Julian Wraith

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AWS Elastic File System

Yesterday in a knowledge session between Solution Architects, the topic of AWS Elastic File System was raised and after a short discussion it was decided to take a closer look and set something up. To quote Top Gear, how hard could it be?

What is EFS?

AWS Elastic File System, or EFS, is Amazon Web Services’ latest storage solution and is a fully managed, simple and scalable file storage to use with EC2 instances. As the name suggests, it grows and shrinks automatically with your storage needs and EC2 instances can access EFS using NFS (v4.1), over multiple availability zones at low latency with high throughput (50 MB/s per TB with 100 MB/s burst). AWS lists the use cases of EFS to be; Big Data and analytics, media processing workflows, content management, web serving and home directories. Content Management you say? Hmmm J

From my past, scalable single sources of file system based content were expensive and difficult to deploy. So much so, that product and implementations strategy meant that putting all content in a database was by far and away the most logical route to take. So could EFS now resolve that headache? I will give it a test to find out.

What do I have to set up?

So I will simulate a website setup where I have an application server tier that would host my Tomcat (or similar) application servers and a back end file system which will be mounted as to my application servers so that the files can be used. Onto my file system I will deploy my content. I won’t install or configure Tomcat, this is simple to do but covered very well in other places.

The simple architecture

The simple architecture

So, I will need

  1. An auto-scaling group covering two availability zones (eu-west-1a, eu-west-1b) with two instances of Amazon Linux (no Tomcat, no auto-scaling rules for now)
  2. Security Group to allow my auto-scaling instances to talk NFS to my EFS
  3. An EFS created and mounted to my instances

For my auto-scaling group, I have gone and created a simple one and it is up and running across my two availability zones. I have gone and terminated an instance or two just for fun. That’s not related to this post, it is just fun to terminate something and watch it auto-magically reappear.

My security group allows instances that are a member of my auto-scaling security group, access to the EFS volumes via the NFS protocol

My Security Group

My Security Group

I can now create my EFS for my website content.

I first need to configure the file system access which consists of my VPC, my mount targets (availability zones) and the security group that defines the source of access requests (the one I created early):

Configuration of EFS

Configuration of EFS

Then I configure the optional settings. I have chosen to give it a friendly name and stuck to the default “Performance Mode” of general purpose.

Configure the EFS options

Configure the EFS options

The final review step and then I am done. That was it. No configuring disk sizes, difficult calculations on my requirements of how much content I have. It’s done.

Review what I did

Review what I did

After a shirt whole my volumes are ready and I can keep track on the status of creation in the main EFS dashboard under “life cycle state”.

After a short while they will be ready

After a short while they will be ready

Next we are going to test drive mounting my volume to my instance. EFS provides some instructions to be able to do this from the dashboard. Running in a ssh session (from the root);

Step 1: If needed, install the NFS client on your EC2 instance

sudo yum install -y nfs-utils

Step 2: Create a new directory on your EC2 instance, such as “efs”

sudo mkdir efs

Step 3: Mount your file system using the DNS name.

sudo mount -t nfs4 -o nfsvers=4.1 $(curl -s http://169.254.169.254/latest/meta-data/placement/availability-zone).fs-d3658b1a.efs.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com:/ efs

Once that is done I can switch to the directory and create myself a simple index.html file for my eventual Tomcat server to see. If I then log on to my other instance, I can see that my file has been replicate from the first availability zone to the next. This means, if I would write my content to disk as I have done, it would be available instantly in the other availability zones and all my sites would be updated.

As I did this manually, if my auto-scaling group scales then I would need to do this each time. This defeats the purpose of auto-scaling. However, if I mount this directory at instance initialization time (e.g. chef) then it would be mounted when my new instance starts. To test this I made a very simply launch script and updated my Launch configuration (made a new one as edits are not possible) to add the following to the user data portion of the configuration.

#!/bin/bash
cd /
sudo mkdir efs
sudo mount -t nfs4 -o nfsvers=4.1 $(curl -s http://169.254.169.254/latest/meta-data/placement/availability-zone).fs-d3658b1a.efs.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com:/ efs

Warning: I would not use this code in production. No really, please don’t.

Summary

The most complicated thing about this is to mount the drives as creation of the fully managed and scalable storage is incredibly easy. For content management systems, like SDL Web (Tridion) this is a real help in deployment of content in a scalable and reliable way.

