DXP Catalyst Consulting

The Sitecore XP Path Forward -
Part 1: Overview of Sitecore CMS Products

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At DXP Catalyst Consulting, we understand the challenges that organizations face with older versions of Sitecore Experience Platform (XP). In this series, we aim to provide clarity on options available within the Sitecore ecosystem, helping you make informed decisions on whether to upgrade, migrate, or modernize your CMS.

What are the downsides of staying on an older version of Sitecore XP (i.e. 7, 8, 9.x)? Does it make sense to migrate to Experience Manager (XM)? Can you modernize from XP to XM Cloud and what does this look like? What’s XM Cloud Plus? Where does Content Hub ONE fit in? What are JAMstack and Sitecore Experience Edge? These are some of the questions we’ll answer throughout this series.


This series will cover:

  • Part 1 – Overview of Sitecore CMS Products
  • Part 2 – Exploring Modern Web Development Concepts and Sitecore Experience Edge
  • Part 3 – Migration Paths and Business Benefits
  • Part 4 – Decision Framework and Recommendations

Understanding the Sitecore Ecosystem
Before we can delve into migration paths and present a decision framework, some background information is necessary. Sitecore’s product ecosystem has evolved significantly in recent times, so let’s start by examining their different CMS products, categorized into their traditional PaaS solutions and Composable DXP (SaaS) solutions. We’ll unravel the complexities of Sitecore’s offerings and explore how each product can address your unique challenges and how they compare to one another.

Traditional PaaS Solutions

Sitecore Experience Platform (XP):

XP is Sitecore’s traditional, all-in-one DXP solution, integrating content management with personalization and marketing automation capabilities. It’s a monolithic solution that provides a toolset for managing and optimizing digital experiences end-to-end. Many typical CMS features are included, such as content taxonomy, customizable workflows, WYSIWYG editor, multi-site and multi-language, but XP adds actionable insights via customer engagement value and behavior data, A/B testing, among other capabilities. 

XP supports on-prem, cloud-hosted (Azure), and Managed Cloud (managed Azure) deployments, providing flexibility in how you manage and scale your infrastructure. 

The platform runs on different versions of Sitecore, with the latest being 10.4. Some of the newest features include headless CMS support and access to Experience Edge and composable integrations with Sitecore Connect. 

The majority of Sitecore customers are using XP today. It’s a true enterprise solution. A classic use case might be a company with a large number of disconnected sites with inconsistent customer experiences across multiple platforms, looking to consolidate these sites and platforms onto a single platform. 


Sitecore Experience Manager (XM):

Experience Manager, or XM, is a streamlined version of XP that provides content management without the integrated marketing tools. XM is suitable for organizations that prioritize content creation and delivery, managing their marketing and customer engagement efforts through separate platforms. XM provides powerful tools for content creation, management, and delivery, with support for multilingual sites, multisite management, and flexible workflow capabilities. 

XM includes a couple editors:  Experience Editor (WSYIWYG editor for making changes directly on a page) and Horizon Editor (an editor utilizing Sitecore platform capabilities for composing multi-channel personalized experiences). XM supports Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA), which is a set of reusable, templated layouts and components to get your sites up and running quickly. The platform includes Sitecore Forms, enabling you to post data to the underlying forms database. It also features Sitecore Publishing Services, a scalable publishing solution for large scale Sitecore implementations, and supports publishing to Experience Edge for enhanced content delivery. XM is deployed as a PaaS solution.

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Composable DXP (SaaS) Solutions

Sitecore XM Cloud:

XM Cloud transitions XM’s capabilities into a cloud-native environment, offering the benefits of a SaaS model. Automated updates, scalability, and reduced IT overhead make XM Cloud appealing for organizations looking to leverage cloud infrastructure for improved flexibility and management efficiency. 

XM Cloud supports modern web development frameworks like JAMstack and offers hybrid headless capabilities. Developers can leverage the Sitecore JavaScript Services (JSS) SDK and ASP.NET Core Rendering SDK to create rich, dynamic web applications. In addition to the Content and Experience Editors, XM Cloud introduces Sitecore Pages, their next generation visual page builder. Pages is a fully SaaS front-end application, decoupled from the underlying Content Management engine.  

