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Using Alfresco 4.0

It’s been just over six months since Alfresco 4.0 was released.  At Zia, we are starting to see an uptick in customers planning upgrade strategies or implementing 4.0. What every customer wants to know is – if the new features in 4.0 deliver on their promises and how they can be used in a real business environment.

Instead of focusing on what’s new in 4.0, I wanted to shed some light on what features customers are actually adopting and if those features work as advertised.  So far, our customers are gravitating towards Solr, Activiti and the overall UI improvements.


We have worked with a number of customers who are new to Alfresco and they are all selecting to use the new Alfresco 4.0 Indexing Server which is based on Apache Solr.  A number of existing Alfresco customers moving to 4.0 are doing so with the intention of using the Solr-based Indexing Server.  This is because Alfresco 3.x indexing is based on Lucene and runs in process which slows down the performance of Alfresco.  Basically, when a search request is made in 3.x, Lucene pulls the correct matches and a post processing operation is run to evaluate the user’s security permissions to determine which items to retrieve.

In 4.0 with Solr, indexing is pulled out of the core repository and can run separately (Alfresco 4.0 guidelines recommend this approach). When a search is performed, the permissions are evaluated during the initial query.  This has significant performance improvements.  While I cannot confirm these numbers, Alfresco’s 4.0 press release “states 3x faster content uploads, 10x faster user dashboard queries, 25-50% faster loading document libraries and document metadata.” I can say that our customers have seen dramatically improved performance.

Our customers are running Solr out of the box and it is as easy to use as Lucene. Anyone new to Alfresco can use Solr right way.  Existing Alfresco deployments will need to build their indexing environment, but this is not difficult or time consuming to do.  Solr is one new feature in Alfresco 4.0 that truly delivers.

Activiti – Integrated Workflows

The addition of Activiti, a light-weight workflow and Business Process Management (BPM) Platform, in Alfresco 4.0 simplifies the process of creating workflows.  Customers are excited about the visual notion of Activiti for three key reasons:

  1. Visualization of the Workflow Model – Typically an IT person has been responsible for creating a visual representation of a workflow business process.  This can be time consuming as IT may not be involved in the actual business process taking place. Now with Activiti, business users have more control and can create the workflow diagram that visually shows how a business process works.  Let’s be clear, a business user can not actually build the workflow, they can only prescribe the model.  The IT department can take that diagram and build the workflow by connecting the dots.  This is a big step forward from previous versions of Alfresco and one that simplifies the creation of workflows.
  2. Improved Reporting –Activiti includes advanced reporting features that allow users to view an in-process workflow and see the diagram of the workflow model and the step that is currently being executed will be highlighted.
  3. Workflow Console –An administrative feature that provides additional monitoring capabilities for improved management of Activiti and to ensure it is always up and running.

All of these aspects of Activiti are extremely appealing to the customers we have spoken to and demonstrate the next level of workflow capabilities in Alfresco.  Zia is actively working on a number of projects around Activiti and the enhanced visualization of the modeling has decreased the effort needed to create the workflows.  Again, Activiti is another feature in 4.0 that delivers in a production environment.

User Interface Enhancements in Share

With 4.0, Alfresco has truly taken a number of steps to improve the overall user experience – especially as it relates to Alfresco Share.  For example, our customers can now quickly edit the title of documents in Share, easily enable social publishing directly from Alfresco (yes, this is a more limited use case, but one that is on the radar of customers), and engage with content in a more consumer-like interface.

With 4.0, we see a more mature offering from Alfresco that includes features that not only improve performance and business processes but take into account ease of use.  It’s important to note that our customers are also looking at using Alfresco 4.0 as part of a private cloud.  Alfresco’s cloud connected strategy and ability to sync content between mobile, cloud and premise-based is extremely appealing. 

When the rubber hits the road, customers have not been disappointed with Alfresco 4.0.  Let us know what your experience has been using 4.0 and be sure to check back for our next article in the series on what you need to know about Alfresco 4.0.




Ryan Mcveigh is Vice President of ECM Solutions, Zia Consulting ECM and Portal Expert, Secretary and Specification Editor on OASIS CMIS Technical Committee. Ryan has been working in the ECM and portal industries since 1999 for companies including Vignette, BEA Systems and Oracle prior to joining Zia in 2010. Ryan has held team lead, architect and development management positions throughout his career. Today Ryan is focused on building a world-class systems integration business at Zia, focused on Enterprise Content Management, Portals, Enterprise Integration and Enterprise Mobility.

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