Options for Alfresco in the Cloud
Everybody is talking cloud these days and predicting that the cloud will be embraced by organisations throughout 2013. Alfresco have been putting a substantial amount of their corporate energy into ensuring they have an ECM cloud offering available. As the cloud is such a broad term, I will attempt to give you a clear understanding of what Alfresco are offering when they talk about the cloud and explore the different options available for hosting your information in the cloud using Alfresco.
Alfresco Cloud SAS offering
The first option for getting onto the cloud with Alfresco is the software as a service (SAS) offering called my.alfresco.com. Customers can purchase a cloud network subscription and start using Alfresco straight away for ECM. The subscription determines how many named users can access the cloud network and amount of data that can be stored there. Also, if you are an existing Enterprise customer Alfresco will provide you with a cloud network for a specified number of users with no extra charge. The SAS offering is not as feature rich as a standard Alfresco install. Without getting into too much detail, it provides you with the document management functions for Sites. So, for example although this includes document libraries and dashboards, it does not include familiar Site components such as wikis, lists and discussion forums. The system is designed to allow you to collaborate with and manage content. Also included are process management tools such as folder rules and workflows. However, Alfresco are actively developing the list of features available from the SAS offering so the functions available will build out over time. To get a better feel for what the SAS offering provides we suggest you sign up for a free alfresco cloud account at my.alfresco.com.
The SAS offering is great for SMEs who do not want the overhead of managing an Alfresco instance themselves and/or who have a geographically disperse set of users who need to access corporate information from outside the corporate firewall.
Alfresco Hosted Solution in the cloud
The next option for using Alfresco in the cloud is to use a cloud hosting service. There are many of these available. We recently rolled out Alfresco for Kaplan in Australia and they hosted the alfresco instance in the cloud. Kaplan is made up of more than 20 colleges and learning institutes so it made sense to be able to provide an ECM service faced by Share to their many users. The advantage of hosting your own Alfresco in the cloud is that you get the full feature list that Alfresco supports and can customise it in any way you like.
The basic premise for this type of cloud solution is that you install Alfresco and all of its necessary supporting software such as DB and OpenOffice yourself on a server hosted in the cloud. It’s equivalent to installing an in-house Alfresco but you save on the server management costs. One hosting service that is very popular now is Amazon Web Services (AWS). We often use it when we need to create some test boxes for a customer implementation. They are quick to create and cost effective to run as we only get charged for the duration of the project. As AWS EC2 servers allow you to connect to them via SSH you can also backup and restore them to an internal server using a utility like rsynch.
Amazon Web Services
Alfresco has recently rolled out a number of AWS images (AMIs) that allow you to quickly launch an EC2 server instance with a fully installed Alfresco ECMS. This allows customers to take advantage of some of the great virtualisation features AWS provides such as elastic load balancing, auto-scaling and server and database failover.
There are two images available on the Amazon Market place, an Alfresco 4.1.2 Redhat 6 image and an Alfresco 4.1.1 Ubuntu 10.04 image. Both of which have been released by Alfresco following Alfresco presenting at an Amazon conference in late 2012.
As most of our customers are on RHEL we decided to install the 4.1.2 image and understand how it was put together.
Installing the image:
- The image can be found here Alfresco Enterprise 4.1 – RHEL 6.3.
- Choose the region you want to install the image into. At the time of writing this blog all regions were available except Australia. Choosing a region is especially important if you have compliance issues on where the data should live (more on this later). Once you have chosen the region click on the Continue button. You are then presented with the Launch window.
- Choose the instance type launch with. The instance type determines the specifications for the server that will be launched. Alfresco has informed us that the Standard Large (2 cores) and Standard XL (4 Cores) are supported with a Standard Alfresco license. Alfresco have also determined that the Standard Large is the minimum spec that can be used to host a production Alfresco system.
- Note the default Security Group settings Alfresco has created for this instance opens ports 22 for SSH, 80 for http (Share and Alfresco apps), 443 for https connection via mobile , 7070 for Sharepoint protocol and 2121 for tcp.
- Next create a Key Pair. A key pair ensures that only you have access to the EC2 instance you are lunching via SSH. Don’t forget to save the Key to your local drive as you will need it for accessing Alfresco via ssh or putty if on Windows.
- The next step is to launch the new instance. Note that you will be charged by AWS for using the instance so only do this if you don’t mind paying for the time the server is up. Click the Launch with 1 Click button. It takes only a few seconds and your new instance is up and running. You can then use the public instance url to connect to alfresco, <aws public key for EC2 instance>/share
- A handy help page about the instance has been installed by alfresco in the root application of tomcat. So if you connect to the instance using the public url it will bring up the page. Its also worth doing this as at the time of writing Alfresco were giving away a $120 AWS voucher.
There are a number of things to note about the Alfresco image.
- The Alfresco software appears to have been installed using the Alfresco full linux installer.
- The content and solr directories are under <alf-home>/alf-data directory. These are stored on EBS storage. Alfresco also supports S3 storage via an S3 connector. This however needs to be licensed separately from Alfresco.
- Alfresco is running against a Postgres DB installed locally on the server. You might want to consider using Amazon RDS or installing your preferred DB such as MySQL on another EC2 instance.
- The configuration supports access to Alfresco via http, https, ftp and using the Sharepoint protocol for office. Edit online from Share does not work out of the box.
- The image comes with a 30 day Alfresco license after which you need to install your own license.
- Will Abson has a blog on installing the community version of Alfresco 4.0 into AWS which can be viewed from here.
Alfresco provides you with two main options for working in the cloud, their own SaaS offering and a set of AWS images to allow you to host your own Alfresco instance in AWS. Currently we believe that the AWS option provides the best fit for medium enterprises because of the speed of deployment, low management cost and access to the full functionality that Alfresco provides.