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Kentico CMS Content in a SharePoint Search World:

Overview

Written By: Virgil Carroll
Posted: 9/9/2015

If you are reading this blog post, you either a) performed a search on our site and tried out using the ‘SEARCH’ keyword or b) visited the High Monkey blog.  If its ‘b’, I recommend before reading this post (and the rest of the series after completed) you give our search a quick try to gain some context around what this series is all about.


Background

As I write this post I am preparing to celebrate my 17th anniversary of owning my own technology world.  In those 17 years I have seen many things happen, change, happen again, change again and so on and so forth.  I can remember when everything we did was hard coded HTML to today where most programs do the work for us.  Throughout the change of technology and all the fancy bells and whistles that have been created, the one thing that has not really changed in the needs of the people we serve.  Where there are different types of information every person needs, fundamentally it’s the task of finding, consuming and working with this information that is the foundation of most all technology the currently exists today.

Fast forward 17 years and there are a lot of great tools out there to help us manage and disseminate all this content and even a few good tools to help us find what we are looking for.  Thus begins this story…

The Technology

High Monkey has been a web company almost since the beginning of my technology career (there were a few years where we were a consumer more than a builder…another story another time).  Through the years we have worked with a lot of different web systems, more specifically content management systems, in an effort to build highly usable, easy to manage websites. Where we have found many that are solid in the areas of content management, they consistently lags behind in the Web CMS marketplace as a best-in-class search solution.  This post brings one of the top CMS platforms, Kentico, and marries it with the best-in-class SharePoint 2013 search to provide people with a truly cohesive, comprehensive solution.


Kentico

For those not familiar with the Kentico CMS ecosystem, I am not going to go into it in-depth here.  I recommend visiting www.kentico.com to learn more, or read a few of our case studies and other blog posts to learn about how we use it.  In brief, Kentico is a fully integrated content management system that allows for the creation of cutting-edge websites.  We have used Kentico since 2005 and have watched it grow from a minor, niche player to one of the best, most usable CMS’s on the market.

SharePoint 2013

Where most reading this post will be more than familiar with Microsoft SharePoint, 2013 is its 4th version of this multi-facets web platform which we have been working with it since 2001.  In reference to this post, we are going to focusing on a very small, yet arguably the most powerful part of the 2013 experience…search.  Fully integrated after the successful purchase of the FAST search engine a few years before, 2013 brought the full FAST experience and power into the SharePoint ecosystem, which can be used for both internal and public search experiences.

Why We Built This

Where Kentico is a best in class CMS, like many other platforms of its nature, its search experience lags behind what today’s people expect when visiting a highly information public website.

SIDE NOTE: The reason I use the particular phrase at the end of the last sentence is because I want to make sure you understand that the integration described here can be used for any kind of website search, but it really only appropriate and useful for content-rich websites that would require some kind of search.  If your site has 8 pages, there is really not much to search in the first place

I don’t really consider this a fault of Kentico, but instead the nature of the CMS market itself.  Search is an important aspect, but the larger majority of clients out there have small sites that do not require deep informational meaning.  We, meaning High Monkey, do not build many of those   Instead we are known for building large websites with very large informational systems in the backend.

So in a recent particular project (one I will share at a later date) we were tasked to help upgrade their current Kentico search along with their site.  In looking at some of the bold plans their marketing department had in search, I quickly realized that monumental task to extend the Kentico search model to fit their needs.  Instead, since this was a government entity that was properly licensed already in SP 2013, I offered an alternative of building a bridge between Kentico and SharePoint to utilize its search engine instead.

SIDE NOTE 2: Another important item to point out is this is a good solution for either an organization that already has the required anonymous access licensing in SharePoint 2013 or one who is willing the spend the money necessary to get one.  Getting SharePoint 2013 for public is not for the faint of heart and that should be taken into consideration.  Though another factor that I will explore down the road is AZURE cloud-based search and how that could possibly be extended into this scenario as well.

