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Kenneth McAndrew
Kenneth McAndrew

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Sitecore Symposium Aftermath: My Thoughts on XM Cloud

So I got home yesterday from Sitecore Symposium and it was an interesting time. My feet are finally recovered from all the walking around the Museum of Science, at least! But you didn't come here for that. I have some thoughts on stuff I heard at the conference that I wanted to share. I should note, these are my opinions, and just because I'm a Sitecore MVP doesn't mean I have to cheerlead everything they do. They're getting there with this stuff, but there's work to be done for sure.

So, XM Cloud. Sitecore announced its availability in July, when it wasn't really (marketing and development really need to talk more). A few partners have gotten in there to look around, and they've written some blogs about it that you can find out there. This isn't looking at all of the technical details, but more the overarching concept and its readiness for prime time.

The Good

XM Cloud is Sitecore's foray into the SaaS space, an evolution of the managed cloud approach they're using now. The big difference is, Sitecore will handle the updates and upgrades for you. Given how much of a pain these can be sometimes, that'll be a welcome note for many companies. In the background, XM Cloud is run on containers, making this an easy prospect. (A hope on my part is that Sitecore will start patching their existing 10.x containers with hotfixes as well, rather than leaving it to the developers to do.)

One thing to note, despite the name being XM Cloud, Sitecore is positioning this as the evolution of XP, the version of the current product with the analytics mixed in. You won't have to deal with the morass of app services and databases anymore, though, which is a definitely upgrade for your sanity.

Setting up new sites will be pretty straightforward too, at least their structures, with a wizard setup. If you're familiar with SXA, you'll find things will start falling into that model. This will put more management of the site into the business' hands. There will also be a new Pages interface, the evolution of the experience editor and Horizon editor, but don't worry the content editor is hanging around. Also, Sitecore is encouraging more connectivity with webhooks and APIs, part of the composable idea of linking in whatever service(s) you need with XM Cloud as your central CMS.

Is It Ready?

If you have a basic site, then XM Cloud may very well be ready for you now. But a lot of us that use Sitecore don't get that luxury, and beyond that there are considerations you'll need to take into account.

First is this, as of this writing, there's no support for item security on the front-end of the site, nor for extranet logins native to Sitecore (IE the core/security database). So if you use a login system with Sitecore roles today to determine what content folks see, it's not there yet. What you need to keep in mind, there's no content delivery server as you know it, but static pages that uses Graph QL for interactivity. There's no web database being looked up or the like.

There's also no index available by default; the Solr indexes are only available to the CM. This means the old ContentSearch APIs are no longer valid, if you did searches that way or looked up data in buckets. Graph QL has a forward-only query method that you can use in the buckets type case, but if you made your own search page experience with facets, it's obsolete. Sitecore will be offering a Search product soon, which relies on page crawling...think Coveo if you've used that. You can use Sitecore Search, or Coveo, or SearchStax has a crawler/hosted search page, etc...that's the idea of the composable stack.

Are You Ready?

In a similar vein, you have to remember that if you're on the "legacy" Sitecore with MVC today, any move to XM Cloud will never be just an upgrade. XM Cloud only supports the headless technology, so your application will have to be rewritten. While Sitecore says any headless protocol will work, I'll tell you that most folks pushed the JSS/NextJS approach during Symposium. While I know the .NET Core Rendering SDK method is out there, I'd take a hint from what Sitecore folks were mentioning more as far as future-proofing is concerned.

One good thing is Sitecore did announce the "bridge" from the MVC world to the headless world, in the form of Sitecore 10.3, due out in a few weeks. The big news here was that it will include headless SXA, which is a basis of XM Cloud. If I had any advice, I'd get this and bone up on headless using it.

When Will XM Cloud Be Ready?

That really depends on your needs. Keep an eye out for how the product evolves. But based on the containers approach that was pushed ultra-hard after 10.1 was released, then backed off on, I'd say to give Sitecore a year to really get some feature parity, or workarounds in place, to handle things that have been commonplace to the "legacy" developer. Meantime, get yourself a copy of 10.3 and start learning that headless world. You can always build headless there and push that product out, and sell it to your clients as making the transition to XM Cloud much easier later on if that's how they choose to proceed; if they don't go there, it's at least more up-to-date as a tech stack than .NET Framework 4.8 stuff is.

I'll try to write some more about some other big idea areas coming out of Symposium. My approach to all of this is pragmatic...I want folks to advance on the tech stacks for sure, but realize that some stuff isn't quite ready for prime time in certain circumstances. Do your research, talk to your Sitecore rep, read what others have to say out there. If you know what the limitations are or the rework needed, you're better informed to know if you should go now or stand pat and wait.

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