Whether embarking on a new Alfresco project or just maintaining an existing system, TSG will typically recommend new clients conduct an Alfresco Health Check on an annual basis. An Alfresco Health Check is typically a 2 to 3-day project where experienced Alfresco technical architects will visit onsite and review the Alfresco system. This post will detail the typical activities associated with an Alfresco Health Check engagement, as well as typical findings to give readers an idea of the things to monitor and review in their own environments.
Alfresco Health Check Components
- Overall Alfresco Discovery – The discovery process begins with reviewing the client’s business scenarios and discussing present and future use cases along with expected system growth. TSG will assess which Alfresco functions are in use and any system integrations supporting the use cases.
- Technical Review – After the business-centric Discovery is complete, the team switches to a detailed technical review of the Alfresco installation. The health check environment review activity investigates each Alfresco environment, including Backup & Recovery, noting each environment’s overall system architecture. Once the environments have been identified, the review proceeds to analysis of server, storage, and database utilization and performance. If full-text indexing is being used, we will also review the Solr server and storage utilization. The technical review step can go quickly if architecture information and metrics are readily available for the environments.
- Performance Review – Tightly tied to the Technical Review is an overview of performance and sharing TSG best practices as well as a cost/benefit analysis. Typically, we find clients buy excess capacity on the initial purchase but quickly consume those resources as the system is deployed and extended over time. Rightsizing along with innovative options from cloud vendors like AWS and Azure are shared with our clients.
- Database Performance – One of the key architecture designs of Alfresco is its ability to support multiple database vendors. No two clients are alike and we have experience with multiple database vendors. In this section of the health check, we’ll review the database software configuration and benchmark its performance and configuration against data we have from our client base.
- Managing File Stores and Object Stores – Alfresco supports object stores and traditional file systems for content storage. Storage location and I/O bandwidth can bottleneck communication with the Alfresco Content Server. Having a large pipe for I/O and plenty of room to grow will minimize performance impacts. If infrastructure and network are a concern, TSG has experience in developing new approaches to storing and linking content into Alfresco, our blog post on object stores describes how storage can be leveraged to improve the speed of delivering content to a user.
- Alfresco Administration – Following the Technical Review, sometimes performed in parallel, the team will begin a deep dive into the Alfresco configuration: checking the global properties and JMX settings, reviewing the rendering pipelines, investigating any cache tuning, evaluating the audit configuration, and inspecting any behaviors or workflows in use.
- Managing Security – Securing content in Alfresco and securing the Alfresco system itself is reviewed. TSG recommends keeping content and user security as simple as possible and that the security be rooted in how the content is used by the business. Separately, securing the Alfresco system relies on securing the infrastructure, network, and individual Alfresco modules. We detail 20 security tips in a white paper that can be downloaded from our blog.
- Audit Improvements – In the health check, we review the size and scope of the Alfresco audit trail data. Alfresco has a robust auditing capability (see example here) and it can be used to gain insights into user behavior and reporting. However, untamed, the audit data can grow unchecked and become a drag on system performance. Many times TSG will recommend clients offload audit data into a reporting system.
- Versioning (and introducing Chain Versioning) – Alfresco versioning has a few limitations that can cause issues in certain business scenarios: versions cannot have different security, they cannot be searched, they cannot have their own associations to other objects. Each of these is detailed further in our blog and we describe how TSG’s Chain Versioning solution enhances Alfresco’s native versioning capabilities.
- Rendering & Printing – Alfresco has a built-in rendering process out of the box. This is a great feature and helps clients convert documents into PDFs, which generally improves the user experience. If a large volume of content needs to be converted, such as in a migration project, TSG has several clients who use a modified rendering process that will render content asynchronously. During the health check we discuss what content is being rendered and if there are opportunities to improve rendering performance and the user experience. For more information, see our post on Alfresco – Working with PDF and Renditions.
- Alfresco License Review – TSG will often be asked to review current Alfresco licensing with an eye for helping to forecast additional purchases or components that many be necessary either from Alfresco or from other vendors. TSG is happy to provide counsel and best practices for rightsizing Alfresco based on the Discovery effort.
- Alfresco Upgrade Strategy Review – For clients preparing system upgrades we assess the functionality support differences between Alfresco versions and determine what type of upgrade approach is best for the situation. As a deliverable, we help our clients develop an upgrade path and create an effort estimate and timeline.
- Content Model and Structure – Alfresco performance is very sensitive to the number of properties captured and the organization of the folder structure and documents within those folders. During the health check, the TSG team will review the Alfresco Site, Folder and Document organization and provide information and recommendations if a change in the property storage or information organization could improve performance.
- Solr Index – Alfresco heavily leverages the Solr search index for responding to user requests. Alfresco supports an internal or external Solr installation. While the default install performs adequately in many situations, the health check will review the index configuration, scope, and size and make recommendations to improve indexing speed or reduce the size of the index. For large indexes where partitioning would improve performance and maintenance, we recommend clients consider TSG’s new product offerings, OpenContent Solr Services.
- Future Roadmap and Best Practices – At the conclusion of the Discovery and Health Check activities, we prepare a report highlighting the team’s findings and recommendations. Many of our clients have found this incredibly helpful for planning the roadmap and continued expansion of their Alfresco installations. Recommendations also include best practices.
Having an external experienced Alfresco partner conduct an Alfresco Health Check can both correct current deficiencies as well as identify a successful plan for the future. Just like a physical health check, the benefits easily outweigh the costs and at a minimum can give the client confidence moving forward.
Additional resources about our Alfresco and ECM health check processes:
- How Do I know if my Enterprise Content Management (ECM) System is Healthy?
- ECM Best Practices Whitepaper – Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
- Alfresco and Amazon Web Services – Advantages compared to an on-premise Alfresco solution
- Alfresco on AWS – Achieving High Availability
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