Alfresco DevCon 2019

Alfresco DevCon – Some thoughts and impressions

These are very much impressions and if you want more details then I encourage you to go and look at the presentations – there’s a lot of good stuff there!

I haven’t really been keeping up with what’s going on in the Alfresco ecosystem for a couple of years so I thought that DevCon would be a good opportunity to catch up.

It’s always nice to get an idea of what’s going on and meet up with friends old and new.

One of the things I like about DevCon is that it gives me a change to get a, fairly conservative, view on what’s going on in the technology space and well as the more specific Alfresco related topics.

There were about 300 attendees and four parallel streams of talks – I like the lightning talk format with auto advancing slides and five minutes per presenter – it’s a different skill but allows you to hear from more people.

John Newton’s key note is always a good introduction and provides context to the rest of the conference.
The overall feeling of this was surprising similar to Zaragoza two years ago – I think this is good as it shows more consistency of vision that has sometimes been the case in the past.
Joining up process, process driven, and content feels like a good thing to be doing.
Once again AI was prominent, to be honest, despite working at the Big Data Institute, AI (or perhaps Machine Learning(ML) would be a better term), I don’t find this very interesting in the Alfresco context. As the Hackathons this year, and even two years ago, have shown this is fairly easy to link up to Alfresco so the interesting part is what you do when you’ve linked it up and that’s going to be very specific to your own needs.
The other hype technology mentioned was blockchain – this seems fairly sensible in the context of governance services.

Moving on the road map and architecture.
It felt like Alfresco were embarking on a fairly major change after 5.2 and I certainly thought that the right thing to do would be to wait a couple of versions before attempting to upgrade, and I don’t think I’m alone in that!
My impression is that it’s still not there yet although progress has been made and it seems to be heading in a generally good direction – more on this below.

The blog posted by Jeff Potts @jeffpotts01 about whether Alfresco should provide more than Lego bricks caused a few conversations in the Q&As – I suggest that the CEO and product managers have a conversation here as I got conflicting messages from the two sessions. I’m firmly in the camp that there needs to be a reasonably functional application if only to show what can be done by putting the Lego together.

One the technology themes here was that containerisation is coming of age. This is the same direction as we have been going internally so it’s good to have some confirmation this.
We’ve got experience of Kubernetes so we’re not afraid of this – it’s perhaps overkill for a lot of installations but does have the benefit of being relatively cloud platform agnostic (interestingly Azure was seen as the second most popular platform to AWS when our observation is that the Google Platform is the best option)
Another observation is that as we’re being pushed more towards cloud architectures it would be nice if the official S3 object storage connector was released to the community (there is already a community version), and perhaps other object storage connectors?

Another potentially huge change/improvement is the introduction of an event bus into a right sized (as Brian said not micro) services architecture, this is one of the presentations I need to catch up on at home. I was advocating ESB based service architectures ten years ago so it’s nice to see this sort of thing happening.  Jeff Potts did a nice presentation of how he had effectively done his own implementation of this.

(As an aside if you’re spec’ing out new hardware get 32Gb if you can)
Kubernates
The ADF related applications feel a bit like where Share was in about 2010 – I like this but it’s not yet a compelling reason to upgrade an existing installation.
Where I’d like to be is to be able to run Share alongside the new stuff with the objective of phasing out Share eventually – I don’t feel we’re there yet.
(good to see the changes for ADF 3 but puzzled as to how the old stuff was there when using OpenAPI as the new stuff seems to match what would come out of the code generators…)

One of my objectives was to get a feel for how hard it would be to upgrade, and what the benefits would be and as Angel (@AngelBorroy) and David’s (@davidcognite) sessions were the most popular, lots of other people had the same idea (Thanks for the shout out Angel). I’m also going to mention Bindu’s (@binduwavell) question in the CEO Q&A here.

This is tricky, and judging from this, and some informal conversations, there’s still a real lack of help and support from both Alfresco and partners in this area.
One of the strengths of Alfresco is the ability to provide your own customisations but it does, potentially, make it difficult to upgrade.
I think the new architecture is a step in the right direction here as it’s going to make it easier to introduce some loosely coupled customisations – there will still be a place for the old way however.

My biggest problem with upgrade is SSO, it always breaks!,  so I was very interested to see the introduction of the Alfresco Identity Service – it’s great to see this area getting some love.

I really want this to work but I’m pretty disappointed with what was presented.

Keycloak is solid choice for SSO but I *really* don’t want to introduce it running in parallel with my existing SSO infrastructure – by all means have it there as an option for people who don’t have existing infrastructure (or for test/dev environs) but please try and do a better job of integrating with existing, standards based, installations – this is quite a mature area now.

No integration with Share is a pretty big absence (and I’m assuming mobile) – I suspect that the changes to ACS for this mean that the existing SSO won’t work any more (I’ve seen it broken but not sure why yet)

In principal I agree with the aim of moving the authentication chain out of the back end but there may be some side effects e.g. one conversation I had was around the frustration of not being able to use the jpegPhoto from LDAP as the avatar in Alfresco – this is fairly easy to provide as a customization to the LDAP sync (I’ve done it and can share the code) but doesn’t fit so well if you’re getting the identity information from an identity service.

All in all an enjoyable conference with lots learned.

P.S. One option for the future would be to reduce the carbon footprint of the conference by holding it in Oxford – it’s possible to use one of the colleges when the students aren’t there e.g. end of June to October.

Edinburgh was nice but I think a few people found it a wee bit chilly.

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