Thursday, June 03, 2010

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Partial Cache Clearing in Sitecore

For a very long time, some very serious performance issues have affected certain types of Sitecore deployments. It has to do with scaling a Sitecore solution into webfarms (multiple content delivery servers) and the use of the Sitecore Staging Module.


In very short summary, if the website is updated frequently (say, for instance, an editorial staff of 10 or so, posting relevant market updates) AND the website is under heavy load, most practical uses of the tool Sitecore recommends and supports will more or less kill performance on your SQL Servers or whatever storage mechanism you have in place.


I’ve never blogged in detail about this issue, as I didn’t have a client myself that was affected directly by this issue. Paul George has blogged about it in detail however, and if you want to learn more about what this issue is and if it could be affecting you, take a look at these posts:



So why write about it now?


The good news

Alex Shyba posted about a new Sitecore Shared Source module that was just made publically available; SitecoreStager – Sitecore Partial (item) Cache Clearing Module.


In short, instead of just uncritically clearing the entire cache on your target server, dropping user sessions, putting out the cat and so on – the SitecoreStager will instead execute a partial cache clear and in essence just clear items from the cache that were affected by the publishing operation.


This is very good news indeed, and for those clients who have been affected by this problem I am sure it’s tipped hats all ‘round :-)


The bad news

This is actually something that has been nagging me a bit for some time now, and has just been refreshed by this release.


It is Shared Source.


Don’t get me wrong. I think the Sitecore Shared Source Library is an excellent idea. I have code in there myself, and it’s a perfect place to go look for those “there has to be someone else who had this problem and solved it” code snippets and field types and whatever it may be.


But it is also, for obvious reasons, unsupported by Sitecore themselves. I mean, how could they?  Half the modules and code pieces in there come from independent sources like myself – and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Sitecore to support them.


But what about the code Sitecore release to the library themselves?


Would you not agree; “With Sitecore, you can have a team of editors publishing content to an enterprise level site, and performance will still rock” is a statement you’ll find (albeit probably not verbatim) in Sitecore marketing material?   But it is unsupported?


I feel somewhat the same for the Multiple Sites Manager…  shouldn’t a standard Sitecore have a solution for regular (advanced) editors to set up new websites without having to edit configuration files?  Or is that limited to Foundry licenses only?


What I mean is

Sitecore marketing materials doesn’t exactly help anyone much, when they boast “Comes with Blog Modules, Wiki Modules and even Microsoft Dynamix and Microsoft BizTalk integration (yes…)”; yet offers little or no actual support other than pointing the users, the licensees, the Sitecore implementors (like myself) in the direction of the Shared Souce Library, shrug and go… “From here, you’re on your own”.


Kudos for making this module. I think this belongs in the core package however, fully supported and updated with every Sitecore release. That’s my 2 cents worth.




Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Code Monkeys?

Before I begin, I’m breaking routine here – this post is in no way Sitecore related.


So here I was, reading through my blogroll, catching up on bits and bobs from around the world. And then one of the sites decides to confront me with the following ad:




I am, by own admission, quite possibly a bit over sensitive to the idea that developers are interchangeable code monkeys. I’ve worked in the internet industry pretty much since the inception in the mid 90s, and I will never subscribe to the notion that one developer (me) can easily be replaced by a developer working offshore for as low as $ USD 7.00 a day.


But then again, maybe that’s just me ;-)


Am I missing a point here?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

For those of you who don’t know this; I make my living as a Sitecore Professional Services Consultant. Understand this in the context of working with the Sitecore product as a consultant, I don’t actually work for Sitecore the company.


My job, if you will, consists primarily of establishing contact with newly started Sitecore Partners or want-to-become Partners, and bringing to them whatever skills I can offer to help them take those first shaky steps when bringing their first Sitecore Project to life.


Don’t worry, am not going to start any kind of sales pitch here, that’s not what blogs this blog are is for. I’m only telling, so you know what sort of context this post is in and where my experiences are coming from.


As you can maybe imagine (or even remember still?); the myriad of questions in relation to Sitecore coming from developers, sales people, project managers and so on are many and not far between. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, we all have to learn. Mostly the questions start out around the capabilities of the product, “can” questions. After this, they move into “how”, and ultimately (in the cases where I’m actually lucky enough to be around for the entire project) “when”.


"Can” questions

Initially, when requirements are being gathered, it’s a heap of “Can Sitecore do this?” type of questions. To name just a very few examples:


  • Can you integrate Sitecore with SharePoint?
  • Can you use the AJAX toolkit on a Sitecore site?
  • Can Sitecore deliver Flash content?
  • Can we build a database of our people and offices in Sitecore and have them shown on the site?
  • Can we have search options on our site?
  • Can Sitecore integrate with Google Analytics?
  • Can we implement breadcrumbs with Sitecore?


There are, of course, many more questions that are usually asked – as I’m sure any member of the Sitecore sales team will tell you as well. Incidentally, the answer to all of the above questions is “yes”.


