5 breakouts to remember from the Sitecore 2019 Symposium

Wow, the Sitecore 2019 Symposium in Orlando was another great edition with the announcements of Sitecore AI and Sitecore SaaS (Software as a service). With 2 breakout sessions from The Reference: ”SXA beyond the box” by Gert Gullentops and my own session “10 things you didn’t know about Sitecore Forms”, this was certainly an edition to remember. The quality of the breakout-sessions this year was astonishing. Let’s have a quick look at my personal 5 breakouts to remember.

Moving Sitecore Deployment Forward

With the introduction of the modular architecture of Sitecore 9, the setup and installation became a lot more complicated. Installation had to be done through PowerShell scripting and the Sitecore Install Framework (SIF). The install also required a lot of prerequisites like a running Solr index. Sitecore has been listening to the sighs by the community and in this session by David Morrison, the new Sitecore install UI has been showcased.

The new install interface will ease the Sitecore install and take care of all prerequisites. It will contain support for JSS and SXA. Under the hood the installer still uses SIF. This way, we can leverage the ease of the install UI and the automation capabilities of SIF.

We can expect the new installer as part of Sitecore 9.3.

Sitecore in the Enterprise

This session from Bas Lijten focused on improving the build and deployment process. Bas was facing builds of more than 7 hours. By changing the build strategy, splitting up build pipelines for parallel deployment, using universal packages and shallow fetching from GIT, the build time was reduced to under an hour.

At The Reference, our builds are already quiet efficient. Never the less, we could pick up some small improvements and inspiration from the session to continue the improvement of our own devops processes.

Build JSS websites with Blazor

With Sitecore JSS, headless capabilities were added into the Sitecore technology stack. Sitecore JSS by default uses JavaScript (with react, angular or vue) as a rendering host. This inspirational session from Corey Smith and Gary Wenneker examined the creation of a rendering host for Blazor.

Blazor is a new front-end technology by Microsoft. It lets you build interactive web UI’s using C# instead of JavaScript. The benefit of this would be that both the client and server code are written in C#, allowing to share code and libraries between front and backend.

Blazor can be run server-side as well as directly in the browser through WebAssembly. Both methods have their constraints and issues.  With server-mode there is a latency noticeable, no offline support and scaling challenges. The WebAssembly alternative results in large downloads for the clients and security risks as all code is transmitted to the client through DLL’s.

In short, we will not be implementing websites using Blazor any time soon, but it was a great inspiration to investigate this scenario. The fact that you can plug in Blazor into Sitecore JSS is an ode to the flexibility and architecture of Sitecore JSS.

Blazing fast Sitecore sites

In 2019, The Reference took a big focus on speed optimising our solutions for mobile devices. It started in Januari 2019 when The Reference engaged in a mobile speed hackathon organised by Google. It was a day filled with tips, do’s and don’ts by Google, as well as a hands-on session to improve the mobile performance of our websites.

This session from Alex Shyba was all about this. Alex took the Sitecore Habitat demo website and submitted it to the various best practices encouraged by Google. By using CDN networks, SSL offloading, payload compression and usage of the latest’s image formats (WEBP), the load time of the habitat homepage was recuded from 995ms to 109ms.

So, yet another great inspiration session as for The Reference, maintaining and improving the speed of our websites is a continuous effort.

Extending Sitecore using serverless architectures

With Sitecore 9, The Reference gave a lot of focus to Sitecore in the cloud using Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS). This breakout from Rob Habraken extended on this PaaS architecture by adding extensions to the Sitecore Solution using Azure Functions.

Traditionally, a lot of adaptations to Sitecore are done directly in the code by tapping in to Sitecore pipelines. These adaptations run on the Content Management or Content Delivery server but can, when not well written, also slow down the platform. With Azure Functions and the “Functions as a Service(FaaS)”, a more module approach is taken. This architecture is particularly usefull when you have asynchronous tasks like audit logging.

Expectations are that we will see a lot more of this architecture with the introduction of the Sitecore SaaS platform. Azure functions will become a leading technology into extending Sitecore functionality.

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