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Executive Editor

Start-up offers content mgmt.

Feb 20, 20064 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsIBMOpen Source

Open source software start-up Alfresco Software has new funding to fuel its drive into the corporate content-management arena. The company, launched a year ago, closed an $8 million second round of venture funding earlier this month.

Alfresco’s flagship software combines a content repository and portal framework to help companies keep tabs on everything from e-mail and images to streaming media and XML content. Standard features include rule-based processing, document-level security, version control, automatic metadata extraction and collaboration capabilities.

The company offers three versions of its software:

•  Alfresco Community Network, a free download.

•  Alfresco Enterprise Network, a support subscription that includes such enterprise features as patch support, clustering and directory-based authentication. A 12-month subscription starts at $7,500 per CPU for an unlimited number of users.

•  Alfresco Small Business Network, which is designed for small and midsize businesses and includes the vendor’s standard enterprise features. A 12-month subscription for 20 users starts at $3,000.

About 120,000 people have downloaded Alfresco’s content management software since it became available in June, and 16 firms have signed up for enterprise support contracts, according to John Newton, Alfresco’s co-founder and CTO.

The software is designed to achieve greater user acceptance than traditional platforms from such vendors as Documentum, FileNet, IBM and Interwoven, Newton says. Users often circumvent enterprise content-management products because of their cumbersome Web interfaces and use Microsoft’s shared network drives to swap content instead. “It’s just so much easier for users to dump stuff onto a shared drive and send an e-mail saying where to find it,” Newton says.

With its software, Alfresco is capitalizing on users’ familiarity with shared drives. Alfresco is using open source software from Spring that emulates a Microsoft shared file system and lets Alfresco expose its content repository via an interface that looks like a shared file drive.

The product’s architecture also is a distinguishing feature, Newton says, because it uses a modular method called aspect-oriented programming. “An ‘aspect’ is another name for a module that can be plugged in at run-time,” Newton says. Aspect-oriented programming gives companies the flexibility to plug in or leave out versioning or archiving, to improve performance.

“If you don’t need to do client/server communication, that’s a big chunk out of your computation costs. If you’re not storing all the metadata that you don’t need, that’s another big chunk out of database administration costs,” Newton says.

Newton is no stranger to the enterprise content-management world. He’s one of the founders of Documentum, now an EMC company. Newton joined John Powell, a former CTO at Business Objects, to found Alfresco.

A number of other ex-Documentum staff also migrated to Alfresco. Engineers involved in designing Documentum’s Webtop user interface, Java Web development kit and portal integrations came on board, Newton says.

Newton’s experience at Documentum, as well as the engineers he brought with him to Alfresco, helped persuade Bob Hecht to take a look at the open source software. Hecht is vice president of content strategies at Informa in London, which produces publications, events and data services worldwide.

Alfresco Software company profile

In a previous role, Hecht purchased Documentum’s software and liked its Webtop interface in particular. But Informa wasn’t willing to commit the funds that a Documentum rollout would have required, Hecht says.

He evaluated a number of commercial and open source content-management products, but many of the commercial options sacrificed too many features, while most of the open source alternatives focused too narrowly on Web content management, he says.

Although the Alfresco software doesn’t have the sophistication of a product such as Documentum, it met enough of Informa’s requirements, at a cost Hecht estimates will be “about one and a half orders of magnitude less expensive” than a commercial option.