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Web Application, Site Collection and Project Sites- Some Terminology

BY: Collin Quiring

When installing Project Server 2013 in house and installing all the required components (like SQL Server 2012 and SharePoint Server 2013), a Web Application and a Top Level Site and Site Collection have to be created along with the Project Site (PWA). While other documents exist to explain the how to part of the installation, this article is about the definitions for SharePoint web and sites and how Project ties into them. Definitions and then some examples are provided below.

For those using Project Online the ability to modify and setup Web Applications and Site Collections is different and in the SharePoint administration it is slightly different wording. That is outlined at the bottom of this article.

First, the definitions:

Web Application: In SharePoint Server 2013 a Web Application is the container (I am trying to avoid the word “site” since it is sometimes used incorrectly here) that holds the Top Level site and any Site Collections and corresponding Sites. The key parts to the Web Application is that it is the IIS Web Site; which for those like me who aren’t extremely technical is where the main URL comes from (yeah, I know you can do things with Alternate Access Mapping and I know that a fancy-pants IIS/Networking guru can use all sorts of things like bindings to make URL’s other things but for our purposes, this is the URL).

Site Collection: This is the place that has the Top Level Site and any other Subsites. The key point here is that the Site Collection has a Content Database. You can use one Content Database for multiple Site Collections but the important piece to remember is that a Site Collection must have a Content Database.

Top Level Site: This is the site at the top of the site collection. It is the first site in the collection and it may or may not have subsites. (Often, but not always, during setup, this site is just given the “/” designation by the administrator. The other common designation is “/sites/” for the top level site.)

Subsites (often just called Sites): This is a bit confusing because Top Level site and site may be used interchangeably because the Top Level site is a site by itself. But, a subsite is a site below a Top Level site.

Content Database: This is the database that holds the SharePoint information for a Site Collection. It has both the documents and the setting customizations for that Site Collection.

Project Web App Site: For our purposes, Project Web App Site is often called PWA, sometimes also called the Project Site and is a subsite below the Top Level site.

Instance: In the Project Web App Site each site is called an Instance. Many organizations have at least two instances in their production environment, a production level development/testing instance and production version on the same web application (this is different than a development or test server or a separate system for development). Commonly, the main production instance is called just “PWA”. Each instance has a separate database table structure, separate schedules on the site, separate resources and so on. For example, an organization that has an IT department that runs projects totally differently than a PMO department may have two instances – one called “IT_PWA” and the other “PMO_PWA”.

Now for some examples:

The first one is a basic example – a Web Application, Top Level site, and two subsites with the Site Collection in the red boxed area.

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From the perspective of Project Server this is what that diagram might look like.

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One more example diagram – this time with sample URL’s for two separate PWA instances. The first instance is just called “PWA” and the second one is for a separate department called “ITPWA”. The Web Application is often just the servername so it would be something like http://servername. The Top Level Site in this example is just “/” and therefore the two PWA instances would be: http://servername/PWA and http://servername/ITPWA .

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In the Project Online, Office 365 and SharePoint Online world the terminology is a bit different because the setup is a bit different. The main terms to know here are:

Tenant: This is your online (or cloud version) subscription of the service you have purchased. It can be a bit confusing since context is everything. You can have a SharePoint Online Tenant or an Office 265 Tenant or a Project Online Tenant. In our case, thinking from the Project Online perspective, you would most likely have a SharePoint Online Tenant and Project Online would be a part of that Tenant. In a non-techy description, basically it means that Microsoft has the uber-Wep Applications and they give us a small piece of the pie. I am not sure who to credit this to since I see lots of websites that explain it something like this – In the United States a person can rent an apartment in a large apartment building. They are a “tenant” of that apartment building. They can modify their own apartment as much as they want but they can’t modify the common areas of the building that are outside of their apartment.

The default in the SharePoint Online administration screen for those of using it only for Project Online purposes is to have three Site Collections – one for the Website (usually the Tenant), one with the Project Web App Site and one for search. (And, apparently, they use the “/sites/” for the Top Level site for the PWA and “/” for the Search site). And, for the MY Sites (if being used) portion of the SharePoint Online it is using the Site Collection with a “-my” in the URL. In the My Sites section, you would have many potential subsites – one for each person that creates one.

For example, my Project Online Tenant using SharePoint Online administration looks like this:

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Based on this information, this means that I have three Site Collections and PWA is a subsite in the sites Top Level site. Using the type of diagram we have above for the On Site version, this means that the Site Collection piece would look similar to this:

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I hope this helps to clear up some of the definitions!

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