We’ll cover some of the differences between XM and XM Cloud in a section below. One example is that XM Cloud doesn’t support visitor search through the Solr search connector – Solr is used only for content search capabilities by the Content Marketing role. XM Cloud customers who need visitor search capabilities must use other solutions like Algolia, Coveo, or Sitecore Search


Sitecore Content Hub ONE:

Content Hub ONE is an agile, headless CMS designed for rapid content production and omnichannel delivery. This platform excels in environments where speed and flexibility are paramount, supporting organizations that need to deliver content across multiple channels quickly and efficiently. Content Hub ONE provides a content modeling interface, a modern authoring experience, and integration with global GraphQL APIs for content delivery. Content Hub ONE is Sitecore’s answer to pure-play headless CMS vendors like Contentful and Contentstack, focusing on rapid development environments for new campaign sites, microsites, and omnichannel delivery. We’re not going to spend too much time on product, but we’ve included it for clarity, particularly to distinguish between this and Sitecore’s Content Hub DAM and Content Hub Operations (CMP) solutions, as it can be a bit confusing. Check out our recent blog post on CMPs for some more info on Content Hub.


Sitecore XM Cloud Plus:

XM Cloud Plus builds upon the foundation of XM Cloud by incorporating additional products from Sitecore’s composable DXP suite. This includes advanced personalization and content management features, providing a more robust solution for enterprises needing cutting-edge capabilities within a cloud-native framework. XM Cloud Plus includes all of Sitecore’s other composable DXP SaaS solutions, such as CDP, Personalize, and Content Hub, and bundles in Content Hub ONE for more advanced content management capabilities like content modeling. 


Comparing the Products

In this section we compare XP, XM, XM Cloud, Content Hub ONE, and XM Cloud Plus to highlight their unique features and advantages.


XP vs XM:

Both XP and XM are PaaS solutions that can be deployed on-prem, cloud-hosted (Azure), or on Sitecore Managed Cloud. The most significant distinction is that XP has integrated capabilities whereas XM takes a more modular approach. XP is a comprehensive, all-in-one DXP integrating content management with marketing automation, personalization, and analytics, whereas XM focuses solely on enterprise content management without the bundled marketing tools in XP. This modularity allows organizations to choose alternative solutions for marketing automation and personalization, leading to a more tailored and flexible tech stack. 

From a system administrative point of view, XP being a monolithic solution requires more management if deployed on-prem or if the customer is managing their own cloud instance. While you can scale content management (CM) and content delivery (CD) services independently, scaling other capabilities like marketing automation and personalization requires also scaling and managing xDB (Experience Database) and xConnect services. In XM, you can add more CD servers to handle increased traffic and more CM servers to support additional content authors, without the need to manage integrated marketing and personalization capabilities within the same solution.

XP’s integrated suite of tools may come with higher licensing and operational costs due to the additional features, which some companies may not fully utilize. Sitecore customers not leveraging the most of their investments can be a surprisingly common problem, which we address at DXP Catalyst Consulting. XM can be more cost-efficient reducing the need to pay for potentially unused marketing capabilities. However, companies using XM that do require marketing automation would need to potentially license alternative solutions, increasing costs.

From a content management perspective, both XP and XM offer similar capabilities for content creation, editing, multilingual support and multi-site management, ensuring feature parity in this area, which makes sense as XM is part of XP. The primary differences lies in the modular approach of XM versus XP’s all-in-one nature.


XM vs XM Cloud:

While both XM and XM Cloud offer robust content management capabilities, XM Cloud brings the added benefits of a cloud-native environment, including automated updates, enhanced scalability, and reduced IT maintenance. It supports hybrid headless capabilities and introduces Sitecore Pages, a next generation visual page builder available only in XM Cloud, along with the new Site Dashboard and Explorer experience. XM Cloud supports multi-tenant SaaS deployment, making it a streamlined and cost-effective solution, and utilizes the Sitecore Cloud Portal for managing user identities. However, it lacks the Content Delivery servers found in XM, requiring other solutions for forms and visitor search capabilities, although a SaaS version of Forms is now available and, rather than Solr, customers can leverage Sitecore Search or another solution like Coveo or Algolia. 

In contrast, XM is deployed as a PaaS solution and can be managed on-prem or in a cloud-hosted environment. It supports Active Directory and Sitecore Identity for user management, making it suitable for applications requiring customer login and employee experiences, which XM Cloud is not designed for. Both XM and XM Cloud support headless development with Sitecore JavaScript SDK and ASP.NET Core SDK, providing consistent control over content and presentation. 

Also, XM Cloud may not be ideal for organizations requiring specific geographic deployments due to data residency requirements. It operates as a multi-tenant SaaS solution, meaning data is hosted in shared environments, which may not meet the some data residency requirements in all regions. XM (and XP) would be better suited in that regard.

In summary, XM Cloud is ideal for organizations seeking a scalable CMS solution leveraging cloud infrastructure, while XM suits those needing flexible deployment options and integrated user management for more complex applications. 


XP vs XM Cloud:

Comparing XP with XM Cloud highlights a significant shift from a traditional, monolithic DXP to a modern, modular approach. XP’s integrated personalization and marketing tools cater to organizations requiring a comprehensive solution. 

