In it’s latest Enterprise release Alfresco bridges the divide between it’s on premise server product and its cloud offering. The Alfresco cloud, that has been introduced in May 2012, provides an online collaboration platform that can be used to collaborate on projects without the need to set up and host an Alfresco server yourself.
Naturally, every company wants to keep their internal document management system as secure as possible and on premise systems are rarely opened up to the internet or even VPNs used by external partners.
With the latest version 4.1 Alfresco has introduced a Cloud Sync capability, which allows users of an on premise Alfresco Enterprise system to make documents available in the Alfresco Cloud and allow synchronization of changes in both directions. This enables the users to collaborate on select documents with external partners while business critical and confidential documents stay securely in the on premise document management system.
One use case where this synchronization with the cloud is compelling, is the collaboration with external partners or contractors. Imagine a production planning department that is working on a technical specification document for a product in their local Alfresco collaboration system. They use a site for that planning project in Alfresco Share to collaborate within the team.
When a first version of the specification with supporting documents is complete, it is stored in a folder and it needs to be shared with an external supplier who might produce some of the parts for the product. As in many companies, the local Alfresco system must not be connected to the internet for security reasons and therefore the supplier will not be able to easily access the documents.
Until now this might have been the moment where a team member would resort to sending the specification documents to the supplier via email – but now there is a more elegant solution. Using the cloud synchronization feature from Alfresco 4.1 the planning team now can share the documents using the Alfresco Cloud and keep both places in sync. The team creates a new site in the Alfresco Cloud and invites the contacts from the supplier. The only information that is needed are the email addresses:
The planning team can now share the specification to the cloud server using the new sync to cloud actions in Alfresco.
They only need to create and select a target folder from the cloud system where the documents should be uploaded.
The complete folder with the specification and the supporting documents is copied to the cloud. The new documents appear in the cloud’s site document dashlet where the supplier contacts can see that new documents have been uploaded.
Since the specification is a Word document the supplier can open the document, edit it and add annotations to it. As usual version tracking is enabled and all changes are stored as new versions.
The changes that the supplier made to the specification are sync’ed back to the on premise server and are available as a new version of the document. The version history shows from which site and folder in the cloud the document was imported.
The my documents dashlet informs the internal team members that the specification document has been updated. To clarify some of questions that the supplier had, a planning team member uploads a draft of the product design to the shared folder. This new document is picked up by the cloud sync as well and is automatically made available to the supplier team, who are using the Alfresco Cloud.
This concludes this small collaboration example. Of cause it would also be possible for the supplier team to upload new documents the the cloud and have those synchronized to the on premise Alfresco system. This example shows some of the benefits of having the same technology (Alfresco Share) on both sides of the firewall and having documents synchronized seamlessly between them.
The capabilities of the cloud sync will be extended further and will most likely allow the synchronization of custom metadata in the future. Cloud sync will become even more powerful when factoring in that documents in the cloud can be easily accessed by Alfresco mobile apps (iOS, soon Android) and the Desktop Sync client as well, that will allow file synchronization similar to the popular DropBox client. All these technologies help to make documents available wherever you need them while keeping all the places in sync.