Amazon Web Services, Simple Storage Service (S3)

Having recently joined Amazon Web Services (AWS), I need to deep dive all the services in detail to understand the features in as much detail as I can. Simple Storage Service (or S3) has been a recent topic I have had focus on, part because of learning but also due to needing to support my customer with questions on S3. So what is S3? We shall start with a quote from the AWS documentation that describes it in one paragraph much better than I can:

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), provides developers and IT teams with secure, durable, highly-scalable cloud storage. Amazon S3 is easy to use object storage, with a simple web service interface to store and retrieve any amount of data from anywhere on the web. With Amazon S3, you pay only for the storage you actually use. There is no minimum fee and no setup cost.

Object Storage

S3 is an object based store which means it does not store files like a file system but rather as objects which consists of both the file itself but also its metadata. Metadata contains information about the data (the file) and can be used to support application behaviors and administrative actions. These objects are organized into buckets and each bucket needs to have a unique name across S3 which means that you need to be a little creative in naming your buckets because chances are someone has already taken the name “test”. Buckets can store objects from 1 byte to 1 TB and objects can be organized into folders and subfolders.

Secure

S3 access polices set on it that dictate who and what can access a given S3 resource (e.g. object, bucket). Such access policies that are attached to resources are called resource-based policies. If you attach an S3 related policy to a user in your AWS Account this this is referred to as a user policy. User policies may say if the given user has permissions over a bucket where as a resource policy may state that “everyone” has access to read a bucket. A combination of policy types can be used to manage access to the objects.

By default buckets are closed to the outside world and so you need to open up access if you want them to be used by other resources or users and you can set as fine grain access as you require. It’s generally a good policy to restrict access as much as possible and implement features like MFA delete to ensure that it’s harder to make mistakes.

Durable (and available)

One of the major features of S3 is both the availability and durability of the service. In on-premise environments, you needed to go to a lot of expense and effort to ensure that your storage is available to a high-standard. S3 rolls of your mouse click with a, mostly, four nines availability. Why only mostly four nines? You do not always need such levels of availability so AWS has a differing S3 storage type called “Infrequently Accessed” or IA storage. This storage type drops the availability down to three nines and should only be used for data you need from time to time and that if it is not available, it’s not really a major issue (for example, old product documentation).

If your data is not available you can be very sure that it has not gone anywhere. The difference between availability and durability is, is your data accessible and is your data still there, respectively. You can lose access to the data but be sure that it is still going to be there when access is restored. For the most storage types the standard is a startling eleven nines. Which in essence means is near impossible to lose an object. “Reduced Redundancy Storage” or RRS storage has a lower durability and should only be used for things you can lose such as copies of data or temporary data. Still at four nines, I would still class it is highly durable.

Storage Class Durability  Availability
Standard 99.999999999% 99.99%
Standard IA 99.999999999% 99.9%
GLACIER 99.999999999% 99.99% (after you restore objects)
RRS 99.99% 99.99%

 

Scalable

S3 is highly scalable and you do not need to do anything to enable that, it’s all part of the service.

Storing and retrieving

Objects can be uploaded, updated, deleted etc. from the AWS management interface. However, for normal use the most likely way to deal with objects is programmatically via the SDKs that talk to S3’s RESTFul interface, probably via an integration with a product that uses S3 as a storage tier. S3 has as a consistency model of “Read after Write consistency” for PUTS of new objects and “eventual consistency” for overwrite PUTS and DELETES. This means that when you PUT and object for the first time, it will be readable directly after being written. However, when you overwrite PUT the consistency is eventual, meaning it will be available on all replicates eventually. There is therefore a chance that applications read the older version of an object if they read an object after the object is overwritten but before it is consistent across all replicas.

For large (>100mb) uploads, you should consider multi-part uploads. In multi-part uploads, the file you are uploading is broken into pieces and sent separately. S3 assembles the parts back to the complete file when all the parts have arrived. Doing so not only improves throughput (e.g. uploading in parallel but also uploading whilst creating) but also improves the reliability of your uploads (e.g. network errors, needing to pause).

Cost

For S3 you pay for only what you use and there are no setup costs or up-front fees. The AWS website holds details of the costs and cost differs per storage tier. The differing storage classes all have different associated costs (e.g. per GB) and this means with the good storage planning you can save significant expenditure. Organizations who have existing data on say standard S3 could also remodel their storage to improve its cost effectiveness.

