While Microsoft Project Central can be an excellent tool for distributed project teams, setting it up requires several steps and may get confusing along the way. Here’s a process that should keep you on track.

Last in a series

This is the final installment of an occasional series on Microsoft Project and Project Central. Previous articles have covered using Project Central to manage your project team and as a team member. Other articles have discussed Project’s workgroup management features and its utilization of e-mail.

System requirements
Project Central can only be implemented on an NT/2000 server running Internet Information Services (IIS). Several other requirements need to be met:

  • The person installing Project Central on the server should belong to the Server Operators or Administrators group.
  • Each person connecting to the server must have a server access license. You can choose a per-seat or per-server approach. Per seat means an access license is purchased for each person connecting. Per server means that you only purchase the number of access licenses you need to handle simultaneously.
    For example, you may have 50 possible users but you know that only 25 will connect at one time. You can purchase 25 per-server access licenses. If the server is only being used for Web services, you might decide to purchase the Internet Connector license, which allows an unlimited number of users to connect to the server through a Web interface, instead.
  • Each person using Project Central must have a Project Central access license, the cost of which is less than $200. If your users have Microsoft Project, they already have a Project Central access license.
  • Project managers need to have Microsoft Project to connect with Project Central to upload project information.
  • Internet Explorer must be installed on all end users’ systems or the Project Central browser, which is included on the Microsoft Project CD.
  • Users must be using a Windows operating system (9x/NT/2000/XP).

Planning considerations
While Project Central is a valuable tool, it’s most practical for organizations that have an existing infrastructure to support it. Here are several questions to ask your organization:

  • Do most of the users already have Microsoft Project? If so, the cost of implementation will be lower.
  • Will access to Project Central be limited to our intranet? If so, you can probably use existing network and security infrastructure and keep your costs low. If not, you’ll need to think of security methods, such as hardening the Web server for external access and using SSL to secure transmissions.
  • Is the data that will be stored on Project Central of low sensitivity or confidentiality? Data that is considered proprietary or confidential might not be suitable for Project Central if it will be used on an extranet or the Internet.
    For example, you might advise project managers to not place e-mail and contact information in Project files.
  • Will multiple managers be using Project Central to manage projects? If so, you might want to install a separate instance of Project Central for each, or add groups so that managers can only see the projects they manage. Note: If team members work on multiple projects for different managers and you decide to have separate instances for each project manager, users will have different URLs to access and have different user accounts for each instance.
    (To create multiple instances of Project Central on the same server, you need to use the RDC Site Tool in the Microsoft Project Resource Kit. Visit Microsoft to access the resource kit.)
  • Will you integrate Project Central user accounts with Windows user accounts? If so, you get the same authentication and security methods configured on the server. If not, users are only authenticated by the Project Central database.
    If all of your users have Windows accounts and access is on your local area network, integrate Project Central user accounts with Windows user accounts. Unfortunately, SSL cannot be used with Project Central.

Implementation steps
The following steps are based on having Project Central implemented on a local area network and not on the Internet. Because SSL is not supported in Project Central, it is recommended that you allow Internet access to the site unless you are using a VPN.

Preparation for Project Central
This stage can actually take the most time if you don’t have an existing server that fits your needs. You’re still required to install and configure the server as if it was a file server. The steps included in this stage are:

  1. Install the server operating system and latest service pack.
  2. Tighten the security on the server based on the environment (e.g., intranet, extranet, Internet).

Installation of Project Central and configuration of Windows environment

  1. Install Project Central from the Microsoft Project CD. You should do the following as a part of the process:
  • Choose to store Project Central on a data drive to increase security and recoverability by separating from operating system and normal applications.
  • Choose Install Now. This option works if you don’t have an existing database engine installed, such as another Microsoft Data Engine instance, SQL Server, or Oracle.
  1. Install Project Central Service Pack 1. This can be downloaded from the Microsoft Office Download Center.
  2. Tighten NTFS permissions on the Project Central and MSSQL7 directories created on the hard drive. For the MSSQL7 directory, give the Administrators group Full Control access and the Authenticated Users group Modify access. For the Project Central directory, give the Administrators group Full Control access and the Authenticated Users group Read access.
    Also, remove the Everyone group from both directories so that null session users cannot access the directories. (Note: Depending on the existing NTFS permissions defined on the root of the hard drive, the NTFS permissions may already be set correctly.)

