The evil star from the Fifth Element

Is Google Drive becoming a Threat for Enterprise Content Management ?

The strike of the enterprise toys is not over yet and the ones aiming at basic file sharing (such as box or dropbox) have already invaded territory of traditional enterprise content management. The battle is being fought right now. This post is about a new contender – Google.

Is it becoming a threat for enterprise content management ?

You may say : „No way ! Are you crazy ? We neither trust Google nor do we trust the cloud in general. We will never ever use Google Drive or something even remotely similar for enterprise content management ! Besides, we can’t do serious enterprise content management with this new toy anyways.“

Really ?

I guess pretty much everybody I have been talking to in this regard reacts somewhat like this – and even more so when people are from Germany. It reminds me a bit of the situation with the enterprise toys where this kind of „killer counterarguments“ was raised. But are they actually reasonable ?

When referring to traditional enterprise content management, what I have in mind are highly transactional process driven on-premise systems in general and Alfresco in particular since I know this one best. With Alfresco in the Cloud and Alfresco One, Alfresco has expanded beyond company firewalls so it is no longer strictly traditional in this sense, but it is still frequently used in this way.

This November, I have been attending the Alfresco Devcon in Berlin and Devoxx in Antwerp one week later. In Antwerp, I chose to join the Google Drive SDK session by Nicolas Garnier. All of a sudden it felt like thunderstruck when I realized the Google Drive product actually has quite some things in common with the Alfresco Platform. In areas such as editing, Google Drive even reaches way beyond. For now I would like to focus on what these systems have in common or where they are tending to converge.

Content Model and -Services: The Basic

First I did a quick comparison of the very basic stuff – CMIS seemed a good start. It looks like Google Drive already has pretty much everything a CMIS implementation is required to have. The main difference today being that the Google Drive API is RESTful JSON instead of SOAP / Atom Pub as demanded by the Spec. In the Q&A part of the session, I asked Nicolas whether Google is targeting the enterprise and if they are planing to offer a full CMIS implementation. The answer to the first question was a bit vague. But the second answer was amazing. Nicolas did not know what CMIS was, so I gave him a brief explanation. Even better: Right after the session, I found CMIS for Google Drive is already there (beta though) and called Cloudoku.

Cloud and Mobile: The Buzz

Clound and mobile, that’s where the Buzz is. You either take these into account or your product may be irrelevant very soon. Alfresco has realized this and they are making serious investments. Have a look at Alfresco in the Cloud, their mobile solution or the Alfresco One product aiming to cover the entire enterprise content lifecycle. Now how does Google compare ?

Regarding mobile, there is a Drive app providing basic content creation and editing capabilities. Not completely equivalent to the Alfresco App but remarkably similar. Alfresco introduced a mobile SDK at the Devcon. Google has a SDK targeting mobile as well.

And the Cloud ? Google Drive (formerly Docs) has always been cloud based. Alfresco in the Cloud has been released this year. Google offers OAuth2 based access for third party applications. If I got it right, Alfresco does the same thing now. The Cloud API has been released in October along with the mobile SDK. Google does not distinguish SDKs between mobile and cloud as Alfresco does, but it is available for various languages and platforms. On top of that, both companies are coming up with desktop sync applications – competition for the „traditional“ file sharing enterprise toys.

In addition to a the service based SDK, both platforms provide a Javascript API to build custom user interfaces. Alfresco does not yet allow you to deploy this kind of code in their cloud environment.

Transactions, Processes and Control: The Nasty

Traditional enterprise content management usually is very transactional and process (BPM) driven. Naturally, companies like the idea of having total control of their assets. Unfortunately, these requirements tend to pose tremendous technical challenges. Things are already complicated when you are dealing with shared resources (memory, storage and CPU) within one process, but they get orders of magnitude more complex when this is not the case. Alfresco aims to address these requirements everywhere at once – on-premise, in the cloud and mobile with their Alfresco One product. I cannot tell how well it works in practice.

The simple process scoped solutions already have issues. Introducing custom bugs code always comes at the risk of introducing failure – which in worst case brings the whole system down. This may not be a problem on-premise, but it is a different story in the cloud where functionality is usually backed by multi-tenancy aware software running on shared resources. Hence, SaaS providers may not like the idea of deploying your code.

Alfresco is clearly ahead in terms of the nasty as Google has nothing comparable so far and does not even care yet. But what is holding them back offering an appliance just as they did in search.

Conclusions and Predictions

  • I think Google will give the enterprise more attention in the near future
  • The biggest roadblock for Google and the cloud in general are based on trust and our perception of security. I am sure Google is aware of that combating it. I am not promoting to just blindly trust the cloud. But I think it is about time to rethink security in general. Do our old policies still hold in 2012 ?
  • Alfresco is still quite a bit ahead in terms of functionality, but Google has a vast amount of cloud applications for a wide variety of domains. I am sure there is quite a bit of symbiosis (with regards to content) waiting to be found and released.
  • Google Drive may evolve to „Alfresco Community in the Cloud“ ;)

These are just my 0.2c. Feel free to let me know what you think.


Andreas Steffan
Pragmatic 🚀 Scientist and DevOps Mind @ Contentreich. Believes in Open Source, the Open Web and Linux. Freelancing in DevOps-, Cloud-, Kubernetes, JVM- and Contentland and speaks Clojure, Kotlin, Groovy, Go, Python, JavaScript, Java, Alfresco and WordPress. Built infrastructure before it was cool. ❤️ Emacs.

5 thoughts on “Is Google Drive becoming a Threat for Enterprise Content Management ?”

  1. Not sure if Google will ever care about BPM, it seems like a cultural mismatch.

    But when they do, and customer gain trust in cloud security, it’ll be game over for mid-range companies like Alfresco, I agree with you.

  2. Sure, there currently is a cultural mismatch between Google and the enterprise. Google is perceived to be cool, the old school enterprise is uncool. The situation in front of the booths of HP (2011) and IBM (2012) at Devoxx was reflecting that.

    I can hardly imagine a cultural mismatch holding back the cool kids from the enterprise stage very much longer.

    Regarding trust, it is actually the whole „fear, uncertainty and doubt“ mix in action. E.g. operations staff responsible for maintainance of in-house systems might not like the idea of technology moving to the cloud.

  3. Yeah, I didn’t mean the enterprise as a whole, but especially BPM. The whole idea is just so broken, so should Google decide to actually give a f***, it is probably going to look very different than the workflow engines we currently have to put up with, and the (enterprise) world will be a better place for it.
    The DevCon Berlin Demo with the Activiti workflow designer on IOS shows the right direction.

    I guess it depends on how the venture capital market develops if and when the cool kids will start to care about the enterprise – as long as there are still enough interesting startup ideas with which you can make a multi-million dollar exit, doing the hard, slow sales cycle that enterprise customers require doesn’t look so tempting. Maybe its going to trickle in via the B2D market, I don’t know.

    Oh, and I fully agree about the cloud FUD – the idea that IT departments can secure their infrastructure better than lets say Google is amusing at best. Usually, they’re busy enough already making sure their stuff keeps running at all.

  4. I see, now the VCs are advertising the enterprise market – well, then I guess thats whats going to happen then. Thanks for the link!

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