Beyond the global trend towards cloud-based computing technologies, there is a real transformation around how enterprises are managing their IT needs. While much has been said about the cloud and even more left to speculation on how the technology will impact the content management industry, there’s little doubt that taking advantage of the cloud is a strategy that can’t – and shouldn’t – be ignored, no matter how difficult to decode.

Fresh off of the recent announcement of that Nuxeo has taken its enterprise content management platform to the cloud, this post will help decode what enterprise content management in the cloud should really target and means for the application development industry, and how I think a development platform approach fits into this trend.

Laurence Hart of said it best here: “…with a platform you’re going with the intent of building applications on top of it.” The main goal for the next tier of content management is to build a platform that will be the best solution for customers who are building content-centric applications. “Best” means the platform that will allow developers to deliver the underlying business objectives of the application – whether that means gaining productivity, selling more applications, or saving on operational costs.

Enabling EVERY software delivery model and EVERY deployment strategy for IT choices and business requirements

Building applications is not only about developing the best piece of software, it’s also about delivering it to end-users in the best possible way. Application builders all have unique models, whether they are a software company distributing their own applications, or developing custom applications for their internal use or that of their customers’ use.

When it comes to delivering their applications to end-users, the number of ways to do this has significantly increased; for example:

  • Direct delivery to the end-user, as SaaS, from one single multi-tenant-like application;
  • Traditional software distribution under any kind of packaging;
  • Custom installation (software being delivered and installed on dedicated environments, traditionally on-premise behind a firewall);
  • Delivery of a software package that can run smoothly on existing systems such as PaaS or IaaS, not only on specific system stacks.
  • Or even integrating a Content Repository service to an IaaS offering (like relational databases have been added to the IaaS stack)

Content management platforms need to support this variety of distribution methods, from application developers who want to build large consumer-oriented applications as a service, to application developers focusing on very customized, specific cases.

Enterprise and solution architects must make choices, sometimes independent from the content management specifics. A global view is imperative. They make system choices, infrastructure choices and process choices, all to orchestrate their information system, and the primary content platform must fit in to this plan.

The platform must also enable architects to implement a strategy for building and deploying applications for the entire IT system. That means a comprehensive deployment strategy must support:

  • Deploying on-premise on most of the systems available;
  • Deploying on private clouds, being compliant with either IaaS or PaaS solutions, such as the one developed by VMware;
  • Deploying on semi-private clouds (which deals with very similar technical constraints);
  • Or simply deploying on public clouds, whether it is at the IaaS level (deploying an entirely VM-based architecture) or at the PaaS level (deploying applications directly on a platform).

To sum up, a successful content management platform must fulfill all these different use cases, whether they come from business requirements or from IT strategy choices and this is one of the main differences between a platform and a more specific system.

The early stages of PaaS and making the application lifecycle fluid

Even with the latest software advancements, there is still room to improve and extend the coverage. Content providers must understand the cloud technology providers, as the reality is many PaaS technology providers are still in the very early phases of development. Gartner estimates the PaaS landscape won’t reach maturity for three or four years (see Gartner Says 2011 Will Be the Year of Platform as a Service):

“Gartner predicts that by 2015, most enterprises will have part of their run-the-business software functionally executing in the cloud, using PaaS services or technologies directly or indirectly. Most such enterprises, will have a hybrid environment in which internal and external services are combined.”

It’s equally important not to neglect improving the tool set by tackling provisioning and development tools as well as making the whole lifecycle of applications fluid wherever and however you want to run your platform, whether in a public cloud or in a private one. The toolset is the glue that keeps users coming back.

Looking Ahead: Developing in the cloud, for the cloud

Enabling software delivery and software deployments in the cloud is one thing, but now content management solutions must take it one step further by pushing the earliest phases of the application building process into the cloud. Only then will we have a real content management platform-as-a-service— better known as PaaS for content management.

Developing in the cloud, for the cloud, will be the next big thing and old software architecture will have a hard time keeping up in light of the many advancements and future gains in the content management platform space.

Roland Benedetti for (@rolandbenedetti on Twitter)

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