Other important S3 features

Lifecycle Management

Lifecycle Management allows you to manage the lifetime of objects in your S3 buckets against rules you have defined. A simple use case of this is managing backup data. For backups, you typically have a policy that dictates how long you store your backups.

For example, you keep daily backups for the last 30 days and then a monthly backup for the last 12 months.

This means that you need to automatically remove monthly backups older than 12 months and daily backups older than 30 days. With lifecycle management you can do this. Moreover you can add addition S3 based rules. For instance, you could decide to keep the last 7 days of backups on standard storage and then the 7-30 days backups on Infrequently Accessed Storage and then all the monthly backups on Glacier. All of which will lower the cost of the storage of the backups.

Versioning

Versioning allows you to keep versions of objects as they are updates with new objects and is used in combination with Lifecycle Management. For each bucket you want to use it on, you need to enable it (as it costs storage) but it then makes it more difficult to permanently lose something.

Cross-Region Replication

Cross-Region Replication allows you to asynchronously copy data from one S3 bucket to another in a different region. S3 is a region based service and data is never moved from a region without a customer enabling this function. So, like versioning, you need to enable this on your bucket and decide which destination bucket in which region that will be the target of replication and what to replicate (all or a subset of the bucket).

To do this you need to have version enabled buckets (which also needs Lifecycle Management enabled), you need to have two buckets in two regions and S3 needs permission to replicate the data from one bucket to another. It’s important to note what is and is not replicated because things like Lifecycle Management needs to be dealt with per region and not via replication.

All change @ me

Sonia the Hippo enjoys the mud of the lake at Longleat

Sonia the Hippo enjoys the mud of the lake at Longleat

In the recent past I have been watching a program on the BBC called “All Change at LongLeat“. Longleat is engrained in Britishness being the home to Lord Bath and his safari park. Lord Bath’s son and his wife have moved in to take over the day to day running of the house and park and the change is not without some problems. The estate needs to change if it is to remain viable and there is a constant friction of the old versus the new.  Ceawlin, Lord Bath’s son, seemed to know what was needed but those who heavily influenced the situation, like Lord Bath, made transforming the estate a challenge. I got an appreciation for the way Ceawlin dealt with things; drawing lines and borders, sometimes harshly, he manage to get things changed. I think most of those borders he drew to keep his sanity whilst keeping his eyes on the end goal.

2015 had to be my “Annus horribilis“. If it could go wrong, it did and even when you thought there was no surprise left, there was something waiting around the corner. However, its now 2016 and I have drawn borders and lines under things and am making this a year of change. Since 2003 I have worked for SDL (I started when it was just the Dutch company Tridion) and I have enjoyed an awesome 11.5 years and have traveled the world. I have had a wealth of good times, worked with truly great people, learnt a lot and have grown as a person hugely. There were good times and bad times but the good out weighed the bad. But sometimes, things have to change.

In early March, I started as a Solution Architect for Amazon Web Services. Since then I have been overwhelmed by the freight train of new things and new people. I am sad to miss the awesome people I have worked with over the past years, some of which I count friends but I am enjoying the change of scene and the new technology.

What is Hybrid Cloud?

The term Hybrid cloud is becoming more common terminology with customers as they adopt cloud as part of their overall IT strategy. But what really is a hybrid cloud and why is that different to cloud as a strategy?

© Dilbert

A few years ago the term “cloud strategy” was use to describe the adoption of a cloud vendor. Ultimately, some of these cloud vendors were (and still are) traditional hosting companies who use the term cloud. I have always pushed the fact that cloud really means a true, public, cloud vendor such as Azure or AWS. Hybrid has now taken over as the strategic approach and has been describe by Forrestor’s Dave Bartoletti as “cloud plus anything.” This can mean any of the following:

  • AWS & Azure
  • Cloud vendor (e.g. AWS) & private data center (private cloud)
  • Cloud vendor (e.g. AWS) & hosting party
  • etc.

In essence, two (or more) separate environments that will need to work together as one cohesive unit of which one is a public cloud. Inevitably adopting a hybrid cloud strategy makes strategic sense as you cannot just lift and shift everything to a cloud in one go and most likely your strategy will evolve into a multi-cloud strategy once you are free from all (or most of) your private data centers. So hybrid is the logical step between the two.

@copy; RightScale

The RightScale State of the Cloud report indicates that only 10% of enterprise business use the public cloud fully and 16% are fully private cloud. That means there is 74% that have a mixture of two or more clouds (public and private).  Things holding back the 16% are topics such as security concerns, outdated policies that prevent adoption or simply a lack of understanding of the benefits over systems already adopted (such as virtualization).

