Alfresco provides the low-budget option

John Newton was one of the founders of ECM pioneer Documentum (now owned by EMC). So what’s he doing as CTO of Alfresco, a relatively new open source ECM in direct competition with SharePoint? And why is he calling his product ’the Ryanair of ECM’?

“We’re providing an alternative to the consolidating market,” he explains. “As in the airline industry, older vendors plateau and consolidate, opening up opportunities for value players like Ryanair or easyJet. SharePoint and Alfresco are value plays in the collaborative content market, and open source is the only thing that can compete with SharePoint.”

It has certainly done that. Newton claims that Alfresco has grown 50% faster in its first year than Documentum, and has found a home on the systems of such blue-chip organisations as NASA, France’s Air Force and Islington Council, as well as the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.

Powerful and scalable enough to run on very large systems requiring greater capacity than SharePoint can offer, large web implementations have been conducted by companies such as games-maker Activision.

“SharePoint has a limit of 50 million documents on its index,” Newton says.

“We benchmarked 100 million documents, and there’s nothing to stop us going higher other than time and disk space.”

Rather than issue licences, Alfresco makes its technology available as a free download from the website (all 40MB of its JavaScript). The company’s income is derived from supporting a tightly governed and vetted enterprise version.

As with Linux, Alfresco is doing extremely well in developing economies, especially China and India. “Alfresco’s [cost of ownership] is a tenth that of many alternatives, and while SharePoint is cheaper than other ECMs, we’re a third to a fifth the price of SharePoint,” Newton declares.

“Open source also allows us to innovate two to three times faster,” he says. “In one example, Islington Council added calendar and collaboration features, while a group of Californian developers built a Flex interface.”

Contrary to the perception of open source as insecure, according to Newton, Alfresco has been adopted by “five of the top 10 major investment banks”.

“Open source is far more secure [than propriety software] since you can see exactly what it’s doing in there. Everything else, you have no idea.”

Another key distinction is that, unlike traditional ECM implementations made through a top-down procurement process, Alfresco tends to be a grassroots adoption.

Related to this is the consumer-as-end-user trend that is increasingly evident in enterprise software. This is a trend in which Alfresco’s ECM-as-social-networking approach is already paying dividends.

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