On the Radar: Nuxeo

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Nuxeo provides an open source platform for content management, document collaboration, and digital asset management (deployable on-premise or in the cloud) that combines a binary filestore with either a NoSQL or SQL database to effect a ‘big data’ approach to ECM.

Who?

Nuxeo is a specialist content management technology provider, headquartered in New York – with additional offices in the US, France, the UK, and a development team in Portugal. Offices in Germany and Japan are due to open late 2016 / early 2017).

What does it do?

As its foundation offering, Nuxeo provides an open source single platform for content management, document collaboration, and digital asset management – the Nuxeo Platform.

The Nuxeo Platform has an extensible and configurable architecture that can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud. Its content repository combines a binary filestore with either a SQL or a NoSQL database for metadata and hierarchies (PostgreSQL, Oracle, MSQL and MS SQL are supported for SQL storage; MongoDB and MarkLogic for NoSQL; AWS S3, MS Azure Blobs, MS OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and GridFS, etc. for binary content). Search and indexing functionality is provided by the open-source Elasticsearch engine.

For integration, the platform provides a CMIS standard interface as well as a set of composable REST APIs for transfer of data in JSON format. Developers can also leverage client SDKs for Java, JavaScript, Python, iOS and Android. There’s also a range of optional Java-based custom plugins, extensions and integrations alongside components for authentication and identity, search, workflow and an extensible web UI.

Built atop the Nuxeo Platform, Nuxeo’s product and service suite comprises:

  • Nuxeo Studio – A SaaS-based customisation tool. Only code and configuration data leaves your on-premise infrastructure when you use Nuxeo Studio; your data itself still resides wherever the repository is set to store it (and at run-time, whatever’s been designed in Nuxeo Studio runs wherever the your infrastructure requires it to; it doesn’t run in SaaS mode).
  • Nuxeo Mobile – A set of iOS / Android mobile apps and an associated mobile app development framework.
  • Nuxeo Cloud / Nuxeo.io – A hosted service for Nuxeo products (note that this is not a SaaS-based offering).
  • Nuxeo Drive – A desktop synchronisation offering.
  • Nuxeo Live Connect – An enterprise file sync-and-share offering that leverages Nuxeo Platform capabilities on top of content that customers wish to leave stored in cloud-based platforms (Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive). It offers full-text indexing of this content via Elasticsearch; auto updating of references to files in Nuxeo; versioning; downloading, previewing, thumbnail generation, and converting to PDF; and – for content on Google Drive and OneDrive only – file editing in cloud applications such as Google docs or Lucidchart. According to Nuxeo, Live Connect can also be “configured” to range across content held in on-premise stores (legacy ECM, for instance), though this isn’t something Nuxeo itself is currently offering out-of-the-box.

Nuxeo Online Services is the company’s annual subscription for support, access to Nuxeo Studio and access to Nuxeo Marketplace.

Nuxeo issues “Long Term Support (LTS)” releases of the Nuxeo Platform annually. These are maintained for three years and roll up the hot-fixes and early release of new features made available throughout the preceding twelve months in quarterly “Fast Track (FT)” versions.

Highlights of FT 8.3 from 14 July 2016 include: a focus on web UI; expanded MongoDB support, plus support for MarkLogic NoSQL store (and preparation for Cassandra support); updates to Nuxeo mobile apps for iOS and Android; and the availability of an encrypted ‘Edge Cache’ to accelerate the transfer of files to / from the cloud (improving SaaS efficiency). The next LTS version is due in December 2016.

Nuxeo in the cloud

The company reports that 50% of its customers are deploying Nuxeo on-premise, 30% in a customer cloud, 10% hybrid, and 10% on Nuxeo Cloud. AWS is the “most likely” host of a Nuxeo Cloud instance, though Nuxeo can natively store files in either AWS or Microsoft Azure (with images available for AWS EC2, Microsoft Azure and Docker). Also, the cloud area can be adapted to the customer’s zone in respect of any regulatory rule / data geolocation requirements (for example, selecting an AWS region based on the customer’s location).

Pricing

There are two on-premise editions of Nuxeo Platform: Gold (starts at $88k per instance) and Platinum (starts at $140k per instance). Nuxeo Cloud pricing is based on a Gold or Platinum subscription plus additional costs depending on deployment size (typically the number of assets stored / volume); additional Technical Contacts and Premium Support packages are also available.

Who is it for?

Use cases

Exploiting Nuxeo Platform’s NoSQL capabilities, the company is focusing on digital asset management / repository scenarios where multiple systems and applications require access to the same data, where data is located in multiple places (cloud, on-premise, other apps), where the data model needs to evolve and scale, and where advanced workflows are required to support creative processes.

