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Put to the Test: Alfresco Enterprise Content Management

Alfresco is a scalable and well-architected open source alternative for ECM, but lacking industry-specific, out-of-the-box applications, its best appeal is to developers and ISVs.

Where Partnerships Fall Short

Not surprisingly, nearly all Alfresco technology partnerships and integrations have transpired with other open source projects, including the major open source portal efforts and significant Apache Java initiatives. The breadth of participation here is impressive. You should remember, however, that technology partnerships are as finicky and difficult to manage in the open source world as in the commercial world. The advantage in open source is that at least you should have some visibility into the politics and divergent roadmaps, as well as the code.

The real question is, are licensees willing to work in an all-open-source environment? For example, the package surely has promise as an open source, Java-based alternative to SharePoint, but Alfresco is somewhat hamstrung by its arms-length relationship with Microsoft. In contrast, commercial ECM vendors (even those that compete with SharePoint) can establish close ties with Microsoft's Windows and Office teams to develop tight integrations between the Windows desktop, Office files and their own repositories. For Alfresco, and for much of the rest of the open source world (especially the Java sub community), Microsoft remains officially untouchable.

For Developers Only

Alfresco wants to provide the open source alternative to the likes of EMC/Documentum, IBM/FileNet and Open Text/Hummingbird, but these major commercial ECM platforms boast extensive portfolios of mature applications built atop their repositories. Alfresco just isn't there yet. The system provides a more credible alternative for larger enterprises undertaking SOA projects that simply want access to a bare-bones (but scalable) repository. Alfresco is also well suited to its original target market of independent software vendors ("ISVs") looking for a cost-effective platform on which to build specific content management applications.

In sum, Alfresco is a high-end ECM development platform that happens to run on an open source business model. As an ECM platform, Alfresco's technology is scalable enough to slug it out with the best of its competitors in high-volume projects, but at the application level it remains immature. If you are looking for industry-specific, out-of-the-box solutions, you'll want to look elsewhere. By putting so much emphasis on the underlying architecture and so little on how it might be employed in a business context, Alfresco leaves little doubt that this is an ECM platform for developers

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• Alfresco uses the GNU General Public License and support comes in Gold and Platinum, priced at $15,000 per CPU and $20,000 per CPU annually, respectively. Test and development CPUs are $3,750 and $5,000, respectively. The basic difference between Gold and Platinum is the response time built into the service level agreement.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is a Principal Analyst at CMS Watch. Previously Enterprise Content Management Consulting Practice Lead at Wipro, he is the author of the just-released The ECM Suites Report, which offers in-depth analysis of all leading ECM products.

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