DotNetNuke (DNN) in the Enterprise in 2020

DotNetNuke (DNN) in the Enterprise in 2020

DotNetNuke or DNN, a powerful, open source web content management system and web application framework, gained prominence in the early-to-mid 2000’s and was a primary resource used to develop over 800,000 websites and enterprise applications. However, after being acquired by a private equity firm in 2017, much of the sales, marketing, and product engineering staff were let go – as such, the platform has since largely been maintained by the DNN community.

Since the acquisition, DNN has seen a dramatic reduction in usage and popularity. And with limited support options available, many organizations are left struggling to find resources to help manage and update their existing DNN websites and applications.

Given the limited DNN resources available and the rise of newer and more established technologies, many enterprises are facing a difficult question: should I retire or migrate my DotNetNuke platform or should I continue to maintain it?

In this article, Code Authority Senior Architect and DotNetNuke Corp Co-Founder, Joe Brinkman, provides invaluable information surrounding that question.

Joe Brinkman – Co-Founding Architect of DNN

Joe Brinkman Book

Joe Brinkman is one of the original members of the DNN Core development team from 2003 and was a founding member of the DNN Board of Directors in 2004. He co-founded DNN Corp, the steward of the DNN open source project, with Shaun Walker, Scot Willhite, and Nik Kalyani in 2006. He was a DNN Technical Fellow from 2006 to 2014 and the VP of Technical and Community relations from 2014 to 2017.

Joe has co-authored best-selling books for Wrox Press, Professional DotNetNuke ASP.NET Portals and Professional DotNetNuke 4.

He also authored an eBook for Wiley Press, jQuery for ASP.Net Developers.

Joe was also a Microsoft MVP for ASP.Net, an Ineta Speakers Bureau member, and has been a Microsoft ASP.Net Insider for the past 13 years.

DotNetNuke Usage

DotNetNuke was the leading content management system (CMS) and web application framework for ASP.Net. As a CMS, DNN makes it simple for anyone to build and maintain great looking websites without the prerequisite expertise of a professional web developer.

DNN Uses

As a framework, DNN provides an extensible platform that handles most of the common elements required by almost any web application. User management, security, event logging, navigation, and many other features are provided “out-of-the-box” so developers can focus on building features that are unique to their business.

DNN has an active open source community that continues to develop and enhance the platform. Over the last 17 years, more than 200 developers have contributed to the platform. There are thousands of extensions and themes and it is used as a platform for creating enterprise applications.

The State of DotNetNuke in 2020

DNN was originally built on ASP.Net using the VB.Net development language. In 2011, DNN switched to C# in order to take advantage of the enhanced language features and the growing base of C# developers. While DNN was originally written using the Web Forms framework, it has evolved over the years to include support for the Model View Presenter (MVP) and Model View Controller (MVC) frameworks as well as supporting most modern SPA frameworks like Angular, React, ELM, Vue, etc.

As previously mentioned, DNN Corp was acquired by a private equity firm, ESW Capital, in 2017. Following the layoffs of numerous key contributors, further development of the commercial Evoq platform was curtailed. In 2018, the open source DNN platform was moved to the .Net Foundation. Since 2018, development and maintenance of the open source DNN platform is being handled by the DNN Community who continue to add new enhancements and bug fixes.

The DNN community is much smaller today than it was in its heyday from 2006 to 2012.  While community participation has increased around platform maintenance, overall community activity is in serious decline. Even though the overall community size has diminished, the software is under active development and receives dozens of commits to the codebase every month.

DNN is architected on a platform which is no longer being actively developed by Microsoft. ASP.Net Web Forms, which is at the heart of DNN, is considered legacy technology and has since be superseded by ASP.Net Core using MVC or Razor Pages. Transitioning DNN from Web Forms to the new .Net Core would be a major architectural undertaking and would likely be a significant breaking change from the existing platform, requiring complete redevelopment of all platform extensions. Due to this, there is limited long term viability of the platform.

Based on the current state, clients should evaluate both short-term and long-term prospects for their website needs. 

Short Term

If you are currently running a DNN site and have limited budget, you still have a few years of useful life left in the DNN platform. ASP.Net Web Forms will be supported by Microsoft until 2029. Major security flaws will still be patched and customers will still be able to get Microsoft support. Likewise, the DNN Community is dedicated to supporting DNN users for the next several years, but, because this is a community effort, there is less certainty around the timeline for this support.

Long Term

If you are considering a major site redesign or development effort, or if you are planning to launch a new site or web application, you should be evaluating other content platforms that are built on modern technologies and that have more prospects for long-term growth and support.

DNN Limitations for Enterprise Solutions

In 2019, Joe was contacted to assist in completing the development of a CRM platform built on DNN. This was a greenfield project based around redeveloping an older system that was coming to the end of its useful lifespan. The older system was built around a desktop database client that was synchronized to a central SQL Server database. Server management and reporting functions were built in DNN and made extensive use of DNN functionality.

Joe Brinkman Working
Joe Brinkman at GiveCamp Cleveland circa 2012

When the new system was developed, it was built using a series of mini-SPA applications running on DNN. In reviewing the system, Joe found that it was not leveraging DNN as much as the previous system had. The system had numerous performance issues and major security problems.

Joe recommended to the client that launching with DNN as the foundation of a new application running the entire sales organization of a billion-dollar enterprise was not advisable.  There was no viable commercial support for the platform and the open source project could not provide the long-term platform viability that the company would need. Additionally, given the architecture already in place, the application received very little benefit from running on DNN.

The few DNN features that were used were easily replicated with features that were part of the ASP.Net Core platform. ASP.Net Core had a more modern identity and security framework, a more extensible logging system, and better support for MVC and Razor Pages. There was little strategic value that DNN provided and with a shrinking developer base, it would put the project at a major disadvantage in the future as they looked to continue development of the system.

When Maintaining a DNN Enterprise Application is Viable

If you have extensive website functionality or major applications built on DNN, unless you are planning to rebuild your systems from the ground up, migrating off of DNN is not recommended. The DNN Community is actively maintaining the platform to ensure bug fixes, security patches, and even some enhancements to continue to keep DNN stable and reliable for the next several years. 

You have time to plan for an orderly migration to a new platform. If you just need some enhancements and maintenance to your existing system, you should feel confident in doing so. It is recommended, at a minimum, that you upgrade to a current DNN release to ensure that you are running a secure version of DNN.

In 2019, Joe worked with an ISV that had developed an extensive Association Management System built on DNN. The ISV had numerous customers running the system and hundreds of thousands of lines of code written.  Rebuilding the system was a non-trivial exercise and was not recommended. The client offers that system to customers as a turn-key solution and as a result they can ensure their users are fully supported. This company is the perfect example of where DNN continues to be a viable solution.

Maintain Your DNN Site/App or Migrate?

Joe Brinkman Headshot

Every situation is different. If you are running a DNN application or website, you need a trusted partner with the experience and expertise to help you determine which approach is right for your organization – whether that is maintaining your existing platform or migrating to a newer technology. You need someone that is looking out for you and your business and who has the experience to help your business navigate this decision.

Joe is a prominent DNN subject matter expert in the US today and Code Authority is here to tackle all DNN related challenges. Contact our software development experts today for a free project consultation.