Advances in Cloud technologies means that an increasing range of IT services and solutions can now be outsourced to a hosted service. There are numerous benefits available when using Cloud for business services, from a reduction in capital expenditure, to increased system availability and simplified operations management according to the service and application.
Analysts expect businesses to move more of their operations into hosted alternatives over the coming years – Gartner expects just 18% of software to be deployed on site by 2017 for instance.
Logically then, the humble content management system (CMS) must be one of the next business systems due for a move into the Cloud?
But what is the Cloud?
Many businesses may assume that because their website is hosted offsite, it is automatically Cloud-enabled – the site is served from an offsite datacentre, so it must be in the Cloud. Under this definition, almost any CMS system can be classed as Cloud-enabled. However the true definition of “Cloud” is slightly more complex.
Traditional website hosting sees the content management system installed onto either a shared server, a virtual server instance or a dedicated server located in the ISP’s datacentre. The key thing to note is that the server instance in all three cases is restricted to a single physical machine.
Cloud architecture is slightly different, however. Although the CMS software is still installed on a server instance, that instance is then installed on a Cloud layer that is distributed across several servers. This abstraction helps to improve availability and up-time as the software is no longer tied to the local hardware.
This abstraction also makes it easier to draw upon more resources as and when required. As the database powering the content management system reaches its limits, a Cloud service provider will automatically provision more storage, also drawn from other Cloud resources. This is in stark contrast to traditional hosting models which would need a physical hardware upgrade, or re-allocating of resources once capacity is reached.
Are there any Cloud CMS services in operation?
Using services like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) it is relatively easy to get started with using the Cloud to host a content management system. Billed according to the resources you actually use (rather than those you think you might need), these services could prove extremely cost effective in the long term. However, deploying a Cloud CMS yourself relies on having the requisite skills in-house.
So are there any solutions available that simplify the process for businesses keen to reap the benefits of the Cloud?
A long-time favourite of Green River Media, Kentico CMS offers native support for the Microsoft Azure Cloud platform. Microsoft Azure uses the .Net framework to run the Kentico CMS software, backed by the SQL Azuredatabase to store pages and content.
Kentico help simplify the deployment process by providing a special installer package that is ready for immediate installation on the Azure platform.
Similar to Kentico, Sitecore CMS also offers support for the Microsoft Azure Cloud computing platform. Sitecore’s Customer Experience Platform can be installed directly onto the Microsoft Azure platform benefit from limitless resource usage, improved reliability and simplified management and deployment – Sitecore claim it is possible for experienced engineers to deploy a new website in just one hour.
Ektron Managed Cloud
For several years Ektron has supported installation on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2 platforms, allowing site owners to put the power of the Cloud to work for their business. However for businesses that lack the relevant technical skills in-house, Ektron has released the Ektron Managed Cloud service that provides subscribers with a basic instance on which to build.
The trade-off of choosing the pre-packaged Cloud service is that customisation is quite limited. Although businesses will benefit from the flexibility of the Cloud, implementations that need specific tweaks or add-ons will need a custom install of their own. Of course, this is assuming the Ektron products survive the Ektron-EPiServer merger that took place earlier this year – at the moment their future is looking uncertain.
EPiServer has released its own Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering, allowing users of that particular CMS to migrate their sites to a Cloud equivalent. To help businesses assess whether the Cloud is suitable for their needs, EPiServer also offer the testCloud pay-as-you-go service which provides the same functionality as the 'full' Cloud service, but without the need to agree to a full service contract.
The EPiServer testCloud even offer a free 14 day trial to businesses in the early stages of Cloud testing.
A favourite with developers, Drupal offers support for install on a number of Cloud platforms including Amazon EC2, OpenStack and the Xen Cloud Platform (XCP). This flexibility allows businesses to choose the Cloud platform that best meets their needs, budget and IT strategy.
Another .Net based CMS system, Umbraco also supports deployment using Microsoft Azure. Umbraco can be downloaded and deployed directly from the Microsoft/Web store using the WebMatrix framework.
Thanks to the open source nature of Umbraco, customisation of the CMS is possible, dependent on any limitations imposed by the Cloud service provider.
Working in conjunction with established hosting providers, Magento offer a Cloud-compatible Enterprise Edition. However, the service is offered by Magento direct, offering little flexibility in terms of pricing.
Your website and the Cloud
The major Content Management Systems (CMS) all now offer basic Cloud support, but only usually as far as being installable on the major platforms. Those that are fully Cloud-enabled, are somewhat limited in scope, making them unsuitable for businesses that need to be able to perform heavy customisation.
Corporate IT is increasingly moving towards the Cloud, but in many cases deployments remain a specialised skill. Although there are undeniable benefits to Cloud-enabling systems, businesses still need professional assistance if they are to become early adopters.
That said, the investment in consultancy and support will more than repay itself over time as physical hardware limitations cease to be an issue.