Forum OpenACS Q&A: Using ACS as an ASP

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Posted by Sebastian Cruz on
Dear Open ACS community...

My client is a large corporate real estate (CRE) company potientially
interested in ACS as a platform to provide smaller CRE firms a
"business in a box".  Outside of the web based shared calendaring, web
based email, file serving intranet type needs, they are looking for a
web based database solution to manage the properties they deal with
(Add, Edit, Delete, Share property profiles).  Given that my client
wants to provide these services to a number of different companies in
a easily managed fashion, it makes sense to provide these services as
an ASP and hosted in a datacenter.  I have followed and admired the
ACS since its inception and feel that it may be an excellent candidate
for their needs.

* Would OpenACS be a good platform to provide these services as an ASP?
* Would it be easy to modify the ACS to manage the property
information that is their bread and butter?

I would appreciate any advice, eperiences, or direction that you may
have regarding this matter.  Thank you in advance for your responses.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sebastian Cruz,
Gravity Interactive LLC

Posted by David Siktberg on
I can speak to the appropriateness of using the platform (Linux, AOLserver, tcl, ACS, PostgreSQL) to deliver a customized database-backed application: it is superb.  Rock solid components, very good performance, tons of power and flexibility, a wide open space for you to add whatever specific application functionality you need, technology that lends itself to relatively rapid implementation.

But of course, you need to be a good software developer to pull it all off - IMHO this is not for beginners.  I built a binder of crib sheets with about 20 different topics (SQL, tcl, AOLServer tcl functions, Linux commands, bash, emacs, SQL, CVS, SSH tools, ...).  And you'll need to feel comfortable digging into the ACS code to figure out what it does.

There have been several good discussion threads about advantages of the platform - look for them in the forum.

Posted by defunct defunct on
I also concur as to its suitability, and also that it will require a
moderately experienced developer (I know thats a bit subjective)
but I'd say someone with an English graduate degree and a
couple of years experience or an American masters degree and
similar experience.

I've just completed a site with *some* similarities to what your
doing, so that should build confidence.

I think though care should be taken when considering using
many of the packages with OpenACS. The core is *very* good,
templating, request processing, forms-api, and so on. But i
would use careful judgement when using any of the packages in
any other way than their default behaviour. And even then some
are better than others.

If you think you may need to extend or alter an existing package
quite radically I would give serous consideration to developing
your own. Many of the packages are not good examples of how
to do things, they are quite fragile (i.e. they break when altered
significantly) and many of them make fairly poor design
assumptions as to what they might be turned to.

Having said that, many of them are making simple problems
look harder than they really are. The News package for example
has a *lot* of code, for doing really very little. After a few
frustrating days with it, I binned it and started doing my own thing
from scratch (I needed changes to the News behaviour). It took
me less than five hours to write a complete replacement!.

Posted by Jorge Garcia on
Hey, David-

You said:
"I built a binder of crib sheets with about 20 different topics (SQL, tcl, AOLServer tcl functions, Linux commands, bash, emacs, SQL, CVS, SSH tools, ...)."

That sound interesting for our students.

Maybe those sheets are available to the world?

Could you give us a link or upload those pages to the docs area?


Posted by David Siktberg on
Sorry Jorge - all but a few of my cribsheets are handwritten, messy, and unintelligible to anyone but me.  Also, I created them when I was a real neophyte in these specific tools.  At a certain point the knowledge transferred over to my memory, and after that I did not keep extending / correcting / improving the sheets.  So I am a little fearful they might contain incorrect / incomplete information - and might do more harm than good.  Pedagogically speaking, I think the bulk of the value in a set of cribsheets is in the making of them - your mind is forced to categorize and organize the material, in turn making you wrestle with it, increasing your understanding.

Having said all that, I'll look them over and see if some are in a useful state for public use.  I would like to help other people have an easier time getting up to speed.

Posted by David Cohen on
Link to my ACS-related cheat-sheets, Problem Set Zero, etc. here

It's all a bit old, but hopefully still useful till something better comes along.

Posted by Janine Ohmer on
Sebastian contacted me with some questions about OpenACS and I told him to post here for better information than I could give him.  The conversation hasn't quite gone in the direction I'd hoped, so let's see if I can steer things in the right direction.

What he needs to do, from the sound of it, is set up an ASP situation where each of the smaller firms has it's own subsite. I know that this works in theory, but I've also heard about various problems with subsites.  So what I think he really needs to do is hear from someone who has attempted a similar setup and can report on what really works and what doesn't.  Beyond the basic subsite functionality, it would also be helpful to know which packages actually work with subsites and which are subsite amnesiacs.

As far as modifying things goes - it's easy to modify the look of each subsite, but beyond that you get into Real Programming pretty quickly.  Those of us who have been doing it for a while don't usually find it too difficult (we know where the skeletons are hiding :) but it does take new users a bit of time to get up to speed.

Posted by John Sequeira on
I'm going to give you some of what you're looking for. I did a lead architect stint at an ASP, and chose ACS as the platform. There's a little write-upon my case studies page.

It was wonderfully easy to integrate the domain-specific data model with ACS's, and I don't remember differentiating site look and feel being a very big deal with the templating mechanism.

We didn't get into production, so I can't speak to that. But throughout the 4 month development cycle the team never hit a gotcha that suggested we made a bad platform decision. I would think that Greenpeace's experience (with many localized subsites etc.) would also imply that you could succeed with you plan.