The fortunate part for us (and my client is well aware of this) was the timeline.  I needed to simultaneously build the search system at the same time the Kentico system was being re-architected from scratch.  So since there was no site I could actively work from, I decided to use the High Monkey site and build it on our end…thus creating the perfect demo system!!

Now with the launch of our new website in the latest version of Kentico…today!!  I can share all this with the world and hope you enjoy.

The Architecture Basics

So as I said before, we are using both Kentico and SharePoint to create this experience.  What I wanted to briefly share here is the next step (which will be explored at nausea in future posts).

Kentico is an ASP.NET based CMS which runs off a SQL Server backend.  Much like SharePoint 2013, Kentico stores and retrieves most all of its settings from the connected SQL database.  As a matter of fact, if you really dig into Kentico you will find the model of building things in it is very similar to the SharePoint experience (except it doesn’t suck as much).

Early on in the process we needed to decide how we were going to get the data over to SharePoint to be appropriately crawled.  I say appropriately because a web page crawl, as built into SharePoint, tends to leave a lot to be desired and definitely does not provide us with the control we need to make this a really useful search.  So instead we looked at two different methods.

First we looked at the SharePoint Search Connectors ( https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/ee556429.aspx ), which has been updated to be much more powerful than previously.  Building with connectors allows for connections via web and restful services and is obviously the future of SharePoint search integration.  Why?  Well since everything being built for SP today is driven by the needs of Office 365 and you can pretty much only connect to it via web and restful services…do the math.  The reason we decided against using the toolkit in this scenario was more around the additional expense to build and the lack of custom code resources at my client (which is a foundation of HM…not leaving unsupportable solutions for our clients…as much as we possibly can).  I may look in this direction in the future.

Second we looked at a SharePoint Business Connectivity Service ( https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/jj163782.aspx ) and pulling from Kentico via this.  BCS connections have been around for quite some time and is an effective way to connect to external data sources and actually crawl via SharePoint search.  Where you can use BCS connections to go against web services as well, we decided in the end to connect directly to the SQL database to pull our data.  Why? Again when we looked at our client, they have many resources that are comfortable with SQL and its query language, which would allow us to leave a more supportable solution after its done.

So what about the pain it is to create a BCS connection?  Well for that we turned to the best and original tool on the market, Lightening Tools BCS Meta Man ( http://lightningtools.com/products/bcs-meta-man-2010-and-2013/ ).  The Lightening Tools team continues to make a powerful tool and is so great to work with.  For the cost of owning a couple of licenses, we were able to help our client build powerful connection to pull the exact content we wanted in the exact way we wanted it.

So now that I have given you the introduction, below is the future posts I will be doing.  I hope to get them all in over the next 4-6 weeks, but time will tell.  I hope you enjoyed, feel free to leave comments and questions below.

UPCOMING POSTS

  1. Creating the Kentico content the searchable way
  2. Connecting Kentico content to SharePoint
  3. Implementing the SharePoint Search: The Basics
  4. Implementing SharePoint Search: Creating the Kentico Content Enrichment layer
  5. Implementing SharePoint Search: Query Rules to make it cool
  6. Making it all work long term: Looking to future technologies

 

Chad's Bio Coming Soon!

More About Virgil

Virgil Carroll is the owner and president of High Monkey – based in Minneapolis Minnesota. Virgil also wears the multiple ‘hats’ of Principle Human Solutions Architect and SharePoint Architect.

Virgil is one of those rare individuals who can dive deep into technical topics while speaking clearly to the business owners of a project and never forgetting that the end user experience has the highest priority. He calls it using both sides of his brain. Virgil is passionate about leveraging technologies ‘out of the box’ as much as possible with a focus on the strategic use of content to create websites that deliver the right content to the right audience on the right device at the right time. Virgil brings high energy, an ironic wit, and a sense of grounded perspective whenever he speaks to an audience. Virgil regularly speaks at conferences and user groups throughout the United States and occasionally in Europe.

Posted: 9/9/2015 12:00:00 AM by Brian Haukos | with 0 comments