2010 Hannon Hill Cascade Server Users Conference – Opening Summary and Event Highlights

As a new employee on the Vassar Web Team, I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Hannon Hill Cascade Server Users Conference in Atlanta Georgia with one of my colleagues, David Susman. For those unable to attend, the following is an overview of where Cascade will be headed in the near future.

Early Monday morning, we were given a warm conference welcome by David Cummings, CEO of Hannon Hill. He quickly reviewed the recently released versions 6.4 and 6.7, highlighting the WordPress connector, Twitter connector, the syntax highlighting capabilities, and data definition builder new to 6.4, as well as the new recycle bin, data definition blocks, live view, cross-site move/copy, and upgraded infrastructure support found in 6.7. Immediately thereafter, we got a preview of a few of the features of upcoming version 6.8 – a new Google Analytics connector, as well as a native image editor which will be added to the WYSIWYG editor, which will allow users to perform basic image editing operations (crop, rotate, resize, flip, undo/redo) within Cascade.

Immediately following David’s talk, was Bradley Wagner, Hannon Hill’s Director of Engineering with a road-map for the future development of Cascade Server. He stated that the release schedule will stay as it currently is with:

  • Major releases every ~4-6 months
  • -2+ months of beta testing per release
  • Aiming for 1 patch release per month

He went into a more detailed breakdown of the upcoming Google Analytics connector, making the case for it’s use, and detailing how it will be implemented, before going into what is probably the most interesting thing for us at Vassar, future improvements to the publish queue system. Bradley stated that “The advent of sites, as well as more users have markedly increased publishing loads.” We have certainly found that to be the case at Vassar,  so I was excited to hear about further improvements to the publishing system being in the pipeline. Specifically:

  • The transfer process will be optimized to reduce remote calls.
  • Separate queues will be available per site! Furthermore, these queues will be editable by site administrators (publish queue items rearranged/removed).

When asked about the potential performance bottlenecks that could result from this restructuring, Bradley mentioned the use of EHCache, saying that the upgrade may necessitate upgrading server hardware with additional RAM. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this feature will be present in the upcoming 6.8, but it is ‘on the horizon.’

Other upcoming changes include the ability to publish content with the HTML5 doctype; although the WYSIWYG will still require content to be formatted as valid XHTML.

Lastly, Bradley overviewed the 2010-2011 development themes:

  • Empowering content contributors
  • Measuring ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Steamlining routine tasks
  • Supporting new content technologies
  • Adding connectors for technologies that aren’t core

The rest of the conference pretty much proceeded with limited surprises. A few highlights:

  • A GitHub Code Repository – Much of the example code from the various sessions is now hosted here; and as Cascade grows and better/different techniques become available, users will be able to contribute to the codebase!
  • Jason Aller’s Content Map – Jason Aller from the  UC Davis School of Law came to the conference with handy maps of the internal workings of the cascade server. David was kind enough to share one with me, and I made sure to make copies for the whole Vassar web-team back home. I also got a chance to sit in on Jason’s session ‘Dynamic Asset Management’ later in the day.
  • The  Creative Content Consumption session with Andrew Bauserman, Senior Web Architect, College of William and Mary, was probably my favorite session of the conference. Andrew covered a wide range of use-case scenarios, and shared some examples of work done at the College of William and Mary. Users don’t have the html button in their WYSIWYG? Create a custom video tag, and then use jQuery to insert formatted embed code! Andrew also quickly showed CoolIris, which we at Vassar think is tre-cool.

Although my time was very limited, I did have a little free time after my flight got in on Sunday, so I got a chance to visit the excellent Museum of High Art, where David and I got a chance to see a special exhibit: “Dali – The Late Work.” I actually have much more appreciation for Dali now that I’ve learned about what he did after his ‘Surrealist’ period. And Monday night, after a day full of conference sessions we were invited by the Hannon Hill team to ‘The Bucket Shop';  the food and drink was good, although Bradley remained tight lipped about future versions of Cascade, despite appearing to imbibe several mixed drinks.

Overall, despite the lack of fun swag in comparison to what I’ve heard was given out previous years (a keyboard brush?), as a whole I had a great experience. I was much impressed with the Hannon Hill team, and  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to attend another one of these at some point in the future as a more well-rounded Cascade user!


View the twitter hashtag for the conference, #csuc10!

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