Alfresco Enterprise – Questions Worth Asking

Before using Alfresco Enterprise in your organization, there are a few nuances that should be known so that you can make an informed decision. With over 10 years of experience working exclusively with Alfresco Community and Alfresco Enterprise, with two of those years spent as an Alfresco Solutions Engineer; I can certainly shed some light on this subject, or at the least arm you with a few questions you will most certainly want to ask of your vendor representative.

I personally have been a huge fan of Alfresco since 2006 when we first used it to launch the initiative at the Small Business Administration. SBA was the first Federal Government deployment of Alfresco and it went on to win the Excellence in Government Award. At that time it was an easy to deploy repository with all of the needed bells and whistles and had an awesome web content management componenet (which they later ditched – a decision I never agreed with). It was exciting to see a company deliver such a strong contender and at a price point that  made more sense than what was being charged by the big ECM vendors. It was not only less costly, but a joy to use. As a small business owner and ECM focused company, we decided to drop Documentum support and go strictly with Alfresco as our target market. It was a great decision, until everything changed.

Almost overnight new leadership decided they were leaving too much money on the table and inflated pricing to the same as the other legacy ECM vendors. The great differentiator was destroyed and now Alfresco would have to compete straight up, warts and all. And let there be no mistake, there were a warts. But I digress, let’s stick to today’s offering and get on with the important questions you will want to ask.

How many servers will I need to license?
Before asking this question, do some calculations on your own. How many total users of the system will you have? How many will be concurrent? How many documents will you put into the repository each year? What will the folder structure look like that you want to employ? Once you have these numbers, give them to your Alfresco consultant and he should be able to scope your new environment. DO NOT accept an answer of “well, it depends, scaling is more an art than a science”. This usually means, I don’t want to tell you how big its gonna be. My rule of thumb, if a sales or marketing resource EVER says “it depends”, I immediately think of adult diapers; because what comes out of their mouth next belongs in a diaper.

When considering scale; consider this fun fact: For every 250 concurrent users, you will need a dedicated content server. Due to Alfresco licensing requirements, this means you will need to cluster together additional servers or virtual nodes to provide throughput for your community. You will need an equal number of independent Solr instances to provide search and indexing services. 10,000 users with 1,000 concurrent users will require 5 Alfresco servers and 5 Solr servers for a total of 10. Double that number for high availability and offsite back-up. Initial Price Tag: ~$1.7 million.

And no, that does not include records management or any of the other add-ons. Compare that to a single Alfresco Community install on a single server with 24 CPU cores and 64 GB of RAM (server cost ~$8k, software = free). You’re right, the single server kicks the clusters ass! Listen to what John Newton says in the link below at the 28:23 minute mark. You are basically paying for phone support.

Note: Community is true open source and can be managed by any Spring Framework savvy Java developer. Enterprise is no longer really open source, since many of the components and their sourcecode is no longer available to paying customers due to 3rd party license considerations.

Can I do in-place updates and upgrades in the future?
Currently ‘NO’, when it comes time to upgrade, you will need to build a new ‘like’ environment and then migrate your old content and data into it. Sounds easy enough until you are looking at a 50 server cluster of 25 Alfresco and 25 Solr nodes. You wouldn’t be the first client whose IT department would want to pull their hair out at the thought of coordinating services on 100 servers to perform an upgrade.

Do I license by named users or by server/CPU?
Hey, you’re in luck, you will actually get to pay for Alfresco Enterprise by both measures, not just one or the other! Their subscription service hits you by named user AND by total server installs. And here is the really fun part, they limit you to how many CPU cores you can use per server with their product. So if I tell you that you can only dedicate 4 cpu’s per server or virtual node, well; you do the math. I find this repugnant. They build a product that requires clustering for over 250 concurrent users, put the hardware burden on you, and then charge you for their poor design. There is a better way, and it starts with the Community version and feeds into a NoSQL backend for long term storage. But more on that later!

Does Alfresco support NoSQL?

Can I employ a Hybrid solution with Alfresco?
Yes, if you wish to sync data between an on premises or an Alfresco on Amazon AWS install with an instance of a account. You cannot sync files between two on premises Alfresco server instances.  In an ideal world, if one department was managing an Alfresco Server and wanted to sync with another department or agency’s Alfresco Server, it would set up a relationship with the other instance and collaboration could ensue. But this is not available as of this writing.

Is Alfresco Enterprise Open Source?
The short answer is NO, only the Community version is true open source. A lot of that is because Enterprise has encapsulated a number of third party tools and code that can no longer be freely distributed to Enterprise customers. Click on the “Truth Jedi” below to get a much more detailed answer to that question.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-3-12-36-pmStay tuned, I will add additional questions and notes as they are asked of me or my staff.

OpenText Buys Documentum – So What!

So this past week it became common knowledge that Dell sold off Documentum to OpenText. This move has spawn more conversations around the long term viability of Documentum and what happens to the current install base. Well, this old fart thinks that they will milk the maintenance contracts for as long as possible, and then ultimately move existing customers onto the next blended version of OpenText. Whether or not that migration turns out to be a hybrid of the two products is unknown. But, over the last 35 years, I have not seen any ECM related mergers go on to maintain multiple products over the long haul. I think back to when JetForm bought out Delrina FormFlow; ultimately both being acquired by Adobe and quickly disappearing from the market in record time.

So while the many remaining ECM players look at this development, and scratch their heads, I have another observation to make. Why do we even care about an application that was designed in the 1990’s and has had such a jaded reputation for the last ten years? Sure, they have some big accounts stuck on this product right now, but it is not the kind of framework you would want to start out with today. Any ECM application that runs on top of a relational database will have great difficulty scaling to the new massive content requirements of the next twenty years and beyond.

It remains my point of view, that with the emerging technologies in the open source community, ECM repositories should be larger, faster, less expensive, and easier to maintain than the dinosaurs of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. If you are in the market for an ECM replacement, look first at true ‘no cost’ open source (Alfresco Community, NUXEO, etc.) for departmental solutions, products from Gartner Visionaries for Enterprise deployments, and NoSQL supported repositories for email archive and document storage.