Content Management as a Commodity


SharePoint has the traditional ECM Generation CMS vendors trying to figure out what they can do to maintain their “leadership” in Content Management.  imageA lot are looking to Case Management, a long-time need, to provide a differentiating factor for growth.

Meanwhile, other, newer CMS vendors are working to build solutions in the cloud.  What they lack in functionality/scalability, they make up for in drive, vision, and price.  They also have a plan to match, and surpass in some cases, the capabilities of SharePoint and the big boys.

These two new challengers to the CMS throne are making basic Content Management available to the masses.  The traditional vendors don’t see profit in the commodity game.  We’ll explain why this is a problem for them in a bit…

Scaling Beyond Your Data Center

Right now, I work on a project that has well over 50 Terabytes of content.  It is growing at a fair clip, 2TB/month, and the rate of increase is scheduled to increase by 50% in the next six months with further increases down the road.  Another little requirement, every action that the 10,000+ users perform in the system, including searches, has to be tracked and reportable for a period of seven years.

Did I mention that they want to double the users and then open the system up to other organizations for access?  Have I mentioned that the current growth is mostly just trying to keep up with new content and that there is a backlog that scales well beyond the current planned capacity?

SharePoint can’t handle this system.  To be fair, for a traditional vendor, this isn’t necessarily an easy system to design.  Every aspect needs to be well architected.  If there is a weak link, the system will have issues.  Improve one link and then the attention switches to a new one.

image Here is the thing.  You can architect it well, balance the load, buy all the right devices, and design a streamlined content model, but in the end, you are still at the mercy of a data center.  It isn’t just people (who may or may not be capable), is it space and power.  Lots of storage takes physical space, requires cooling, and consumes power.

Now take that setup and setup a disaster recovery site.  Include a reliable backup plan and be sure that everything meets the High Availability standards.  Before you know it, you are spending a lot of money just to keep things going, much less adding new capabilities.

Ready for the kicker?  This is just one of the many systems that are needed to manage electronic content for this single organization.  We are creating more everyday and less of it is going to be stored as paper.  The scalability question needs to answered without Ed Bueche stepping-in to fine-tune everything.

This is just one “small” piece of the pie.  It is estimated that in 10 years, there will be over 30ZB of content out there in the big bad world.  To put a zettabyte into perspective, the difference between a terabyte and a zettabyte is the same as the difference between a kilobyte and a terabyte.  It is over 1,000,000,000 times the size.

Where Do You Put It?

That is a lot of content.  That is a lot of processing and metadata.  Now let me ask you this question, what is the core purpose of your organization?  Is it to run a data center?  It may need to be at the current rate of growth.  Get ready to learn about deduplification, IOPS, backup strategies, and the fine are of disaster planning (Tip: If you have a backup diesel generator, make sure you have back-up roads for the diesel truck to get to your data center to keep the fuel tank topped off.)

If you do have a data center, you have likely hired someone to run it for you.  My experience has been mixed on this front and I find you still do a lot of the planning work.  Even so, this approach has been used for a couple of decades, but the answer moving forward seems to be the cloud.

image Now, before you accuse me of jumping on the cloud bandwagon, think back to the numbers above.  Remember that with all the hype, the cloud is merely the act of turning over your Software, Platform, or Infrastructure to a really big data center provider to share resources with other organizations and thus share the costs.  That is an extreme over-simplification, but when you think on it, it is just the next-generation of outsourced data centers.

Now let me add this.  I’ve been managing content systems for a long time.  They have been growing in size and complexity.  This isn’t just because I’ve moved up the ranks.  It is because the average system tackled by the ECM vendors seems to be getting larger.  In that process, I’ve had to be more and more involved in the details in the data center.  This isn’t  a good thing.

Look, I come from a software/database background.  I know content. I know how people use it. I know how to convince people that Content Management is a good thing.  I know how to design a content model and application optimized for performance. I can even convince a business owner that the latest system crash was not my fault and that it will actually be good for the program.

Okay, maybe not that last one, which would be pretty cool, but I am not a data center guy. My understanding of storage is high level.  That is all it should be in my position as a content guy.  The odds are that if you are reading this, you shouldn’t have to worry about it either.  We are trying to solve problems that involve content, be it collaboration or case management.

Moving the software/platform/infrastructure to the cloud takes us out of that business and throws me back into solving business problems and writing overly long blog posts.  We can now stop worrying about scale and just worry about defining scope and matching it to costs.  No thoughts about implementing the needed scale or expanding capacity.  More importantly, no lost hardware costs when I decide that I don’t need capacity as much as I first thought.

The systems of the future will be in the cloud because that is the future of the data center.

Show Me the Money!

Let’s think about this issue.  If content is going to be in the cloud, it will still need to be managed.  It will still need full-text search that is link, Google approach, independent.  I will still have records to be retained and purged.  I will still want Rights Management, Digital Asset Management, workflow, APIs, and standards compliance (token CMIS reference). I’m going to need a great collaborative interface so users have a place to work together.

That, plus all that storage, is going to cost money.  If you have only a few customers, you will lose money.  If you can scale and have the proper processes, you can scale to support thousands of organizations.  They will pay money to not only solve their data center issues, but the Content Management component as well.

How much money do you think a five nine’s (99.999% uptime) CMS system will cost for 100,000 users who are randomly accessing the records of millions of Federal constituents?  How about ALL the content for a global bank, providing access to all of their clients and employees?

That is a lot of money.  Even if you look at 20-25% of the current CMS expenditures from a TCO perspective, that is a lot of money.  Managing zettabytes of content will not be cheap and there will be some companies that will make a killing providing that service.

Once everyone starts moving to the cloud, how many case management solutions will be run on internal systems?  There won’t be a reason to do it as cloud-based Content Management will be cheap for the small to mid-range solutions.  Why? Because they won’t add that much overhead to the cloud provider, so they can offer a good deal.  Those solutions will be almost pure margin for them.

You want money??? It will be everywhere.  If you want to be a leader in 5-1010 years, you need to be getting there quickly to be a thought leader and start building the references.  When the world is comfortable with cloud security, those that will lead will need to be waiting for them with fully functional solutions.  As with any market, the companies that get there early have the advantage.

Personally, I can’t wait.  Getting to design/implement solutions that hit against that cloud-based CMS will be wonderful.  Why?  Because I’ll be back to spending more of my time doing what I was doing in the 90s when I got into this crazy business….Solving business problems.

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