Review: Alfresco’s CMS Is Far From Stale

Alfresco Enterprise Edition runs on a range of software stacks and offers granular management and dashboard-like user interface, as well as being simple to install

A well-organised filing cabinet may meet the definition of an analogue content management system, but in the 21st century, that reliable standby of office furniture is no longer cutting the mustard. Part of the problem is that the “paperless office” we were promised — along with our jetpacks and robot housekeepers — is in actuality drowning in documents. Alfresco Software’s namesake CMS does a good job of providing an easily adapted environment that’s simple to set up and put to work, without skimping on controls or management features.

The Enterprise Edition of Alfresco’s CMS is available either as a cloud-based service hosted on the Amazon EC2 cloud or as a local installation for Linux, Solaris and Windows servers. The company also offers the Alfresco Community Edition, which is suitable for smaller deployments and organisations that are willing to trade off the support available in the Enterprise Edition for more advanced features or a wide range of software stacks.

Toolset runs on a variety of software stacks

The two editions essentially share the same code, and the forking takes place during the testing of each release. In short, after an Alfresco release passes its basic usability testing, it is released as a Community Edition and goes on to more rigorous testing against a range of software stacks before it is designated as an Enterprise Edition.

And the term “range” isn’t used lightly: The 3.x series of Alfresco Enterprise Edition is supported on various releases of the MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and PostgreSQL database servers; JBoss, Oracle WebLogic and Tomcat are the supported application servers; and authentication can be provided by the Active Directory service in Windows Server, Kerberos, Microsoft’s NTLM service, OpenLDAP and Sun Directory Server. Although the matrix of what the company calls “fully tested” stacks is slightly smaller, customers still have a great deal of flexibility in how they deploy Alfresco.

Despite the snags I experienced in my test drive of Alfresco, it is a remarkably good toolset for collaboration and content management that runs on a variety of software stacks. It’s easy to install and configure for initial use, and offers a granular set of user roles that, when paired with the version tracking features, are going to provide an organisation with a firm grip on its digital documents.

Although Alfresco’s documentation is spotty in places, you really have to work hard to foul up the CMS. When management functions are delegated as designed, it requires minimal care and feeding from an IT perspective. That characteristic alone makes Alfresco Enterprise Edition more than just praiseworthy.

Fast, Easy Installation

Assuming you have a machine ready to go and set up with appropriate application and database servers, installing Alfresco can be completed in an hour or two. For my evaluation I ran Alfresco Enterprise Edition 3.2r on top of GlassFish version 3 and MySQL 5.1. GlassFish provided the Apache Tomcat servlet container for application services. The Alfresco installer assumes that Tomcat is using TCP port 8080.

If you choose to use another port (as I did), you must change references to the Tomcat service in a few configuration files to access significant parts of the Alfresco system. This wasn’t documented very well, but it was easily solved after a conversation with one of Alfresco’s support engineers.