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Making Sense of Sitecore’s Content Management System Offerings

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When Sitecore announced their Cloud Offerings at Sitecore Symposium in October 2022, It crystalized their composable strategy in providing separate product offerings that were each best of breed but could be better together. When you look at Engagement Cloud and Commerce Cloud, with products that have clear capabilities with little cross over, that strategy is well understood.

But when you look at Content Cloud, things get a bit more fuzzy. Even more so when you consider how their platform DXP solutions do very similar things. With multiple CMS offerings and several “Content Hub” products, it may not be clear what are the differences and when should you consider one product versus another.  In this series I’ll compare and contrast these options. Today we’ll review the CMS options, and in a follow up post I’ll cover the remaining Content Cloud Offerings and where they fit in.

The CMS Options: XM Cloud, XM, XP & Content Hub One

With two SaaS offerings and two offerings that can be deployed on premise, in the cloud or to a managed service, there is no shortage of choice when it comes to selecting a content management system offering.

XM Cloud – The Flagship, Future Proof CMS

If you’re looking for a platform for managing your websites that supports high performance, modern architectures and has robust enterprise features, you should be looking at XM Cloud.  This is the current product that Sitecore has scored as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, despite its short time on the market.

XM Cloud is a SaaS based CMS built on the enterprise features of its DXP product line. It includes the much of the same capabilities that made it’s CMS offerings a market leader: Flexible Information Architecture, WYSIWYG editing, Support for localization, versioning, workflow and more. It brings all that capability in a fully managed SaaS model.

XM cloud only provides the content management capabilities for managing websites, providing the content using headless services. Each site will need to implement a front end using their technology of choice, though Sitecore has been investing heavily in Next.js and React, creating a headless accelerator that will reduce your time to market.

This means that your websites will need to be hosted on a separate platform. Sitecore (and Perficient) have partnerships with Vercel, the creator of Next.js and a leading serverless platform for hosting Next.js applications. Although you could host Next.js on any platform that supports Node.js, Vercel provides a number of benefits when it comes to performance, management and maintenance that should be considered before trying to manage it yourself.

The content itself is published to Sitecore’s Experience Edge service, a CDN accelerated repository that ensures the layout and content details are provided to your website as fast as possible. This combined with Next.js’s Server Side Rendering and Incremental Static regeneration features allow you to target the fastest page load times of any other Sitecore option.

XM Cloud Capabilities

XM cloud also adds a few additional capabilities you won’t find anywhere else:

  • Sitecore Components – a front end as a service that allows you to build UI components that can bind to data and content from available API’s including graphQL queries.
  • Personalization – Provides page level personalization that is executed at the edge using Next.js middleware, ensure optimized page load speeds.
  • Analytics – Built in site and page insights to show how your content is performing and the impact of any configured personalization rules.

Besides these features, the biggest difference between XM Cloud and Sitecore XM is that it’s delivered in a SaaS model. The SaaS model means you won’t need to upgrade the CMS platform, a process that could be painful between versions of Sitecore’s other legacy DXP products. Sitecore is adding features and capabilities to the platform throughout the year, making the platform more capable over time.

XM – Enterprise CMS for Customer’s not ready for SaaS

Some Customers may not be ready to embrace SaaS or the headless architecture it requires. Sitecore XM provides much of the same CMS capabilities as you can get with XM Cloud, without the new features like Pages, Components or the built in personalization and analytics.

What it does give you is a complete enterprise content management solution with multiple options for hosting including containers, Kubernetes, Azure App Services, virtual machines or even on premises hardware. So if you’re looking to manage the environments and data yourself you can do so on your preferred cloud platform and hosting approach.

Although XM supports ASP.Net MVC and can manage the entire lifecycle of rendering the page to your visitors, it also supports headless architectures using Sitecore Headless services, the same framework that supports XM Cloud. This means that solutions built with headless services on Sitecore XM can usually be ported to support XM cloud with minimal effort.

The biggest difference between a headless solution built on Sitecore XM and XM Cloud is that Sitecore XM has two options for serving it’s headless API’s. It can host the services on a self-managed Content Delivery (CD) server or it can be configured to publish content to “Experience Edge.” XM cloud only supports the “Experience Edge” content delivery approach.

Problems and Solutions with XM

The main problems with porting a site built with Sitecore XM to XM cloud are dependencies on those CD servers, as XM cloud does not support them. This means any custom API’s or solutions that required Sitecore content search and their indexes must be migrated off of Sitecore to Azure functions or App Services, with search being migrated to a composable search solution like Sitecore search, SearchStaxx Studio or even Coveo.

That being said, XM is a good choice if you are planning to move to XM cloud but aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a relatively new SaaS offering. You can build your site with the limitations of XM cloud architecture in mind giving you great flexibility in when and how you move to XM cloud in the future.

It also may be a great target for existing Sitecore XP customers to upgrade to, especially if they are on older versions that do not support headless services fully.  Since it also supports ASP.Net MVC and headless services, it will allow you time to refactor your solution to a headless architecture in preparing for XM Cloud.