As one size does not fit all, organizations should be looking to train their teams in cloud and getting a full understanding of how they can move existing workloads to the cloud and in what architecture. This is especially important where organizations manage what could be classed as commodity applications (e.g. SharePoint, CMS systems) that can be purchased as a Paas or SaaS offering from a public cloud or product vendor. More specialist, differentiating and legacy applications could continue to be run in a private cloud but leverage technology from the cloud such as off-shore backup or “single pane” management technology.

Building a successful, cohesive, hybrid cloud will take a significant amount of time for most enterprise organizations and we can expect that it is five years away for mainstream adoption to be realized, starting this strategy now is the best approach to being on track with the five year expectation of Gartner.

10 things to do when deploying SDL Web to the cloud

Now that cloud is on the uptake with almost every organization, it’s likely that during the next upgrade or new implementation of SDL Web you will be asked to move it to a cloud provider like AWS. What you should not do during this move is fall into the trap of just porting some virtual machines to the cloud and running it like you did before. The cloud is better than that (and it is 2016, not 2005), so you should investigate a little deeper in how you should deploy. So to help, here are 10 things to consider;

1.       Use SDL Web 8

It should go without saying that you should use the latest version of a product, but some organizations pull back from such steps until a product version is in a SP1. But with the new product release you get better support for the cloud from SDL. You can read my earlier post on the new infrastructure features that help deployment on the cloud but the main one you need to shoot for is the support for database-as-a-service from AWS or Azure

2.       Elastically scale delivery

In this nice article, the AWS Startup folks at Medium explain that the minimum viable product must scale in order to be a success; they are spot on. As your product is that website you are building then not implementing automatic scaling (or using something like AWS Elastic Beanstalk) of delivery should now be counted as a crime against humanity.

3.       Automate the deployment of your environment

Automating the deployment of an environment is more than saving a VM template of your build servers, but automating the configuration management, topology, software installations etc. This is essential in auto-scaling but deeply important when you are planning things like disaster recovery. The old school methods can go if you can automatically rebuild an environment inside 30 minutes.

4.       Implement Continuous Delivery and then Continuous Deployment

Rome was not build in a day and therefore you need to take this slow but most cloud providers have a CD pipeline available that integrates with the deployment options available at that cloud provider (see. Visual Studio Online or AWS Codepipeline). Get to the point where you can deploy a new version of the site (or part of it) multiple times per day in a robust way.

5.       Scale Publishers when needed

Number one complaint for publishing is it is slow when deploying lots of content. Well, following point four, you should not be able to spin up more publishers when needed. This does not per say need to automatic in response to load (but it could be) but it should at least be an automated process leveraging a graceful shut down and destroy.

6.       Process log files with a tool like Splunk

Now you have servers spinning up and down automatically you probably have little or no access to the running application. It is therefore important to put in automatic log file analysis to ensure that the application is running error free, you can spot failure trends and you can keep the overall health of the environment high. Applications will fail and that is OK, but you need data to proactively reduce the errors, feed into your continuous delivery pipeline and improve performance.

7.       Write custom monitors for SDL Web functionality

The cloud provides you with metrics for things like CPU and memory, but there are no monitors for specific and relevant SDL Web functionality. Is the publishing queue a little too long? Fire a warning to your integrated monitoring solution that something may need to change like a new publisher spun up to help with the load.

8.       Deploy new CD environments for temporary sites

You can easily spin up new delivery environment should you need to deploy a new site that will only last for a short period of time. This keeps complexity low on each site and impact to another site from the new site is impossible.

9.       Adopt a microservice architecture

Architecting your application in the microservice model means that CDaaS can be utilized and sites can just feed content from that. Further splitting your application into smaller functional components which can all be scaled separately will reduce software costs, improve deployment complexity, improve resilience and improve scaling.

10.   Test performance and scaling actively

Too often this is the last of the pile in regards to things to do. Automatic scaling does not remove the need to test performance, in fact, it makes it more important. In years gone by, if the site did not perform it just got slow and then probably crashed. Sadly, website visitors were used to that, but it does little for your business reputation. Now we can scale automatically, all this essentially means is that we keep adding new instances/servers until we meet demand. And what follows is a small heart attack when you read the monthly invoice.