And now we’re getting to the point. Working with Sitecore – how often is it, that you actually have to sat “No”. “Sorry. Can’t do that with Sitecore”?   While I have no statistics on it, I can still state without shaking my hand that this very rarely happens. Sitecore allows you to say “Yes. Can do” to almost any requirement, no matter how far fetched it may seem or even be.


Let’s not get too carried away, however, this is not quite as amazing as it might appear on the surface. If we boil it down to the bone, Sitecore can be described as an “ASP.NET application that adds Content Management services to your ASP.NET websites”. Right – I’m sure there’s a hundred different marketing spins to be made here, but bear with me… ;-) 


Sitecore is an ASP.NET application. It sits, talks, walks and sounds like an ASP.NET application. And here’s the good bit – and the reason you can answer “yes” to almost any requirement – anything you can do in ASP.NET, you can continue doing – Sitecore or no Sitecore involved.


Even the Sitecore product itself is flexible to the bone - (almost) everything is based on configuration files, and they can be tweaked and twisted or completely rewritten – in case there’s a particular feature you are missing, or if there’s a certain way Sitecore works that you want to change or even remove entirely. A blessing, right?


Wrong!  And on after-thought; “Wrong… mostly!”


Don’t get me wrong. I totally get where Sitecore is coming from, in wanting to create as flexible a platform as possible. As any software vendor on the market; the more requirements you can say “yes” to, the more sales you are likely to get. This is as simple and obvious as can be, really.


I’m just saying; maybe “Yes. But…” is a better answer. Let’s take a look at some more “can” questions. These are not fictional by the way, they are real questions asked by real people.


“Can” questions part 2


  • Can you rewrite how Sitecore creates new items, so that all language versions are created instead of just the current language you are editing?
  • Can you use ASP.NET Master Pages and Content Pages with Sitecore?   Does Sitecore support nested Master Pages?
  • Can you work with Web Parts in Sitecore?
    • This one deserves a closer examination; and after doing that what is usually really asked here is, “Can I put my page into edit mode, and add/remove Web Parts on different placeholder areas of the page?”
  • Can I use Microsoft Word to edit my pages?
  • Can I use the Microsoft MVC Framework with Sitecore?


Do you see where this is going?


What are these people really asking for?  Features?


Nope. In the vast majority of cases, these are not feature requests. These people are looking for familiarity.


Yep. That’s right. Familiar ground to stand on. Something known, as opposed to something unknown. Can we blame them?  Absolutely not. I think we all have a bit of fear of the unknown, to one degree or another.


And of course, Sitecore is fully aware of this as well. They have released features specifically to address some of these very questions already, and there are more to come. That way, we can continue saying “yes” and everyone wins. Just keep this point in mind however – familiarity. Not features. More often than not.


The solution

I guess the word “solution” is not really appropriate, as it seems to indicate there was a problem to begin with. Look behind the question. Find out why it is being asked in the first place, and then work from there.


Why does the person want to change how Sitecore creates language versions?


Turns out, this is apparently how other major CMS vendors do it. Now I happen to think Sitecore is doing this the right way, but this person came from a different background with different experience.   He was looking for a way to solve (amongst other things) content translation flows – and was maybe not aware of the various tools and gadgets that Sitecore provide for this purpose.


Master Pages?


Think “overworked .NET developer who really cannot be bothered to try and figure out how Sitecore constructs the pages it delivers”.


I certainly get where he or she is coming from. But don’t go chasing down this road – sit down and show (don’t tell; show) how a Sitecore “Layout” and an ASP.NET “Master Page” is more or less essentially the same thing. (I know…  but really – in most cases, this is just semantics).   So “placeholders”, not “content placeholders”. “Layouts”, not “Master Pages”.


Am sure you’re seeing the pattern here, by now :-)


All I’m saying is; “Yes. You absolutely CAN reconfigure Sitecore, so that security is completely disabled, users and roles come off a scan of your table napkin, your coffee machine starts automatically when you publish AND it will even offer background music when content editing”. Ok I’m being ironic, obviously, but see the point is this.


Just because you can doesn’t mean you should


Don’t go mucking about with Sitecore, jumping through hoops to make it act a certain way. Chances are – and most times – you aren’t dealing with a real requirement at all. All too often have I arrived at a “young” Sitecore shop and seen a development team dive right into a complete reconfiguration of how Sitecore works.  Pipelines altered and skewed and tonnes of bespoke code developed because “Otherwise we couldn’t meet our clients requirements”.  Err…  WHAT requirements were those exactly?


I mean, come on. I’ve done lots and lots of Sitecore sites now – and I can count the number of times I’ve actually had to modify standard Sitecore behaviour on maybe one hand.  This does not include adding new modules or field types, or anything like that – I’m talking about core changes such as altering the publishing pipeline, messing about with security resolvers and so on.


Not pointing fingers at anyone in particular here. If I were, I would have to point to myself first – I’m as guilty of trying to change something from what it is into something that is familiar as I gather anyone else is.


I just think it’s something we should all keep in mind.


And oh… before I end.


Sometimes the question DOES lead to a “legitimate” feature request ;-)