ektron_logo_2011.jpgBoth Forrester and Gartner have recognized Web CMS vendor Ektron in their respective Web Content Management reports, and both have said that Ektron still needs to prove itself enterprise ready. Today, that's what Ektron is doing with the announcement of release candidate Ektron 8.5. There are a number of major changes in this version, is it enough?

Getting Ektron Enterprise Ready

In Forrester's latest report, Web Content Management for Online Customer Experience (CXM), the analyst firm lists Ektron as a contender saying the Web CMS still needs to prove itself enterprise ready, but noting that Ektron has some nice capabilities that you don't see in other Web CMS products.

We could take that to mean Ektron is competing just fine in the functionality department, but needs to work on things like scalability and flexibility -- important elements for enterprise software.

With Ektron's 8.5 release, these things have been the core focus, so let's review.

Ektron's Architecture

Ektron 8.5 introduces a brand new three-tiered architecture. As most know, a three-tiered architecture makes scaling horizontally much easier, as you are separating the web front end (WFE) from the middle tier where you find the Ektron CMS and the backend database.

A couple of points on this architecture:

  • WFE: There is no Ektron software on the web front end.
  • Application Tier: This is where the Ektron software resides alongside a new search engine (we'll get to that in a minute) delivered through the Windows Communication Framework (WCF).

What WCF does is allow Ektron to offer it's APIs as Web Services, which in turn means that you could build that web front end in any language you want: .NET, Java, PHP and more.

This is not new for a Web CMS, we've seen several others offer the same architecture. But according to Tom Wentworth, Ektron's CMO, Ektron is the first .NET Web CMS to offer this architecture among its direct competitors.

Ektron Web CMS v8.5 Introduces a 3-tiered Deployment Architecture

Adding in Microsoft Search

You probably noticed that Microsoft Search block in the above architecture diagram. Ektron has replaced the aging IIS Index Server with a real search engine, Microsoft Search Server. Out of the box, Ektron 8.5 ships with the free Search Server Express version, but there's a nice little upgrade path to Search Server or Microsoft FAST Search Server (purchase your licenses directly from Ektron to relieve yourself of the Microsoft licensing pains).

Using Search Server as the search engine for Ektron provides you a few nice capabilities, including:

  • suggested results/did you mean
  • faceted search
  • dynamic relevancy tuning
  • federated search

All important capabilities for a search engine today.

For Developers -- A New Framework API

To support this new architecture, Ektron has developed a completely new Framework API. This API supports all the content management operations on all Ektron CMS objects. There's also a new developer website with code examples for both VB.NET and C#.

In addition, Ektron 8.5 also supports Microsoft LINQ, which means that developers who love to hate XSLT now have a new way to query for data and transform it for display. Ektron now officially supports .NET 4.0 and MVC. Lots of new things for developers to get excited about.

Integrated Analytics

Ektron had always integrated Google Analytics directly into its platform. Now it also offers integration with both Omniture SiteCatalyst and WebTrends. This means that you can be inside Ektron administration and access your analytics data from one of three different vendors. This includes both reports and the Ektron Desktop (which is like a dashboard).

Ektron 8.5 Brings Integrated Analytics from Google, Adobe Omniture and WebTrends

Ektron 8.5 now offers an analytic site overlay view as well. When you are looking at your website in this view, you can hover over sections of the page and see the basic analytic stats for that section. As your site becomes personalized the stats automatically update to reflect the changes.

Ektron 8.5 Analytics Overlay

Social Media Monitoring

Any Web CMS that calls itself a customer experience platform needs to include social media monitoring. In Ektron's case, it has come via a partnership with PRNewswire.

Ektron has integrated the SMM dashboard reports directly into Ektron (includes 20+ reports). Wentworth told us that this is only the first SMM partnership, there are plans to integrate with others, like Radian6.

Localization and Multi-lingual Support

Wentworth also showed me a new capability for the support of multiple  languages. When you define your supported languages, you can identify the fall back language if content is not available in the default language. Prior to Ektron 8.5, the CMS automatically selected the fall back language for you. Now you can see what the most used languages are for a location and manually set the fall back language.

Ektron 8.5 Languages/Locales

A Refined Ektron Interface

By now, you've probably noticed that the Ektron interface looks a little different from the screenshots shown through out the article. Wentworth defined this new interface as simple, refined, consistent and easy to use. Likely the first thing you noticed is the the bright orange is gone and has mostly been replaced by black.

Ektron 8.5 -- Creating a Page

A bright blue stands out to show you where in the interface you are currently are. You should also have noticed that certain functions in a screen have been called out, like the Edit button in the toolbar. The idea is to quickly point out the primary action for that section.

I like the bright blue, I like the idea of calling out the primary actions in a toolbar. I'm not particularly in love with the black, white would be a better choice (or a lighter color), but I like even less the mono chrome toolbar and menus. Things almost look like they are greyed out and that could be confusing for some.

Ektron 8.5 -- The Online Engagement Hub

Ektron has made some significant improvements to its architecture and search capabilities. Many organizations will also be happy with a Web CMS that doesn't tie them to it forever. Ektron's new support of a web front end built in any language will be a draw for many.

It also has some really nice technology partnerships that demonstrate Ektron's desire to offer the best capabilities to its users and integrate with existing technology selections -- it doesn't have to all come from Ektron directly. This is an important feature for an enterprise solution, as many organizations have already made investments in existing technology and look for a Web CMS that will integrate with them.

The Ektron 8.5 'release candidate' is available today via the Ektron website (download Ektron 8.5 here). The company's current target is to deliver the production version sometime in September.

Now the question is, has Ektron done what it needed to do to be enterprise ready?