Instead it is now more important that you need to keep your application performing well. Performance should be tested in the CD pipeline as well as on a frequent basis in production. Plenty of tools exist to support this and can help testing from different parts of the world if your site needs to respond to a global customer base.

New Infrastructure Features of SDL Web 8

SDL recently released the latest version of their web content management and this releases has some interesting changes from an infrastructure perspective that I would like to highlight.

Product Name Change

Firstly, whilst not an infrastructure change, the product has changed its name from SDL Tridion to SDL Web. The new name, Web, says a little bit more about what it does (at a very basic level) but does somewhat reject the kudos and history that comes with the name Tridion. The name “Tridion” is distinct and easily recognizable, Web is a little more generic and bland in my opinion.

The version number for the new release is 8 which is a throwback to the “R” releases of Tridion before SDL took over the Tridion company. The last product named in the “R” series was R5.3 and since then there has been the releases 2009, 2011, 2013 and now 8. It’s not directly logical that Web 8 should not actually be called Web 9, but 2009 and 2011 are really R5.4 and R6 respectively.

Improved Cloud Support

The new release has some heavy focus on changes to make it easier to deploy and manage Web. First up is the improved cloud support. SDL always did support “the cloud” through the proxy of supporting specific operating systems and provided they ran as normal it did not really matter where they ran. This meant that an IaaS based deployment of Tridion was always possible.

What SDL now means to say is that SDL now “supports specific features of some cloud providers”. Those are only AWS and Azure and nothing is mentioned about Google or Oracle as a platform. SDL Web 8 adds support for Azure SQL and Amazon RDS. The documentation states “Azure and Amazon RDS” but this is an oversight as it means “Azure SQL” as Azure is the Microsoft cloud platform rather than a specific piece of technology.

All this means is that you now take advantage of the database-as-a-service offerings from these two providers providing you are not using the SDL Web legacy pack (e.g. for VBScript templates), transactional core service code (you can write this out) or implementations with certain extensions. This is because Tridion traditionally made use of distributed transactions and these are not supported on AWS or Azure and legacy style code still needs MSDTC.

In all cases, you can only use the SQL Server engines which has a cost impact over and above the MySQL engine options on AWS RDS but is cheaper than the Oracle engines.

If you use a version of SDL Web prior to Web 8, you should note that you can use Azure SQL or AWS RDS for the Content Delivery database but it is simply not supported by SDL.

Topology Management

Topology Management is new product feature that replaces the existing (now deprecated) Publishing management (e.g. Publish Targets) with a more advanced approach which clearly de-couples the configuration of publishing from the management of content and makes the configuration of delivery environment something tied to the environment (e.g. production) rather than the content management database. Managed through Powershell, the Topology Manager manages the relationships between publications and delivery environments. There is a .NET API which means automation options from other applications that are not PowerShell compliant is possible and an example of using that API can be found here.

Some key terminology to grasp with topology management itself;

  • Content Delivery Environment: in essence just the same as before and is communicated with through a Discovery Endpoint
  • Topology Type: defines the purposes like “Staging” and “Live” and can define a series of purposes to help support a publishing workflow (e.g. Staging Editors -> Staging Executive Approval -> Live)
  • Topologies: combines one or more content delivery environments which have a particular Topology Type (including Purposes).

And on the Content Management side:

  • Target Type are the same as before in that it is what the user selects when publishing to undertake the publishing and has “a” Purpose e.g. “Live”
  • Business Process Type defines how content flows through the organization (published or not) and in this context what topology type and target types, defines the Minimal Approval Status of a target type and the priority which both used to be in the publication target. The Business Process Type is in a publication and can be inherited through the child publications.

The features increase the complexity of publishing management and it is a little frustrating there is no user interface as this was one of the nice features of the current publishing approach. Whilst I support the move, it has yet to be seen how much this would be an advantage in an automation / NoOps approach over what you could already do through existing APIs.

For now, there is no need to change to the new approach, so the advice to customers would be to sufficiently test with the new approach before rolling into a production situation.

