Jeremy Davis
Jeremy Davis
Sitecore, C# and web development
Jeremy Davis
Jeremy Davis
Sitecore, C# and web development

Symposium's vision for SaaS

Published 11 October 2021

There was a lot of interesting information releases during Sitecore Symposium last week. Since I had to summarise this for a work event, I figured I should reuse those thoughts, and write up a brief summary of some of the announcements that caught my attention, and (importantly) Sitecore's vision their future SaaS product:

There's lots of stuff going on:

Before I get into the SaaS business, it's worth noting it was a busy event for anouncements generally. Some highlights we heard:

  • Sitecore 10.2 will be released in November
    Windows Server 2022 support. .Net Core upgraded to V3 for the relevant roles. Analytics reporting improvements. Ability to delete interaction data more easily. New CLI features like field exclusion for serialisation, resource file generation and search index rebuild. (The CLI improvements are also available for 10.1) Plus the usuall collection of bug fixes and performance tweaks.
  • We now know the new branding for all the recent acquisitions
    Instead of Boxever, Four51, MooSend and Reflektion, we now have: Sitecore CDP / Sitecore Personalise, Sitecore OrderCloud, Sitecore Send and Sitecore Search / Sitecore Discover. Names we'll be hearing about much more in the future, I suspect.
  • Content Hub 4.1 in a month or so
    New schema features for references between content items. More media types supported. Extensibility for media previews.
  • New headless framework release
    Updated to newer NextJS and Vue versions. Ability to publish markup from MVC components to headless services.
  • Updates to SXA in 10.2
    Scriban template improvements. Better data sharing for multi-site setups. Bootstrap 5 support.
  • Updates to Horizon in 10.2
    Improved editing experience for SXA components. Docker image supporting process isolation. UI improvements. New "content explorer" view listing all items.

On top of that, the SaaS vision is very interesting:

But the real excitement is with the vision for Sitecore's future SaaS offering. While we've had Content Hub as a SaaS content tool for some time now, it's had some key weak spots compared to what we're used to with classic Sitecore: It's not great with trees of content, and it doesn't provide any way to compose UI components together into a page. Those caveats mean it's not the right choice for a variety of scenarios.

So Sitecore have started to talk about an alternative approach: offering a package built around the classic Sitecore XM product, but hosted via SaaS. The phrase Dave O'Flanagan used in his keynote was "The no-compromise CMS" – because it's trying to take the best bits of the traditional model and the best bits of the headless / JAMStack model, and blend them together.

The high-level picture he talked about looks like this:

SaaS Diagram

So what are all the boxes on this diagram going to do for us?

  • Experience Manager Cloud
    You'll need somewhere to store your content in this model, and the technology in play is based on the classic Sitecore XM platform. It will be wrapped up in some clever SaaS sauce, so instances are automagically managed for you – it will sort out databases and Solr. When you have customisations to deploy, you'll use a GitOps approach to deployment – push to a source control branch, and those changes get deployed to your instance. It will run headless services, which will be key to how it serves content because it will be CM-only, and this won't be exposed to the public internet. Which means it never needs to scale for load – keeping the implementation simpler.
  • Experience Edge
    This isn't new (you can play with it now, with your current JSS/Headless sites) but it's really fundamental for the new model. Edge is a cloud-scale cache for your Headless Services data. Your CM instance can publish its content, media and layout data to this service, so that your headless front-end code can read the data from here. It replaces the need for the CD servers the "old" JSS approach would have used to do this job. The magic here is that because it's a CDN-style edge cache, it scales to meet the needs of your front-end automatically. So you no longer need to provision content delivery servers.
  • Content Hub
    There is a role for Content Hub here, alongside XM – as the DAM for selecting media from.
  • Symphony
    This is the brand name they're giving to an enhanced, SaaS-hosted evolution of the Horizon editor. It gives you the full WYSIWYG editing experience for your JAMStack-style sites. It's also integrated with Personalise, to let you manage your personalisation work and examine its outcomes. Sitecore argue that this is an important differentiator for their offering, because it's bringing the editorial flexibility we've been used to with the classic CMS to the JAMStack site.
  • Personalise
    Since XM doesn't include any of the old XConnect-powered personalisation, there needs to be something to provide those services in this new model. And the "Personalise" product is a cut-down set of tools from the Boxever suite. We don't know much about what the scope of this product's set of services will be yet, however. So it will be interesting to see what features are available here by default.
  • Vercel
    The final thing you need for this system is somewhere to serve the front-end code for your website from. As mentioned, we don't have any CD servers in this world. Experience Cloud has a focus on Next.js for building your site UI, so Sitecore have chosen to partner with Vercel to give you somewhere to host it. They provide a GitOps way to deploy your code quickly, and CDN-style scaling behaviour to help you cope with load without effort. But critically the infrastructure here understands the build process for your Next.js code – so it can automatically perform tasks like static site generation whenever your code gets update, or when Experience Edge triggers a webhook to signal new content has been published.

While the diagram doesn't show the other new systems Sitecore has aquired, it's clear that things like Search, OrderCloud and Send will be integratable with this model too.

An interesting point about the approach above, is that it's basically the next step on from what you could do with an XM 10.2 / Headless deployment in Managed Cloud. And Sitecore have said if you can migrate your site over to be able to run in that pattern, it will have a very simple migration path to the SaaS service once it's released.

We've got a bit to wait to see the details of this, however – Sitecore are saying we'll see initial releases in spring next year. But this is another driver for me to finally wrap my head around headless development for Sitecore. It seems like it's pretty certain to become the new normal for projects in the future. And it looks a flexible, powerful future too.

Exciting times...