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Design & Technology May 25, 2016

Dept's Key Highlights from SUGCON 2016

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Recently, a group of Dept developers headed off to Copenhagen to take part in the Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON), an annual event predominantly aimed at developers,which offers the opportunity to learn and discuss Sitecore as a platform.

There were many informative presentations and discussions over the two days – here are our key highlights…

8.2 & 8.3 Development Roadmap

The event kicked off with a keynote speech from Lars Nielsen, Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer at Sitecore. Lars covered the upcoming development roadmap for Sitecore across versions 8.2 and 8.3. Of particular interest was the commitment from Sitecore to implement improvements to the Sitecore upgrade process. Here at BB, we know that Sitecore upgrades can be complex to manage correctly, so improvements to this process will be particularly well received.

Lars also touched on potential improvements to the Web Forms for Marketers (WFFM) module, with the intention of introducing a complete revamp of the module in v8.3. We have seen that once the WFFM module is implemented correctly, it acts as a cornerstone for integration into the Sitecore xDB platform. The improvements that were suggested would really help to improve the usability of this module for developers and content editors alike, and we look forward to seeing what the development team at Sitecore have been able to implement.

Seconds & Cycles: Performance Optimisation

Nathanael Mann, Sitecore MVP and Solution Architect, gave a really in-depth talk on performance optimisation on the Sitecore platform. The focus was on making performant webapps based on Sitecore, and the specific issues you can face when optimising Sitecore for performance.

During the talk, Nathaneal discussed a number of issues which we’d found ourselves when tuning the performance of websites, as well as a few that were new to us. He also detailed analysis of the performance difference of the different types of renderings, which was of particular interest to us.

Nathaneal really knows this topic inside-out, and his talk was definitely one of the highlights of the conference. Three key points that were highlighted in the talk were:

  • Avoid controller renderings if you can get away with a view rendering.
  • Don’t use @Html.Sitecore.Controller() as it completely bypasses caching.
  • Be careful on implementations < 8.1, since the caching parameters on the renderings are ignored.

Atomic Design to the Max

Drawing on from Brad Frost’s brilliant approach to developing for the web, Collette‘s Manager of Web Development Tim Braga has applied Atomic Design to Sitecore. This approach requires extensive use of dynamic placeholders, to the degree that there could potentially be hundreds of renderings on a single page, with each facet of the page being a rendering inside a placeholder.

This allows the content editor to essentially create any configuration of page, with every page element existing within its own rendering. Renderings can then be duplicated or put anywhere inside any other component.

It’s a cool idea, but it did make us a bit nervous. The downsides of the approach were just a little too numerous for our liking; it required a lot of performance management in order to implement, and would require a lot of effort from a content editor to manage. Having said that, we do still really like the idea, and if the downsides could be overcome it would be a fantastic approach to building a site.

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Building Large Scale Solutions

Mike Edwards’ talk was one of particular interest for us here at Dept as we specialise in working with global companies, and have implemented a number of large Sitecore projects this year.

Mike broke down the implementation of solutions at both an infrastructure and application architecture level, and highlighted the different aspects of a solution that really make a difference when handling development at scale.

Application deployments were covered in depth, with a strong recommendation to look into the implementation of blue/green deployments in order to establish a robust continuous delivery pipeline. We have implemented our own green/blue deployment pipeline on a number of Sitecore projects this year, so it was great to gain some validation and reference toward this approach.

The main theme running through this talk was to ensure that implementations built in Sitecore always make use of the scaling opportunities offered by the platform.

Practical Habitat: Embrace the Architecture

All of the Sitecore developers at Dept have differing opinions on the Habitat solution structure that was launched by Sitecore last year. The key idea behind Habitat is the splitting of an application into three distinct layers: Foundation, Features and Projects.

  • The Foundation layer contains application logic that shouldn’t change very often and acts as a base for the application to build on.
  • The Features layer is where specific business logic is implemented and contained.
  • The Projects layer contains content and presentation for the project, and will be where HTML and CSS will typically reside.

There is a lot of additional complexity involved when discussing Habitat, enough to justify a blog post of its own, so I’ll avoid in-depth analysis at this stage.

Anders Laub‘s talk was focused on the need to investigate the concepts and ideas behind Habitat, and use the framework as a starting point to implement a consistent approach to Sitecore application structure.

Our main concern with implementing Habitat as a framework revolves around the issue that each feature within a habitat solution is isolated into its own project instance. This means that there may be 50+ visual studio projects included for any application, even if the application was relatively small scale.

Anders’ main point was that the Sitecore development community needs to approach Habitat with the aim to tailor ideas from the approach to integrate with their own solution architecture. This is certainly something that we will take into consideration for any new Sitecore builds here at Dept.

SUGCON was a fantastic event which we would recommend to all Sitecore developers out there. We’ll see you there next year!

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