Under the Hood with Sitecore 7 at the New England Sitecore User Group

by + on March 28, 2013

Sitecore March User Group

It was a packed house last night at the March New England Sitecore User Group meetup where nearly 50 Sitecore enthusiasts swarmed Velir’s Davis Square office to get a sneak peek at an early release of Sitecore 7.

Sitecore 7 is currently out for technical preview with the MVPs before entering a broader community beta.

The meetup featured a three-part presentation from MVPs Dan Solovay (Velir), Mark Stiles (Genzyme) and Tim Braga (Velir) – each walking through highlights of the new release including some code-level examples.

For those familiar with Sitecore’s roadmap, some elements of this release were originally announced as part of what was then called “Massive” back in 2010. Sitecore 7 is now code named“ Elbrus,” which (of course?) is a reference to this mountain that our own MVP Kam Figy astutely points out is also home to the world’s nastiest outhouse per the fine print in the Wikipedia article. But I digress…

Dan enthusiastically summed up the new release in telling the crowd that “Sitecore 7 is about refactoring indexing in fundamental ways so it’s scalable to very large datasets.”

And when he says large, he’s not messing around. We’re talking millions and billions of items – which means even greater enterprise-level scalability for a platform that was already no slouch. Working with large data sets inside CMS brings unique challenges for developers and end users and it’s clearly a priority with Sitecore 7.

Rebuilt on .NET 4.5, Sitecore 7 features faster indexing capabilities and a new concept of Item Buckets. These buckets allow an item to contain nearly unlimited children and reorients end users to thinking about what an item is rather than where it’s located in the content tree. A welcome addition to the platform for developers who have been living within the best practice constraints of keeping children items in a node to under 100 items.

If Item Buckets sound familiar, they should. They were one of the most talked about topics at Sitecore Symposium 2012 in Las Vegas when Sitecore’s Tim Ward wowed the crowd with the concept and released a shared source module to the community. This of course is the same Tim Ward who is one of the lead architects behind Sitecore 7.

Dan also walked through the upgraded authoring interface highlighting new capabilities which include better contextual search, facets on search results, tabular views of content (golf clap) and tabbed interfaces for retrieving saved searches.  In short, many more ways to get at data quickly for both developers and end users. Expect to hear a lot more about these new interfaces as power users start learning how to use Sitecore 7.

Dan neatly summed up the benefits by explaining that “users have a whole new toolset for finding content, identifying content” and developers “have a completely new API to wrap their head around for getting content very (very) quickly.” Dan also has an excellent preview of Sitecore 7 on his own blog complete with screen shots and more details in addition to John’s West’s extensive blogging on the release.

Sitecore March User Group

Tim Braga presented last and did a nice overview of the new search and indexing capabilities, which now feature SOLR as an option to Lucene.  You now have the option of using the default Apache Lucene.net implementation or enable SOLR, an open source search platform also from Apache.

Tim explained the benefits of SOLR, which primarily center around performance, scale and being able to better support a multi-server environment with one index. He advised that while Lucene is still perfectly fine for dealing with millions of items, SOLR is what will allow you to more effortlessly scale into the billions. Yes, that’s billions with a “B.”

I’m also not giving Genzyme’s Mark Stiles the justice he deserves here. His code-level presentation was well over my head and I fear the marketer in me would muck up the details trying to reply the highlights. All you need to know is that it was captivating and folks only needed the edge of their seat. Mark wrote a fantastic blog post on the presentation including configuration and code samples.

He did deadpan one of the best lines of the night saying “Sitecore 7 won’t pay your mortgage or get your friends to like you more, but it’s something.” Mark, standby for a call from Sitecore’s new CMO Jeff Thomas. That’s tagline material.

Everyone seems excited about the new release and I don’t think it was the pizza and beer talking. It was clear listening to conversations between developers that folks are anxious to get their hands dirty with it and start looking under the hood.

Longtime community members know that Sitecore appreciates and acts on the feedback it gets. Seeing the MVPs being able kick the tires early and discuss it in the user group forum was a positive reminder on what a large and committed ecosystem exists around the platform. And within that community I’m happy to report Boston is one of the most active hubs with nearly 300 active members in our user group. We founded it over three years ago and have since seen the group host 26 meetings, growing it to include many of the fantastic partners in the region.

We’re also busy evaluating Sitecore 7 inside the agency with our own Kam Figy running it through the paces. We’re rapidly assessing how we can start to train our teams and put it to work for existing and new clients at ISITE Design when it is available for public release.

Thanks to all of the presenters at the user group last night for a great session. We all benefit from their enthusiasm for the platform and early hands on work in exploring the capabilities of the new release. Having run different user groups for many years, I never take for granted when experts take the time to share knowledge and prepare presentations.

For those of you in the Boston area, we’ll be leading the next meetup April 24 with a panel on Responsive Design & Sitecore. The session will explore how to tackle mobile and responsive Sitecore projects from the perspective of a user experience strategist, front-end developer and Sitecore developer. It should be good fun for both end users and devoted developers. Hope to see you all next month.

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ISITE Design founded the New England Sitecore User Group in 2009, which has grown to more than 300 members and has expanded to include numerous local partners and customers helping to organize it. Visit the Meetup page for more information on the group and upcoming meetings.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Angle March 28, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Sorry I missed you, Jeff!

Mark Stiles March 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

These are the jokes people. I’m here all night. (Adjusts tie)

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