More Graceful Publishing Management

SDL has improved how you can manage publishing services. Prior to Web 8, when a publishing service was stopped, it simply forgot everything it was doing (much like a “kill -9”). With the advent of technologies like auto-scaling, this makes simply stopping a service a royal pain because a service may be busy with something that you simply just do not want to forget about. These new features are only available in the new publishing approach described above:

  • Pausing the Publisher service: Pausing means that the Publisher does not pick up any new transactions, but does keep processing deployment feedback on items already send for deployment. Assuming you can test if it has completed all feedback items it had open (?) then a graceful destroy of a server could take place.
  • Graceful shutdown of Publisher service: Shutting down the Publisher service will allow the following to take place before shut down is completed; all transactions that have not yet been transported back in the publish queue (set to Waiting For Publish) and all transactions that have the transaction state “Scheduled for Deployment” have sent their commit packages to transport.

With the approach of starting and stopping delivery environments a little more dynamically then delivery environments have some additional options to help management them:

  • Graceful deactivation and reactivation of a Content Delivery environment: halting a Content Delivery environment for maintenance is now possible from the Content Manager server. The documentation is unclear with what happens to publishing transactions being pushed to other sites as well as what happens to records (e.g. audience manager) that are written to databases belonging to redundant databases in other deployment stacks.
  • Decommissioning of a Content Delivery environment: You can decommission an entire Content Delivery environment without having to unpublish content first.

Content Delivery as a Service (CDaaS)

The major change from architecture side for delivery is the introduction of Content Delivery as a Service or CDaaS for short. This new feature means that web applications can feed content from a SDL Web using a microservice approach. This approach allows non-Tridion (Web) skilled teams to talk to Web and minimizes any impact the libraries for Web would have on other applications.

Development and maintenance of the CDaaS and connected web applications can all happen separately on their own development tracks and upgrades to CDaaS will not affect the applications using the content (assuming the interfaces are reverse compatible). You can scale the CDaaS microservice separately to your other application services (a concept drawn from microservices architectural approach) which means that applications that are not content rich need not have large content delivery farms.

Discovery Service

The Discovery Service is now the know it all of the delivery farms, with the centralized webservice being the go to point to understand what content delivery endpoints there are deployed. The topology manager (see above) needs to only talk to the Discovery Service to get everything he needs to know.

[ Update 9th Feb 2016 – Thanks to Nuno Linhares for some corrections on the version numbers and the information regarding the .NET client for the Topology Manager]

Continuous Delivery vs Content Management

Recently I had a discussion where the initial question somewhat baffled me. Having thought about it more, I want to write something about it to see if I can come to a nice conclusion. The question was; Is Continuous Delivery a threat to Content Management? The form of the question predicates that the asker thinks that Continuous Delivery is actually a threat to Content Management, but why?

As someone who tries to take the independent stance but heavily leaning on Content Management for the staple of work, my initial reaction is that no, Content Management is no threat to Continuous Delivery, but nor is Continuous Delivery a threat to Content Management. Both have a place in any internet delivery environment and such a question is a little like comparing apples and pears. But for kicks, let’s look at it in a little more detail.

What is Content Management (CMS)?
Specifically, we are talking about Web Content Management (rather than the general definition). Wikipedia describes this as:

A web content management system is a software system that provides website authoring, collaboration, and administration tools designed to allow users with little knowledge of web programming languages or markup languages to create and manage website content with relative ease. A robust Web Content Management System provides the foundation for collaboration, offering users the ability to manage documents and output for multiple author editing and participation. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_content_management_system)

Systems like SDL Tridion Web make good on the following: allowing non-technical users to edit site content (and even manipulate layout), collaborate on content, version and reuse content across multiple channels and sites. Some systems allow for additional integrations to support content create such as translation systems, DAM etc. and changes can be made to a production website in a matter of minutes. Not all CMS platforms support direct updates but rather they rely on periodic refreshes of the content.

What is Continuous Delivery (CD)?
Continuous Delivery differs in what it, as an approach is trying to resolve. Wikipedia describes it as:

Continuous Delivery is a software engineering approach in which teams produce software in short cycles, ensuring that the software can be reliably released at any time. It aims at building, testing, and releasing software faster and more frequently. The approach helps reduce the cost, time, and risk of delivering changes by allowing for more incremental updates to applications in production. A straightforward and repeatable deployment process is important for continuous delivery. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuous_delivery)

The focus here is on agility of changes in a development lifecycle with a heavy focus on automation of repetitive tasks to lead to productivity and quality improvements. These automated stages are things like build, test and deployment. They feature integrated products covering things like collaboration, unit tests, versioning and source control and typically this is focused on product (code which could be a website) development which can and often does include editing of assets such as labels, (website) content and binary objects.

