With Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003, the only way to interact with business applications and display data on a SharePoint site was either to use the Data View Web Part (DVWP), now known as the Data Form Web Part (DFWP), or to develop custom Web Parts. With Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, you can interact with business applications using the same methods as before; however, by using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, you can leverage a number of new features that allow business data to be exposed from dissimilar back-end applications in the same dashboard. These features also provide prebuilt Web Parts, which display information from these data sources without the need for coding. Some of these features aggregate and transform the data before displaying the information to the user; others are primarily designed for connecting, mapping, and fetching data. The feature that falls into this last category, and which is described in this chapter, is the Business Data Catalog (BDC), so named because it consists of a catalog of data connections to business applications that are used to present the data items in a SharePoint list or Web Part.
Other features introduced by Office SharePoint Server 2007 that relate to data connections include Excel Calculation Services (which is covered in Chapter 20, "Excel Services and Building Business Intelligence Solutions") and Forms Server (which is covered in Chapter 21, "Administrating Office Forms Server 2007 in Office SharePoint Server 2007"). In addition, Microsoft has published detailed information about this topic in the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Software Development Kit (http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms400563.aspx), which is excellent reading for both developers and administrators.
This chapter attempts to describe some key elements of the BDC from an administrator's perspective. You'll learn about the BDC and how to use it. You'll look at the architecture of the BDC, including the security options. Then you'll take a look at managing the data connections and using the BDC features.