XP – All in One DXP for when you can’t leverage SaaS

Originally their flagship DXP offering, Sitecore XP has all the enterprise features of Sitecore XM, combined with a suite of built in marketing features. These include:

  • Sitecore Analytics, Experience Profile & Path Analyzer – Web analytics that never quite rivaled google analytics combined with a couple of tools that helped you understand your visitors and how they used your website. Experience profile showed you all the interactions a visitor had, while path analyzer showed aggregate metrics about different paths visitors took on your sites.
  • Rules Based Personalization & AB Testing – Sitecore XP supported intuitive rules based personalization that allowed content authors to swap out components, change content and measure their effectiveness. It also supported both page and component level AB testing.
  • Marketing Automation & Email Experience Manager – Sitecore XP’s marketing automation capabilities allowed you to model customer journey’s and dispatch emails to visitors or target lists with email blasts.

All together XP provides a rich set of very capable marketing features that are still very relevant and powerful today. It has fallen out of favor as Sitecore has moved toward composable solutions like Sitecore Personalize, CDP and Send that solve many of the same problems.

XP also forced you to deploy and support all of these features whether you were ready to adopt them or not. The footprint of Sitecore XP was more than twice what XM was, adding additional servers and services to support the Experience Database (xDB), XConnect and related capabilities. These services were often deployed to undersized infrastructure, leading to performance problems when they were actually used. This led to many customers turning these features off, hurting their overall adoption.

Customer Satisfaction

Customers on XP who want to move towards XM Cloud, will need to remove all dependencies on any of the marketing features that XP supports, as these are not supported by XM cloud. Similar to Sitecore XM, XP supports both ASP.Net and Headless services, giving you some ability to start your migration toward headless without leaving the platform. You actually could migrate your solution to a headless architecture and remove dependencies on the marketing features setting yourself up for an easy migration to XM cloud

All that being said, there is one use case that is perfect for Sitecore XP: For customers in highly regulated industries who need complete control of their data may find Sitecore XP meets all their needs perfectly.  If you need or want to manage PII or PHI and can’t trust SaaS DXP options with that data, you can deploy Sitecore XP to your own controlled environment and put whatever safe guards you need to be compliant with regulations.

A Note on Managed Cloud

Sitecore XM and XP both can be deployed to Sitecore Managed Cloud. Unlike XM Cloud, Managed cloud is not a SaaS offering, but an isolated Azure subscription that can be used to stand up Sitecore XM or Sitecore XP in either App Services or Kubernetes using one of their standard deployment topologies.

They provide additional management and support of the infrastructure and environments, but you will still need a partner to help build and deploy your sites to those environments, and may need ongoing application level support on top of Sitecore Managed Cloud’s infrastructure support. Perficient has a Managed Service that can supplement Managed cloud for that type of support or can do similar monitoring and management if you are hosting it in your own subscription.

Content Hub One – a Lightweight & Beautiful Content Repository

While XM Cloud, XM & XP are the evolution of Sitecore’s core CMS offering, Content Hub One is the evolution of Content Hub’s CMP offering, combining it with Experience Edge to provide a lightweight headless CMS as a SaaS service. This doesn’t compete with its core enterprise CMS offerings, but instead solves for simpler use cases providing content as a service via API’s using the low latency CDN powered Experience Edge service.

Unlike XM Cloud, XM and XP, Content Hub One does not support WYSIWYG editing and lacks some of the features that larger enterprise may require. Instead it provides a basic user friendly interface for modeling and creating content, and API’s that can be integrated anywhere. It works well when you need the CMS to manage the entire user experience, but need to feed content to different areas of your application using API’s.

It also may be a great choice for managing content related to personalization. In a recent blog post, I used Content Hub One as a repository for personalization content that was used in Sitecore Personalize Offers. I can see similar use cases for XM Cloud with other composable products that need to pull content from an external source.

All that being said, Content Hub One is a V1 product and has some limitations you’ll need to consider before choosing to adopt it. Martin Miles has a great blog series on  of his findings when using Content Hub One that shows everything you need to know going into that decision.

Wrapping Up

At first glance, it may seem like the choice to which platform you should use when considering Sitecore as a CMS is complex, but the thought process to make a decision is actually quite straightforward: for  enterprise needs, XM Cloud should be your first option unless it is lacking a required feature that is available in XM or you want to wait before using a new SaaS platform. Otherwise Sitecore XM should be your platform of choice, allowing you to build out your architecture and move to XM cloud later on.

Existing customers can stay on Sitecore XP (or even upgrade to XM) as they prepare their solutions for headless and XM cloud. Customers in heavily regulated industries can also consider XP if they are looking for a total DXP solution that they have complete control over.

If you have less of a need for a full CMS solution and just want an API driven content repository, Content Hub One could be a more lightwieght solution to consider, especially if you’re trying to distribute content across multiple composable solutions that can consume content via it’s API’s.

Next time we’ll look at Sitecore’s other Content Cloud offerings: Content Hub DAM, Content Hub Operations and Sitecore search.

If you need help with evaluating your content management options, we’d love to help.   Reach out to me on LinkedIn, Twitter or fill out our contact form.

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David San Filippo, Principal

David is the Prinicpal of the Sitecore and Optimizely practice at Perficient, David estimates, architects and delivers digital marketing solutions at scale on the Sitecore Platform. A 4X Sitecore Technology MVP, David has written articles for MSDN Magazine and the Microsoft Architecture Journal. He has spoken at Sitecore Symposium, Sitecore Virtual Developer Day, user group meetings and code camps.

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