Alfresco TCO

Enterprise level applications are not cheap. In particular, enterprise content management systems can send an organization's budget plans through the roof. Unless, of course, you are implementing an open source enterprise cms. So the story goes. 

According to open source enterprise content management (ECM) provider Alfresco, they are the alternative with a scalable, easy to use platform at a fraction of the price.

We read their Total Cost of Ownership for Enterprise Content Management whitepaper. The whitepaper walks you through the licensing and hardware costs associated with several propertiery ECMs and shows how clearly open source is the more inexpensive option.

But the story of project costs is not just a tale of license price. There's a lot more money to spend implementing an Enterprise CMS. Let's take a closer look.

So maybe we don't need a whitepaper from Alfresco to tell us that open source alternatives are cheaper than many of the proprietary solutions on the market today. It's not exactly rocket science to look at the cost of a single license of Alfresco vs the single license of say, MOSS or Open Text.

It's also not hard to imagine that organizations who once shied away from anything open source are now taking a closer look at what solutions on the open source platform have to offer.

According to the Alfresco whitepaper, "ECM pricing models are often as complex as the product offering, with literally thousands of options for customers to consider when pricing a product configuration. Customers are not clear on what 'extras' are required to deliver a working system, what fair value is based on usage, or what rights they have regarding software use."

Alfresco says Web 2.0 has now changed the landscape for enterprise content management and many websites would not be affordable without open source options.

Looking Closer at the Competition

The majority of this whitepaper takes a look at the cost of implementing some of the more well known ECMs in terms of licensing and hardware costs. Specifically, Alfresco takes a closer look at EMC/Documentum, Open Text, Microsoft SharePoint (MOSS) and Alfresco, comparing the costs and complexities associated with each.

The licensing and hardware costs come from each ECM's website and are based on two user configurations: 1000 users and 100 users. It also only looks at a portion of functionality available in most ECMs:

  • Office Integration
  • Collaboration
  • Content Management
  • Workflow/Business Process Management
  • Transformation/Rendition Management (Word to PDF, Flash etc.)
  • Search

What Do the Numbers Tell us

Without providing all the details (you can read the whitepaper for that), a 1000 user configuration cost for Year 1 for each solution is as follows:

  • EMC/Documentum - US$ $863,938
  • Open Text - US$ $637,304
  • MS SharePoint - US$ $318,738
  • Alfresco - US$ $33,500 (US$ 46,250 for a clustered highly available model)

The numbers, while high for Open Text and EMC, probably don't really scare many executives or IT managers. After all, enterprise quality solutions aren't cheap. However, with the economy in a downturn, the numbers have become the focus of much attention and concern.

Keep in mind that the features priced are only a portion of what many ECMs provide in their solution set. Of course, it then is only a portion of their costs as well, as when you include more features and functionality, the price generally goes up.

The biggest benefit to larger ECMs is that the functionality is all supposed to be tightly integrated, resulting in a more cohesive solution.

Of course, Alfresco is going to come out on top in terms of licensing for this feature set. Their licensing model is a single subscription cost based on a per CPU model. No extra costs.

The whitepaper provides additional costs are for the infrastructure stack, including the application server, database server and operating system. And again, the open source alternatives - Red Hat, MySQL - come out on top.

Alfresco, while a great looking option if you go purely open source, is supposed to work on just about any technology stack - part of their sell. The decision to put Alfresco on something other than MySQL or Linux changes the TCO outlined in the paper.

Something is Missing From the Mix

It's difficult to argue with the numbers presented in the whitepaper. After all, they come from the websites of each ECM provider. What is important to consider though is that often these numbers change based on the individual negotiations with each provider. Especially when you start to factor in all the other functionality you may need for your solution.

What's missing from this comparison is the cost of implementing the solution itself. That's something that no vendor offers up on their website. Partly because that cost is specific to each implementation, partly because you sometimes don't know what the true cost will be until you are done.

What would be interesting to see is what is the cost of implementing a particular Alfresco solution, including training developers, end-users and administrators.

It would also be good to see a comparison of each ECM as it pertains to adding/integrating additional ECM functionality.

Analysts Opinion on Alfresco as an ECM

Where Alfresco sits amongst the ECM vendors is a matter of opinion, and that opinion - although varied - is starting to change for the better for this open source CMS.

Gartner places Alfresco in the Niche quadrant of their 2008 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise CMS. Open Text, SharePoint and EMC/Documentum are in the leaders quadrant. That report was released in September prior to the release of Alfresco 3.0, so it's possible Gartner's view may have changed since then.

CMS Watch, however, lists them as one of the major suite vendors in their ECM Suites Report 2009, alongside Open Text, SharePoint and EMC.

Making an Enterprise Content Management System Choice

Anyway you slice it, Alfresco is a viable alternative as an Enterprise CMS. You can't ignore the lower costs, and you have to look closely at the solution and how it's implemented and supported.

Just remember, and we probably don't have to tell you this, get your requirements down before you start evaluating technical alternatives. Know what you want and where you want to go (or where you think you want to go). Make sure the solution you select can take you there.