XM Cloud provides enterprise content management without the integrated marketing tools found in XP, though it offers limited personalization and targeting capabilities. Another major difference is the shift from a PaaS solution to a cloud-native SaaS solution.

As a SaaS solution, XM Cloud offers automated upgrades, reducing deployment efforts and IT costs. Both XP and XM Cloud support headless deployments with JavaScript SDK (JSS) and ASP.NET Core Rendering SDK, though XP also supports ASP.NET MVC. Some development tools commonly used with XP, like TDS and Unicorn, aren’t relevant in XM Cloud.

Additional differences include the introduction of the Pages front-end SaaS app with XM Cloud. XP supports user management and single-sign-on with Active Directory and Sitecore Identity, making it suitable for building portals with customer login. In contrast, XM Cloud uses the Cloud Portal for managing user identities, which is suitable for content management but not for apps requiring customer login.

Experience Edge is an optional component for XP but is the default CDN for XM Cloud. XP includes integrated analytics and supports customer data integration with Experience Database (xDB), while XM Cloud requires external analytics tools and focuses on content data, with advanced customer data collection managed through integrated tools like a CDP. Initially, XM Cloud lacked integrated forms management, requiring users to use solutions like Sitecore Send. However, Sitecore launched a SaaS version of Forms for XM Cloud earlier this year. 

In summary, XP offers a comprehensive, integrated solution for organizations needing a full suite of digital experience tools, while XM Cloud provides a flexible, scalable option for those focusing on content management and seeking to leverage modern, cloud-native technologies.


XM Cloud vs Content Hub ONE:

XM Cloud is a modern SaaS CMS and a cloud-based platform for managing digital experiences. It offers tools for content creation and management, along with basic personalization and target capabilities. Key features include content management, customer behavior tracking, personalization, multi-channel delivery, and visual authoring. Content Hub ONE, on the other hand, is a cloud-based platform focused on content production and distribution. It aims to streamline content workflows and enhance collaboration between teams. Key features of Content Hub ONE include content production management, content distribution, and content reuse. 

Content Hub ONE is an agile headless CMS ideal for pretty technically savvy teams at enterprise organizations, offering a user-centric content authoring experience, media management, globally distributed GraphQL APIs, and front-end delivery via Experience Edge. It decouples content modeling and authoring from distribution, providing fast global content delivery. Similar to other pure-play headless CMS vendors like Sanity, Content Hub ONE can serve as a secondary CMS for organizations seeking increased agility and reduced IT involvement. In contrast, XM Cloud is more suited for organizations managing their primary web properties and multi-site and multi-region use cases, providing comprehensive capabilities for a unified digital experience.

The whole notion of a “second CMS” will be a typical of a later blog post on some of the pure-play headless CMS solutions in the market. 


XM Cloud vs XM Cloud Plus:

Sitecore announced XM Cloud Plus as their DX event in Minneapolis last October. While XM Cloud had been presented as the next evolution of Sitecore XP, the reality is that Sitecore’s Composable DXP, with XM Cloud as the linchpin, represents this evolution. XM Cloud Plus places content creation and management at the center but also provides enhancements in intelligent search, advanced personalization and targeting, advanced data collection and a 360-degree customer understanding. It supports experimentation and A/B testing and customer analytics and reporting. XM Cloud Plus bundles XM Cloud with Sitecore CDP, Personalize, Search, Content Hub, Content Hub ONE, among other SaaS solutions in their portfolio. It’s designed for organizations seeking to modernize their digital experience without having extensive expertise to build a composable DXP from scratch.

Preview of "The Sitecore Path Forward" Part 2

The Sitecore product ecosystem has evolved significantly over the years, making it essential to understand the various content management products and their differences. By comprehending this ecosystem, you can make more informed decisions that align with your organization’s needs and strategic goals. 

In the next part of the series, we will delve into modern web development concepts like JAMstack and look at Sitecore Experience Edge, which is critical for enhancing performance, scalability, and user experience. As web development has advanced over the years, understanding concepts like edge computing, static site generation, GraphQL, and others has become essential, as they become more common in the DXP space. This foundation will set the stage for subsequent posts in the series where we will examine migration paths, discuss businesses benefits, and present a decision framework along with recommendations. 


How DXP Catalyst Consulting Can Help

At DXP Catalyst Consulting, our Sitecore strategy and roadmapping services help customers maximize their investments in the platform ecosystem. We analyze other use cases they may not have considered and assist in creating a comprehensive Sitecore roadmap. We also support customers on older versions of Sitecore who are faced with critical decisions – do nothing and be out of compliance, upgrade, migrate to XM, modernize to XM Cloud, or replatform. Our expertise ensures your digital transformation aligns with your business goals, guiding you through the complexities of the Sitecore ecosystem.

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