Comparing the two
Both have overlap in two areas; versioning control and pipeline management. Both paradigms focus on rapid delivery of assets and both are only comparable if we are talking about the delivery of a website. A CMS is no good for supporting delivery of a desktop application. Whilst many CMSs support the delivery of code and have a web application, SDL Web does not mandate such a thing and you can develop any application you would like with varying degrees of code in the CMS itself. Currently, the recommended practice of SDL is not to include code in CMS, but to develop a separate application and have SDL Web deliver content which it can do in any form you need (e.g. JSON or XHTML). Continuous delivery specializes in the delivery of code and assets.

In Continuous Delivery, you can enter content assets into a versioning system (e.g. Git) and include that in your build which is eventually deployed. Content can be edited with a suitable IDE in a semi- non-technical form. I do not want to say completely non-technical because an IDE is typically still a technical tool. CMS systems tend to focus on empowerment of non-technical users and organizations that use SDL Web have non-technical marketing users editing content either via forms or using tools like Experience Manager. Content that is entered into the versioning system can then be pushed through the delivery pipeline into the deployment together with all the application code. This has an advantage in agility of deployment because the content will always be delivered by the deployment and the content is as available as the application. Where SDL Web sometimes has challenges is that you need to have a single, scaled and redundant source of content for the webapp. This means that always needs to be there to make the web application works. However, separating the two pipelines of code and content using CD and WCM means that you can make minute by minute changes to the website and not require the application to be redeployed. If you want to separate your web application from your CMS, then content can be delivered through content-as-a-service.

Conclusion
Every web application needs content so if you do not have a CMS then you will need to deliver your content through CD. CD will provide enough features to edit and manage content providing you have the right people and you allow the right speed of updates in the form of multiple deployments per day. What you lose by not having a CMS is the features that the CMS would bring such as content inheritance, translation, inline editing, per minute updates of content. For a simple site (i.e. a micro-site), having a full enterprise CMS is perhaps overkill especially if you do not already have a CMS. If you do, reusing content and content editing processes from the existing CMS is a considerable plus.

If your website is larger in content terms than a simple site and is really multiple sites in multiple languages with a high amount of content reuse, then using CMS and CD together, seems to be the ideal solution. You can manage all your content for all your channels (including campaigning) though one tool and develop awesome apps in record time with CD. One is not a threat to the other.

Going forward I would make a recommendation that your deployments are done in a microservice architecture and in that, your CMS content should be delivered as a service (along with all the other things like targeting). This means all deployed sites take advantage of content that is centrally managed, application deployments are not weighed down by large volumes of content assets and CMS features like content targeting are uniformly deployed on all channels.

Photo credit: Ian Brown (Flickr)

SDL Tridion in the Cloud – Tridion Developer Summit 2014

Earlier this year I presented as lightning presentation at the Tridion Developer Summit in Amsterdam. The even was awesome and really well attended. Here are the slides that I used:

SDL CXC and Tridion

Today I posted some slides to slideshare on SDL CXC and Tridion. Just a simple overview of what we have done for Tridion on SDL’s CXC platform.

The SDL Tridion Reference Implementation

htmlRecently, SDL released the Tridion Reference Implementation, or TRI, to the community. The first edition of the TRI is based on .NET and aims to provide a reference for customers and partners on a preferred approach to an implementation.

Traditionally, Tridion has had an open architecture where a delivery implementation (e.g. an MVC framework) was not supplied with the product. This allowed customers to choose the delivery architecture which suited their needs. As a result we see variations from a simple ASP.NET/ JSP page based site to a fully dynamic MVC based implementation. With the release of the TRI, nothing changes in that regard but should you wish, there is an implementation that you can start from.

The TRI is an MVC based application that uses common elements and approaches with the community MVC application, DD4T. This means that customers using DD4T are compatible with the TRI from a Content Management point of view and so long as the TRI is getting content from something in the right format it can be independent of the content provider though support for semantic web (but by default, Tridion is the content provider). The templates are managed in the application and not in content management and the supplied templates follow a RESS approach and are re-brandable using bootstrap / LESS. The approach means that you can rapidly rebrand the application to another design and this can support a wide variety of devices using one site rather than separate websites for different devices.

The current release, version 1, will be replaced with the upcoming version 2 which will add new features – implementing more SDL product features – will have a java version and will become part of the SDL product stack and available with the installation of Tridion. Right now, you can contribute to the release by going ahead and using it.

You can download it from SDL Tridion World and look at the sources on github.

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