Scalability

Nuxeo Platform used to only provide storage on relational SQL databases, but from release 6.10 (in 2014) it integrated MongoDB to address SQL DBMS’ inherent scalability issues when storing vast numbers of documents.

However Nuxeo still supports both SQL and NoSQL stores because it recognises that some customer use cases may require a greater focus on consistency (lending themselves towards the ‘ACID’ characteristics of SQL databases); whereas others require greater availability, at the expense of consistency (i.e. ‘BASE’ NoSQL stores) and support for complex, evolving data models. Also, some customers / developers may have greater skills availability in SQL due to previous investments in that technology (though integrating with Elasticsearch for unified search regardless of the SQL vs NoSQL storage choice goes some way to addressing that).

The easier / cheaper horizontal scaling that NoSQL stores have brought to Nuxeo has resulted in deployments that take advantage of commodity hardware to scale out. This, along with cloud hosted service Nuxeo Cloud, has brought more of a focus of conceptualising architecture as instances powering applications rather than individual servers and CPUs – hence the pricing model now reflecting that practice.

With MongoDB, Nuxeo has benchmarked 1 billion documents on a single cluster; up to 30,000 documents ingested per second (on a single MongoDB backed cluster); 6,000 queries per second benchmarked (on a 2-node cluster) – and 15x performance improvement in document processing (and 5x faster bulk import of content) over its SQL implementations.

Configurations and integrations

The Nuxeo Studio SaaS product provides the means for users to design workflows and configurations without the need for complex coding, but it’s not especially designed for business users. However, customers have reported that – with training – lines of business users have been able tackle configurations without too much assistance from IT.

Without an extensive ecosystem of established configurations and integrations for common use cases, Nuxeo’s customers tend to have to perform their own on a per-project basis. The company doesn’t offer integrations with Process Application Platform products out-of-the-box; however, for the use cases Nuxeo Platform is put to work in, many customers also use Nuxeo’s own workflow engine.

Why is it interesting?

Nuxeo Platform’s flexibility as an open source development platform (with the option of a NoSQL-based repository system) makes it applicable to a range of use cases, as long as customers have sufficient developer muscle at their disposal to build content applications for themselves. As a single platform, it can be deployed as shared infrastructure to underpin multiple project types, enabling projects to share initial licensing costs, skills requirements for development, and so on.

Nuxeo has a ‘Big Data’ approach to content management. It considers content as objects rather than as documents / files to store, and its architecture supports nested objects where the data at any object level can be ingested for analytics, search, or have its properties drive workflows.

A focus on scale, availability, and an ability to cope with complex and evolving data models (particularly when utilising Nuxeo’s NoSQL configuration) characterises the company’s differentiation from traditional systems of record that were never designed to deliver live, rapidly-changing content to myriad devices and applications in real time. Legacy ECM replacement, therefore, is a particular target for Nuxeo (especially in use cases which require the management of ‘heavy’ digital assets, such as video assets).

With Nuxeo Live Connect, customers can leverage Nuxeo Platform capabilities across third-party cloud platforms alongside Nuxeo’s own repository – which is useful if you have content residing in existing cloud platforms which you don’t want to move, but still want to be able to search across and manage in a unified way.

How established is it?

Nuxeo was founded in 2000 in Paris, France.

The company cites a number of on-going content and document management projects in financial services markets, predominantly digital asset (often video) management projects in creative industries, and working with agencies and systems integrators in defence / government on cloud migration and digital transformation initiatives. Nuxeo has over 200 active customers, including Skyscanner, ABN Amro, CVS, TBWA, Capital One, Michelin, Verizon, Sharp and the US Department of Defense.

Nuxeo is privately held and doesn’t publish revenue figures, but reports that 46% of its annual revenue comes from North American customers, followed by 43% in French speaking countries, 5% from the rest of Northern Europe, 3% from Germany/Austria/Switzerland (DACH), and the remainder from other countries.

Until 2013 Nuxeo had received a total of $9.8m in venture funding in four rounds, before raising $30m of Series B funding in 2016 ($10m in June led by Kennet Partners, followed by an additional $20m from Goldman Sachs in August).

The company has said that it’s intending to use this additional funding to expand its US operations (and also expand more rapidly internationally in UK, DACH, Japan), as well as continued investment in product development (it currently invests around 35% of its revenues in R&D investment each year).

How open is it?

With an open source code model, Nuxeo generates revenue by providing access to Nuxeo Studio, the web-based customisation and configuration tool for Nuxeo Platform applications, technical support, training and professional services.

