebParts is not having the ability to run code with elevated privileges. This is something we do quite often when we build WebParts for corporate clients that have their SharePoint environment hosted on premise.
Because of this limitation, we have recommended a lot of our current clients not to move to the cloud. Losing all the custom built WebParts and functionalities that use elevated privileges, does not outweigh the advantages of hosting your SharePoint environment in the Cloud. But all of this is about to change with the new app model of SharePoint 2013!

To avoid getting into too much depth about the technical side of the app model, I will try to explain it at a high level.

The code that you would develop for the previous versions of SharePoint all run on the SharePoint server itself. You always had to make sure that your code was written properly and it did not have for example memory leaks that would eat all the resources of the server. Also for the IT-pro’s that owned the SharePoint farms, it was a huge challenge to test all the code before deploying it. Because of this same reason, Microsoft did not allow you to deploy full WebParts to Office 365, but only SandBoxed WebParts.

The big change with the new app model of SharePoint 2013 is that now the apps do not run on the SharePoint server, but on their own (app) application server. This gives the developers lots of freedom to create all kinds of functionalities, without them having to worry whether or not what they build, was allowed to be deployed on the SharePoint farm.

But how about talking to core SharePoint information? Microsoft integrated the oAuth token based authentication model for Office 365 and the Server to Server (S2S) authentication model  for on premise. So with only a couple lines of code you have all the SharePoint methods you need at your disposal!

It all sounds like a great step forward to me, but my biggest concern is hosting the apps.
All the demos at SPC12 used Microsoft Azure to host their apps in combination with the new Office 365. Even though Microsoft says that it is very easy to host the apps yourselves and connect them to either Office 365 or your own on premise SharePoint 2013, this is something that we need to dive into before we can give our corporate clients good advice about migrating to SharePoint 2013 on premise or moving to the new Office 365!

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