Customize IIS settings
Project Central creates a default virtual directory that will be accessed through the Web site. The URL is http://[servername or domain name]/ProjectCentral. You will need to make several modifications. First, access Internet Services Manager from Programs | Administrative Tools on the Start menu. Once you expand the Web site into which Project Central was installed (normally the default Web site), you’ll see the Project Central virtual directory (see Figure A).

Figure A
IIS screen

  1. Rename the Project Central virtual directory. Choose the virtual directory and right-click to bring up the shortcut menu. Then choose Rename. For security purposes, this reduces the likelihood that someone who is not authorized to use the site will locate the site. It’s only a camouflage measure, though.
  2. Uncheck the Index This Resource option on the Virtual Directory tab in the Properties dialog box. This will prevent individuals who do searches for files from a Web page on the server from pulling these files in a search. To access this option, open Properties from the shortcut menu (see Figure B).

Figure B
Project Central Properties

  1. Enable Anonymous Access in the Authentication Methods dialog box. This allows users access to the virtual directory without having to enter a username and password. They’ll still have to log in to Project Central. All access to the Project Central virtual directory and files will be logged as Internet Anonymous Account (IUSR_[COMPUTERNAME]). To access the Authentication Methods dialog box, click the Directory Security tab and then click the Edit button under the Anonymous Access section (see Figure C).

Figure C
Authentication Methods

  1. Disable Integrated Windows Authentication in the Authentication Methods dialog box. Since we’re using anonymous access to gain access to the main Project Central page, there’s no need to have integration with Windows authentication.

Customize Project Central features
At this point, you can access Project Central to customize its features before project managers or team members use it. When you first access Project Central, you may be prompted to download a Project Central plug-in. Go ahead and accept the download. Then, log on as Administrator with a blank password. When prompted, change your password. From the main Microsoft Project Central page, access the Administration page from the left navigation bar (see Figure D).

Figure D
Administration Overview

Now, you’ll complete the following configurations.

  1. Click Server Mode on the left navigation bar to change Server Mode to Single User (see Figure E). When Project Central is in Normal mode, the Project Central database remains open. Some functions cannot be changed in this state. You’ll change this back once your configurations are complete.

Figure E
Server Mode selection

  1. Define authentication methods for Project Central Server. You can choose to allow Windows authentication, Project Central authentication, or both. Windows authentication will be required if project managers plan to use Windows accounts for e-mail in their project files. If you have people who will access it that do not have Windows accounts, choose Project Central authentication. To access it, click Authentication Options on the left navigation bar under Administration (see Figure F).

Figure F
Authentication Options

  1. Enable Task Delegation for project managers. Because project managers may decide to delegate tasks they have assigned to themselves, the Task Delegation feature should be turned on. By default, Project Central has the feature turned on.
  1. Prohibit resources (team members) from creating accounts for resources to which they delegate tasks. In general, project managers will not want team members to delegate tasks, so you can turn this feature off. To access it, click Security Options – Account Creation on the left navigation bar.
  2. Define projects that project managers can manage. By default, project managers cannot manage or see any projects on the Project Central server. The simplest method of handling this is to allow all project managers to see all projects, current and future, that are loaded into Project Central. That way, the Project Central Administrator would only have to configure this feature once.
    To change this feature, access the Specify Categories option on the left navigation bar. Select the Project Manager category and then click Modify Category. Near the bottom of the page, choose the All Current And Future Projects In Microsoft Project Central Database option (see Figure G).
    With this method, project managers can also see projects other than their own. To work around this, you could set up separate instances for each project manager or define which project managers can view which projects on an ongoing basis.

Figure G
Selecting projects in the Project Central database

  1. Create users as needed. Click Users in the left navigation bar. The Project Central administrator does not need to create users. Accounts are automatically created for resources listed in project files uploaded by project managers (see Figure H).
    It’s best for the Project Central administrator to create accounts for project managers. Project managers can create their own Project Central account, using the Options – Workgroup feature under the Tools menu. If they do create their own accounts, remind them to use the same account name each time so they won’t have multiple user accounts on the Project Central server.

Figure H
Creating users

Once you’ve completed all these steps, change the Server Mode back to Normal.

Bottom line
As you can see, setting up Project Central involves many steps and some knowledge of Windows 2000 Server and IIS. If you have an existing server that meets most of the requirements, it will take about six to eight hours to set up Project Central. This includes the installation and customization, as well as testing the roles of team members and project managers on the site.

To keep the Project Central Administrator’s ongoing tasks to a minimum, choose options that will allow all users to carry out their activities without the administrator having to be involved. Since this is a Web server, the administrator will still need to handle normal administration tasks, such as backing up data, applying service packs and product updates, and troubleshooting as needed.