Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

I'd like some advice and commentary on using the Confluence / Theme Builder combination for hosting a public web site. Obviously Adaptavist is doing this, using Theme Builder and Community Bubbles.

I'm strongly considering Confluence/Theme builder for my own company's web site, replacing a php/drupal based web site, for the following reasons:

  1. I've been working with Confluence for a few years now, mostly inside of corporate firewalls with a user community that was (usually) well intentioned and authenticated. I like the product and Theme Builder / Bubbles as well.
  2. I have the need to create product manuals that live both online and in print. Space export to PDF handles this reasonably well. Doing it from Drupal is a mess of plugins.
  3. My Drupal based site has been hacked a few too many times. Keeping up on the security patches is a big job. Lots of patches, regularly, and more for the sundry modules (plugins, if you like), that add the functionality I like. Yes, Confluence gets security warnings now and then, but they seem few by comparison. Maintenance seems easier.
  4. Customization with Confluence / Theme builder seems easier. If I were a php/Drupal expert, I'd probably be better at doing what I want on the site, but I've more experience with Confluence / TB.
  5. I'm the only tech guy in a 4 man company, and I just don't need another headache. I know Java / J2EE well, and the architecture is more appealing than the (s)cryptic nature of php/Drupal. I don't really want to be a php/Drupal expert.
  6. Hosted solutions for Confluence are reasonably priced for a small number of users.

A few things concern me about using Confluence / Theme Builder for my site:

  1. I'll be allowing anonymous access for the public parts of the site, but I will definitely have confidential material that I don't want to share publicly. It would be very bad for my company if this information was released. Is my system going to be secure?
  2. To me, many public Builder sites seem to load slowly. This seems to be much less the case in later versions of Builder.
  3. Bubbles is great for doing a forum (which I would like to do for my customers), but per user pricing for Confluence makes this an expensive solution for me. I've a few thousand customers, but only 4 employees. (OK, I'm whining a bit here.. but forum users are a bit different in my mind than general contributors)
  4. I've really no idea how high the load will be for the public part of my site. My public web site today doesn't get too many page hits, as we operate in a very specialized industry.

While Atlassian gives some advice in the Confluence documentation on creating an Internet facing system, I wonder if there is more "best practice" or other things I should consider before making the switch.

What else should have me concerned? Am I missing anything here? Is there some other solution or combination I should be considering?

Thanks to any and all for the consideration. And Adaptavist folks.. nice job on the new site.

  • No labels

4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (tewolff)

    Guy:

    Much of what you ask about has been dealt with for our organization's wiki at http://wiki.piug.org. Registration has grown to about 730 in the first 4 months and includes organization members (about half of PIUG's 800 members) and non-members. We have a dozen private team spaces whose info we need secure. The public space and private spaces all have discussion forums. The public one successfully replaced our email discussion list almost right away. I am a one-person, volunteer wiki "team" with limited programming experience. Adaptavist's plugins made all this happen: Theme Builder, Community Bubbles, Descendant Notification, User Management, and the rest.

    I am currently writing a non-technical paper on how the PIUG wiki was conceived and implemented. Until it's done, I can only easily comment that it works great for us and that I think it should for the situation you have. I would be willing to talk to you offline; send me your contact info and I will send you mine by email. Good luck.

    Tom
    piugwikimaster@gmail.com

  2. I dare say others will want to chime in, but here's my £0.02:

    1. We have many private spaces on here, security is not an issue, Atlassian have done their job very well.

    2. Yep, that's very true. The difference is most marked IMO in comparing 3.0 and 3.3 - in early releases we relied on the using coherence caches to ensure that nodes in a cluster would stay in sync, in 3.3. we moved over to using coherence caches for messaging only, this massively reduced the load on the server.

    There are other reasons for the speed increase, such as moving to the compound-menuitem macro replacing the old discrete syntax which works around issues with the speed of the wiki-markup parser.

    If you want real foot-to-the-floor speed then we would recommend using static HTML in the panels, however that kinda defeats the point of having a fully-dynamic theme - builder isnt just a theme, it enables complex adaptive logic to be applied to the page which allows you to use confluence more as an application platform than a straight wiki.

    3. If you are quick you can pickup an atlassian starter license, on which both builder and bubbles will run for FREE .. however there isnt that much point in a forum with only 5 named users, yes you can allow anonymous comments, but how on earth can you follow a thread if everyone is anonymous?

    4. There are lots of options in builder that will allow you to optimise the way that pages are cached, both in the browser as well as caching proxies. Also the load that builder generates is highly dependant on your layout ... if you use {children:depth=all} on every page in a large space then you are going to roast your server.

    Your other choices are:

    1. Develop your own custom theme - This is a task with a steep learning curve, also it is never-ending since each time you upgrade confluence you will most likely need to spend quite a bit of time getting the theme to work again. On the plus side, since you dont need to be quite as flexible as builder it may run faster. You should set aside around one quarter out of every four for updating your theme (assuming you want to stay current with confluence and it's security upgrades)

    2. Pay someone to code a custom theme for you - We get quite a lot of users moving over to builder after their experiences with doing this, everything will work great on day 1 of the install, things can tend to fall apart a bit as time goes on and will generally fall flat on their face when you upgrade confluence (see above)

    3. Stick with one of the three themes included with confluence - they will all be kept uptodate with each release of confluence, however they arent exactly customisable.

  3. Unknown User (gfraser)

    My £0.02:

    Confluence is RAM hungry - make sure that wherever you host it, you have enough RAM allocated and the JVM settings (permgen, etc) properly tuned. This is one of the biggest factors in performance for most organisations. Some other major factors are discussed in our Hosting FAQs. Also, try and use a robust and stable environment - eg. SuSE Linux, Tomcat, Apache, etc. There's loads of info on http://confluence.atlassian.com about what works best.

    Based on a recent internal discussion I'd advise against hosting in the cloud (eg. Amazon EC2) as Atlassian do not support that environment, even though they've been blogging about it recently. Check with Atlassian support which environments they prefer supporting and try and stick to their recommendations to ensure you can get the best support if something goes wrong.

    In terms of security - lots of banks, governments, military, etc., have public facing Confluence wikis. All such organisations run regular penetration tests and perform in-depth security reviews so Confluence is considered internet-hardened. Atlassian do a great job of fixing security holes and regularly release patches and updates.

    As Alain mentioned, Theme Builder allows you to customise the wiki but if used incorrectly (eg. putting way too much wiki markup in the theme panels) it can slow your site down. Should this happen, we offer various consultancy services to help with performance tuning and there's loads of tips on our website (eg. Performance Tuning) as well. In addition, each successive release of Builder tends to include some performance improvements - eg. the next release includes "flag logic" which has huge performance benefits and greatly simplifies complex navigation design (I'll be doing a tutorial and hopefully a webinar on that in May hopefully).

    Theme Builder is designed to reduce the number of issues associated with Confluence upgrades wherever possible. Obviously, with Confluence developing at an ever increasing pace we can't guarantee that a future upgrade won't break stuff, but from experience you'll be less likely to run in to problems and any that you do encounter will often be easier to resolve compared to custom java theme plugins. For customers managing their own environments, we strongly recommend having a development or staging environment to test out upgrades prior to implementation on the live environment (you can get free "Developer" licenses from Atlassian for this purpose, which is really awesome).

  4. Unknown User (guy@haigbarrett.com)

    To all that replied, please accept my thanks for your well formed opinions. You convinced me. I've made a purchase of Theme Builder and a hosted instance of Confluence to started.