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Web Architecture: To Couple or Not?

Which architecture is right for you depends on your specific requirements, business processes and business goals

Generally speaking there are two main types of Web CMS architectures: coupled and decoupled. Coupling refers to the relationship between the authoring tools and content delivery of your live site. In a coupled system, the underlying store for content serves both authoring and delivery. Authoring capabilities are part of the live delivery system, but are only available to those who have permissions. In a coupled system, the process of making content live is typically a matter of setting a flag in the database. The classic example of a coupled CMS architecture is a blog engine.

A decoupled system by contrast is one that puts authoring and delivery in separate applications and, potentially, on separate infrastructure. In a decoupled system, the process of making content live is done through a publishing mechanism where content is pushed from the authoring platform (and underlying content repository) to a content delivery infrastructure. Both coupled and decoupled Web CMS architectures have strengths and weaknesses. A coupled approach may work really well in one scenario while a decoupled approach may be much more appropriate in another.

The answer as to which architecture is right for you will depend on your specific requirements, your business processes and your business goals. Coupled systems are easy to set up and deploy in a single instance, which means these systems may be appropriate for a small business with limited IT support. In addition, authoring and delivery are on the same infrastructure which can make it easier to build cohesive authoring tools. Coupled systems also feature relatively easy administration of the production system for single sites, which makes it simple for businesses that are publishing infrequently to a single channel.

If on the other hand, your business is looking to quickly and effectively deploy sites with dynamic Web functionality for one-to-one customer engagement, business users and IT professionals should look to decoupled systems. Increasingly, providing a positive website experience and maintaining customer engagement with your business on the Web requires maintaining an ongoing, bi-directional conversation. Personalization of this kind requires high performance as companies need to deliver dynamic content tailored to individual visitors on every page/request they make. And they need to do this simultaneously for all site visitors.

To create a one-to-one customer experience that will produce bottom line results such as increased sales, higher ROI, increased profits, and more lucrative customer relationships, today's medium-to-large enterprise need a Web CMS solution that incorporates native content personalization capabilities, offers easy integration and, most importantly, delivers content at a high throughput tailored to each browsing device. Decoupled systems can deliver this type of performance and is easy to scale. This is because a dedicated content delivery system has less things to do, e.g., doesn't need to worry about content authoring/security.

In a decoupled system, the process of making content live is done through a publishing mechanism where content is pushed from the authoring platform (and underlying content repository) to a separate content delivery infrastructure. This is ideal for websites that require high levels of availability and performance, need a lot of tailored functionality, must be integrated with third party business systems and must publish to one or more digital channels beyond the website itself.

A decoupled architecture mimics the structure of modern business, particularly in larger enterprises that are spread out across the globe, feature multiple Web properties and lines of business, and have a variety of goals and desired outcomes with customers. Further, these companies need to offer a digital experience that flows from browser to tablet to mobile flawlessly based on customer demand. In addition to meeting these complex requirements, a good Web CMS solution must be able to shift and adjust over time - as the business changes so must the customer experiences. System performance goes a long way towards achieving the kind of customer experience most businesses (media, commerce, education) want to foster. Even in the world of bricks and mortar no one responds well to slow customer service.

A coupled architecture can work well for websites that need to be set up and put online in short order and that don't need to be able to scale quickly or to publish content beyond the website. For companies that have limited content and don't require personalization or integration with other business applications, a coupled system can be a good fit.

More Stories By Russ Danner

Russ Danner is VP Products at Crafter Software and is responsible for product management, product developement and support, and client and partner success. He brings over 14 years of software architecture, design, and implementation experience. Prior to Crafter Software, he was Web Experience Management Practice Director at Rivet Logic and project lead for the open source Crafter CMS project. Russ has also been active in the Alfresco community since 2005 as a community leader, contributor, trainer, speaker and user group organizer.

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