Content Services Platforms – SaaS/PaaS: Are All Clouds Created Equal?
As cloud adoption continues to accelerate and more organizations consider new and different options from content service providers, many are looking to software or platform as a service (SaaS and PaaS, respectively). Understanding the pros and cons for each of these options is crucial, as Industry analysts and informed decision makers all understand that not every cloud is created equally.
Here, we will review some of the major vendors’ offerings, together with some history of their efforts, as well as Alfresco’s strategy.
The history of content services platform (CSP) vendors and the cloud is filled with variations, false starts and inconsistencies as the market has grown and evolved. We see a variety of different types of cloud vendors in the content space, including:
- Pure play: Pure play vendors offer their content services solutions only in the cloud. Solutions in this category include Box, Microsoft Office 365, Google Drive, Dropbox and others. These vendors typically host their infrastructure on one of the major cloud players (e.g., Box leverages Amazon Web Services) or their own Cloud infrastructure such as Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). But pure play vendors only have experience offering their solutions in the cloud. Realizing this limitation, Microsoft is introducing Cloud Managed Services on-premises with the Microsoft Azure Stack.
- On-premises and private clouds: Many long-time CSP vendors have offered their on-premises products with options to deploy in private Clouds with large Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) vendors. In many cases, Vendors will develop specific capabilities to take offer better performance or unique capabilities provided by the IaaS vendor. In Alfresco’s case, the company has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to take advantage of Amazon S3, offer native support for Amazon Aurora Cloud Database, and several other Amazon services – something specifically relevant to those clients that prefer or have standardized on the Amazon Web Services.
- On-premises and vendor clouds: Other long-time CSP vendors have offered their own on-premises capabilities in their own Vendor Clouds, in which they chose to leverage internal data centers or other resources from their portfolio. For example, IBM offers FileNet hosting on their own IBM Cloud. Similarly, Documentum, when part of EMC, offered cloud services from the VMWare Cloud, although this is no longer available following its acquisition by OpenText.
- On-premises and IaaS clouds: Increasingly, CSP vendors are taking a “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach and moving their PaaS/SaaS cloud services to the major infrastructure as a service (IaaS) vendors. Since CSP vendors core competency is content services software, most realize that without the clout, innovation and scale of the leading IaaS options (i.e., AWS, Azure, and GCP), they can’t compete with the capabilities and cost of the larger vendors.
eBook: Five drivers for modernizing ECM
Now, let’s look at the Cloud SaaS/PaaS strategies of the major on-premises and cloud vendors. Since the pure play vendors tend to focus more on document collaboration, we did not evaluate these solutions.
Each of the major vendors have had their starts and stops as the market evolves, with many of them sharing similar early experiences. To support their initial foray into providing cloud support, several vendors sought to develop their own cloud infrastructure, most frequently leveraging vendors like Rackspace or by creating their own data centers. While these approaches might be more lucrative than paying Amazon or Microsoft for the underlying infrastructure, the experience and distraction of building out and managing their own infrastructure and services — as well as competing in the IaaS marketplace — did not translate into a better offering for their customers. Legacy CSP vendors and their cloud initiatives have included:
- IBM/FileNet/CMOD: IBM has had difficulty embracing IaaS clouds as they have focused on investing in their own IBM cloud. Unfortunately, Gartner has documented how IBM has struggled to compete with the leading cloud platforms (i.e., AWS, Azure, and GCP). While IBM has made recent announcements that they will support customers that want to deploy FileNet on AWS, IBM remains focused on promoting and managing their own private cloud options, with this option remaining a side bet.
- OpenText/Documentum: OpenText also promoted their own private cloud as part of their overall conglomerate of companies — some of which also offer product-specific private cloud capabilities. Documentum has struggled more than most other vendors as they initially introduced private cloud offerings on VMWare IaaS, only to move to the OpenText cloud following the OpenText acquisition, a less than ideal offering as one of our clients discovered. Furthermore, company announcements have confused the market, making a splash with their Google partnership in 2019, only to also partner with Amazon last year).
- Alfresco: Alfresco made its early bet on AWS, choosing a leader for its IaaS. Alfresco’s early entry into pure-play-collaboration solutions with the Alfresco cloud was hosted on AWS. Alfresco’s most recent PaaS offering began in 2019 and is completely based on leveraging the AWS skills and experiences from its previous offerings and clients.
- M-Files: M-Files made early bets on Microsoft Azure. While these bets have paid off in picking one of the top IaaS vendors, M-Files finds itself in a difficult situation, as its IaaS partner is increasingly competitive with Microsoft SharePoint and Teams.
Whether comparing SaaS or PaaS solutions, the two most important considerations are the service itself and the people that support that it. Vendors that focused on IaaS early gained important experience, allowing them to deliver products fine-tuned to their IaaS environment and deeply experienced personnel to support these products.
Not all clouds provided by content services platform vendors are the same. When a vendor says “we have been offering cloud solutions longer,” organizations should be careful to review the specifics of that cloud experience to determine if it is actually relevant. Decisions on which database to run behind a content services platform usually come down to a combination of client familiarity and vendor support. Similarly, decisions for CSP platforms should be built on considerations of long-term vendor commitment and experience. And just as importantly, avoid confusing proprietary cloud experience with IaaS proficiency.