TSG has teamed with Micro Strategies to produce a whitepaper detailing key differences between SharePoint and Alfresco. This post will present the executive summary.
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The Enterprise Content Management (ECM) market has evolved over the last 25 years to a point where many vendors have similar features. Differentiating between ECM vendors can be extremely difficult for decision makers due to similar current capabilities. Given the maturity of the ECM market and products, decision makers should evaluate alternatives not just on their current capabilities and interfaces, but also on a wide range of other possible differentiators.
SharePoint and Alfresco come to ECM from different directions. SharePoint was launched in 2001 as a web application platform in the Microsoft Office Server Suite to address a variety of uses around Microsoft Office. Starting with the 2007 release and even more with 2010 and 2013, Microsoft has added more ECM capabilities to SharePoint. In promoting SharePoint, Microsoft leveraged its broad base of customers and enterprise accounts to offer SharePoint for minimal costs as part of an overall Microsoft purchase that included Windows and Office. This approach resulted in the widespread installation and deployment of SharePoint and customer consideration for ECM systems.
Alfresco was launched in 2005 as part of the open source movement to specifically address ECM. Alfresco founders were ECM veterans including John Newton, co-founder of Documentum. Alfresco leveraged the open source movement together with their innovative technology and a subscription model to quickly grow as an ECM stalworth, replacing many legacy ECM systems.
Based on feedback from customers and industry consultants familiar with both products, the following factors combine to make Alfresco the preferred choice over Microsoft SharePoint when dealing with complex document-centric business solutions. Most combined SharePoint/Alfresco clients implement a coexistence strategy to leverage the strengths of each product.
Both Alfresco and SharePoint have Content Management, Collaboration, Records Management and Workflow capabilities. Alfresco provides broader capabilities and a more robust repository with its core installation by leveraging open source components as opposed to SharePoint that leverages only Microsoft products including the requirement to use SQL Server for content storage. SharePoint is very useful for Office-based collaboration and some document management scenarios. Alfresco, while supporting Windows environments and Office-based document management, is better suited for high volume ECM applications and integration with non-Microsoft products (ex: PDF, Google Docs) and environments (ex: Linux, Apple, Android). Clients often pursue a coexistence strategy with SharePoint used for workgroup collaboration and basic document management, while Alfresco is deployed for business critical content solutions.
SharePoint infrastructure has evolved based on the Microsoft standard for both user interface development and back-end server infrastructure. Alfresco has a more open and modern infrastructure and, as a younger company, is more innovative in incorporating additional capabilities and support of open standards, particularly from the open source community. SharePoint’s back-end infrastructure is proprietary and limited from expansion due to reliance on the Microsoft components (Windows, Active Directory and SQL Server) and technology.
SharePoint and Alfresco have very different approaches in how they provide the “full suite” of ECM capabilities. SharePoint has evolved around the Microsoft Office suite to manage Office documents. SharePoint will always have the best integration with Office products and other Microsoft standards based on Microsoft’s control of the complete product suite. Microsoft has a large development and partner community around SharePoint to produce offerings to complete the ECM suite (for example imaging, records management).
Alfresco, with its roots in open source, offers broader capabilities to address also complex ECM/BPM use cases within their own platform. This allows Alfresco to focus on continuously improving its own products and specialties while relying on a robust open source community and partner infrastructure for additional components and services. While providing solid integration with the Microsoft Office Suite, Alfresco is better at including non-Microsoft vendors and formats with Google Docs and PDF renditioning as common examples. While Microsoft’s approach has a larger development community around SharePoint, Alfresco’s approach, based on the open source community, has proven to be more innovative.
SharePoint on premise has a traditional software purchase fee structure with maintenance costs, while SharePoint Online as part of the Office 365 suite is priced via a subscription model. Alfresco has a pure software subscription model. Both have components of user and CPU pricing. SharePoint has had success bundling with Microsoft Enterprise License agreements where SharePoint basically was marketed as “free” with the overall ownership of Windows and Office with user licenses bundled into the SQL server pricing. SharePoint comes with hidden costs that include additional licenses for underlying Microsoft components like SQL Server, Active Directory and Windows Server.
Alfresco has a simple price list with user and CPU pricing. As a subscription service, Alfresco must “win back” clients every year as part of the renewal process as opposed to the traditional software purchase with ongoing maintenance.
People and Support
Microsoft, as a large company, has a significantly larger engineering staff than Alfresco. Often, customers can assume that “bigger is better” regarding software firms. How many of the Microsoft resources are focused on SharePoint, and particularly ECM, versus other capabilities of the Microsoft Office suite can vary from year to year as Microsoft shifts priorities to other software goals. For example, Microsoft has been hinting lately that SharePoint will offer the last on premise SharePoint product in 2016 with future products only available on the cloud.
Alfresco engineering, located in Maidenhead England, has been very consistent due to the experience and continued leadership of John Newton, as well as the age of the company. Most of the engineering resources have remained in place since their hiring. All portions of the Alfresco software products are well known, understood, maintained, and enhanced.
SharePoint and Alfresco Coexistance Strategy
Many experienced SharePoint clients have brought in Alfresco for more comprehensive document management, workflow and records management projects. For these types of clients, leveraging SharePoint for its strengths in Office collaboration while leveraging Alfresco for its strengths in ECM/BPM and related technologies results in a “best of breed” coexistence strategy.
Get a copy of the full whitepaper: