Using the CRM Outlook client without a VPN Connection

Using the CRM Outlook client without a VPN Connection

In version 3.0, the CRM Outlook client could only use Active Directory (AD) authentication to connect to servers. To connect from outside the workplace network, a VPN solution was therefore required. However, this requirement increased complexity, and sometimes was impossible to meet if bandwidth was limited.

Version 4.0 includes a new authenticated mode, called Internet Facing Deployment (IFD) mode, specifically designed to eliminate the VPN requirement. The Implementation Guide – “Sample Server XML Configuration File for Internet-Facing Deployments” section provides instructions to configure CRM Servers in IFD mode.

To enable the Outlook client to take advantage of this new capability, select the “My company” option during configuration. For configuration to succeed, the Outlook client must be able to connect to the server using AD authentication. Also, ensure that at least one server has already been configured in IFD mode.

Next, the wizard prompts for both an intranet and an internet server URL. Enter the internal discovery service URL in the text box labeled “Intranet address”. Enter the discovery service URL exposed to the internet in the text box labeled “Extranet Web address”. Step through the wizard to complete configuration.

After configuration, the Outlook client will automatically select the appropriate authentication mode. To detect when switching authentication mode may be required, the Outlook client detects IP changes, which should occur when joining or leaving a network. Users may receive balloon notifications indicating the Outlook client is trying to apply the appropriate authentication method.

To implement authentication switching, the Outlook client first attempts to connect using AD authentication. If this fails, it attempts to connect using IFD authentication. If credentials are not cached, an authentication dialog is displayed. You can request that credentials be cached by checking the “Remember my password and connect me automatically” option, in which case this dialog should not be displayed any more. If cached credentials expire or become otherwise invalid, this dialog will of course reappear.

In IFD mode, the Outlook client submits specified credentials to the external discovery service endpoint, and receives a CRM authentication ticket in exchange. Since specified credentials are transmitted over the network, using SSL is strongly recommended to prevent interception. The CRM authentication ticket is persisted in the IE cookie jar. Subsequent requests therefore automatically carry the cookie, which the server of course verifies.

The Outlook client also obtains Internet web application and web service URLs from the external discovery service endpoint. The Outlook client refreshes Outlook CRM web folders to point to the correct web application URL. If authentication fails, and the Outlook client is offline-enabled (and has synchronized offline data at least once), it automatically moves to the offline state, allowing the user to work in disconnected mode.

When the Outlook client re-joins the workplace network, an IP change is detected, and a similar procedure is applied. First, the cookie is deleted, and AD authentication is attempted. If this succeeds, the Outlook client obtains intranet web application and web service URLs from the internal discovery service endpoint, and again refreshes Outlook CRM web folders accordingly.

If credentials are cached, such authentication changes should be transparent, allowing users to work without interruption as laptops roam between various locations.

Thanks to Navin Thadani at Microsoft for this explanation