Although Nuxeo Platform is open source, the company reports that most (“around 95%“) of the software development is performed by Nuxeo personnel. The remainder (undertaken by third parties) focuses mainly on bug fixes and translating the platform into new languages for new territories.

Around 80% of the plugins and packages available on Nuxeo Marketplace are produced by Nuxeo itself; the remaining 20% are submitted by customers outside of Nuxeo’s release processes.

Who does it partner with?

Nuxeo has a small network of partners. Some are systems integrators that implement Nuxeo based solutions for their own customers; others are developers that use Nuxeo to power their own applications. Most are based in North or South America, although the company does have a global SI relationship with Infosys (which is involved in much of the company’s push into other territories now).

Nuxeo integrates with MongoDB, MarkLogic, PostgreSQL, and Elasticsearch to power the platform’s core capabilities. It also offers pre-built integrations with Salesforce (search, list, preview, and attach to any Salesforce object content assets managed under Nuxeo from within the Salesforce UI); Adobe Creative Suite (browse and search the Nuxeo repository from Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator; and receive notifications when assets are changed, etc.); and Google Cloud Vision API (Nuxeo’s vision plugin enables the detection of information within images to trigger workflows, generate metadata, and so on).

Are there areas for improvement?

Nuxeo’s published roadmap doesn’t provide a strong strategic vision driving platform evolution; although it has many incremental improvements planned across releases, it’s hard for business users to get a sense of where Nuxeo’s going. Despite moves to appeal more to business users and simplify the route to deploying a Nuxeo solution, it does still feel like the “by developers, for developers” platform its historic promotional material described.

Although Nuxeo isn’t starting to selling off-the-shelf products that leverage the technology for particular use cases (except things of horizontal interest, like Nuxeo Drive), it is starting to provide some templates, building on work some of its partners are already doing, to accelerate the development of applications in common use cases.

Sophisticated content workflows are possible, but they require significant platform configuration or integration with BPM tools.

What’s next?

Nuxeo Cloud is a hosted service for the Nuxeo Platform. It offers a subset of complete Nuxeo functionality, and it’s not a SaaS version of Nuxeo. However, the company has said it will provide a SaaS version for Nuxeo for “select customers” if asked, and that it’s getting more interest in the possibility of a full SaaS solution that delivers the complete Nuxeo package. However, that’s not on the roadmap yet.

What the company does have listed as “coming soon” for Nuxeo Cloud though is offering MongoDB Atlas as a backend (it’s already supported for customer-managed deployments).

Nuxeo’s analytics and data visualisation capabilities are currently focused on providing dashboards of content performance (workflow, activity), with some use of machine learning for auto-tagging of images / video (via Google’s Cloud Vision API) in the Nuxeo Vision plugin. There’s no ‘content intelligence’ recommending content in-workflow or for content synchronisation; however the company has stated that it is considering applying machine learning algorithms to ‘smarten’ content browsing and provide users with recommended next-click actions in the UI.

Should I consider it?

These days, organisations are increasingly looking for more than just somewhere to store content; content needs to be able to ‘work’ for them – whether that’s by feeding automated business processes, or feeding data models for machine learning algorithms, or being able to be shared across enterprise boundaries with partners, customers, and so on.

Without a Process Application Platform to do the ’heavy lifting’, Nuxeo Platform relies on the rich data / nested object architecture of its repository to enable customers to configure workflow; and although workflows can be quite sophisticated, they are platform capabilities – so customers / partners will need to create them, rather than there being a ready-made product to exploit. Nuxeo is starting to create templates that serve common use cases, which will make this process easier, but that facility isn’t yet comprehensive (nor will it be the same as offering packaged solutions out-of-the-box).

This is because Nuxeo is first and foremost a content application platform provider rather than a product suite provider. If your organisation isn’t equipped with the appropriate resources to exploit the flexibility of a platform – and especially if your requirements are met out-of-the-box elsewhere – then a platform investment like this probably isn’t for you.

However, if you are prepared to build your own applications on top of the Nuxeo Platform, then its flexibility and extensibility will provide you with considerable digital asset management and document collaboration capabilities that you can deploy on premise, in the cloud, or (using Nuxeo Live Connect) even distribute to manage across content held in other content cloud environments. Nuxeo’s support for NoSQL stores will also be attractive to customers with large-scale and high-availability requirements (where eventual consistency is acceptable) – again, providing they have resources skilled in the use of NoSQL technologies.

Also, as Nuxeo is an open source platform, you won’t need to meet high licensing costs as a customer – though these savings may be outweighed by the cost of Nuxeo or its partners developing custom applications if suitably skilled resources aren’t available to you in-house.

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