A more up-to-date version of this article is available here.
There are many ways to deploy Crystal Reports to users. I normally lean toward the simpler and less expensive options, like locally installed viewers. But there are environments where a server based option is necessary. The ‘official’ options from SAP are Crystal Reports Server and BO Enterprise. You can read about these on the SAP website under the heading “SAP Business Objects portfolio”. But there are other products out there that most users never see. These are third party products that also allow you to centrally manage your report deployment from your server. The list includes:
Ripplestone – Traditional portal
rePORTAL – Traditional portal
ReCrystallize Pro – Web Launch page generator.
Universal Report Server (URS) – Server-based scheduling engine
Report Launch – Bridge between BO server products and server based applications.
The products vary widely and are aimed at several different markets. Below is a brief rundown on what the products do. I have also posted a feature matrix (PDF) that shows some of the specifics for comparison, including prices. If you have tried one of these products, or are currently using one, I would love to ask you a few questions – on or off the record.
This is a traditional portal which is similar to CR Server and BOE. The user logs into a web-based application and can choose reports to run, print or export on demand. He is allowed to interact with these reports by refreshing them and changing their parameters. He is also allowed to schedule reports whose output can be delivered via Email or to a web folder. When the user logs into the web application he sees only reports he has permission to see, based on his user name, his user group, and the folder where the report is stored. You can also include non-reporting documents like PDF, DOC and XLS files within the same security framework.
You can even implement “row level security” which means that a generic report can be set to automatically filter the records and groups each user sees, based on their permissions. Authentication can be coordinated with your Windows security or with the security of a web application.
This is another traditional portal so it covers all the same ground as Ripplestone, but then adds a few more features and just a few more dollars. In addition to the features listed above, rePORTAL allows more scheduling options and delivery to more destinations, like to a printer or to an FTP folder. It can also ‘Burst’ a report which takes the groups within a report (i.e. 10 departments) and sends an individual PDF to each one via Email. For an additional fee you can also manage FRX reports in the same way.
3) ReCrystallize Pro:
This is a relatively inexpensive product compared to the first two (hundreds not thousands). It is designed to create Active Server Pages that can run your Crystal Reports. It does this by walking you through a wizard to collect options and then generating ready-to-run ASP web pages. The wizard allows you to:
* Set your database user name/password so that it can’t be seen by users.
* Prompt for report parameters at runtime, including dynamically generated lists of values.
* Preset date parameters to use common relative dates (i.e. today, end of last month, etc.).
* Choose a Crystal web viewer or output file format (Active X, Java, PDF, XLS, etc), or allow the user to choose.
* Send the report output as an Email attachment.
These pages can then be tweaked to match the style of your existing web site. You just need to know how to edit ASP or how to use an ASP compatible editor such as FrontPage.
*Note that ReCrystallize Pro does not currently support the new features of CR 2008. It will run CR 2008 reports but any new CR 2008 features will be missing.
4) Universal Report Server (URS):
This looks at first like a traditional portal, but is focused solely on scheduling. It currently has no ability to run reports “on demand” or preview them within the portal (this is scheduled to be added later this year). But what it adds is the ability to use essentially any report engine that has a .NET API. Of course this includes Crystal Reports but it also includes ActiveReports, XtraReports, and Telerik Reporting.
URS can use your existing Windows security infrastructure and includes support for Forms authentication as well. Users can enter parameters each time they schedule a report. Old instances of reports are retained until the user deletes them or until a user-configurable retention rule automatically deletes them.
You are required to have the following licenses to use URS:
Windows Server 2003 or later
SQL Server 2005 or later (Express is fine)
Visual Studio 2005 or later (Express is fine)
and a version of Crystal
Note that to use URS you will need to have a copy of Visual Studio and a Developer Edition of Crystal Reports, or CR 2008. And before you install the software you need to compile one DLL, which means adding the appropriate references for your reporting tool to the code. This is what allows URS to work with any version of CR, but it is an extra step that you should be aware of. The folks at VersaReports tell me that they have plenty of documentation and support resources for helping users with this step.
5) Report Launch by McManus Software:
This tool has a more narrow audience. It is designed for people who already have a Business Objects Server product (CR Server or BO Enterprise) and who also have a web based application that can’t launch reports. Report Launch bridges the gap between these two components. It lets you specify pages in your web based application that can serve as launch pages for reports. The alternative would be to build your own interface by writing code that taps into the BO report server SDK. If you don’t want to do that you can use Report Launch to do it for you.
Features like scheduling reports or user/group security are handled in the BO server product. Report Launch simply exposes these BO application features to your web application.