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Support for Node Red

We are very much concerned with the direction Upland Software is taking with the current workflow software that we have supported for over 10 years with a promise of updates and upgrades.
It looks pretty much like the software is on the path of end of life and the direction we see is basically to use the OL Connect Server API using other automation tools. This is pretty much going back to the early days of PlanetPress that was using RPM (Remote Print Manager), quite a set back. Are we closing shop?

We have investigated Node Red and find it to be a possible replacement to the current workflow software, however since we are a Goverment entity we need a robust enterprise support package. What will be the support model with Node Red?

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Very good questions, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to address them.

First of all, let’s make one thing clear: OL Connect Workflow is not being end-of-lifed. We are still actively developing it and we will keep doing so for the foreseeable future. At some point in the next 3-5 years, we might decide to put it in maintenance mode (i.e where no new features are being introduced but issues are still fixed), but given the sheer number of users who rely on it, it won’t be EOL for a long time.

That said, we are also actively working on an alternative automation tool that is based on Node-RED. Notice I didn’t call it a replacement tool. The goal of that alternative tool is to overcome the shortcomings of OL Connect Workflow that simply cannot be fixed, due to its aging technology stack. The more obvious of those shortcomings are the half-support for UTF-8 and the 32-bit nature of the application. The Node-RED stack natively supports UTF-8 and is 64-bit, which will allow users to process much larger jobs, from more diverse sources. The deployment model of Node-RED will also allow our development team to react more quickly to changes or issues, while providing improvements at a higher frequency than they could with the current OL Connect Workflow architecture.

The Node-RED stack is the underlying technology of that new tool, but it will still be an Upland Objectif Lune product, with all the standard support that we offer for all our products. The libraries of nodes that we provide for Node-RED are all based on the Connect REST API, just like all of the current plugins in OL Connect Workflow are. So, under the hood, the methods used for generating OL Connect jobs will remain the same, while the design tool and the background service benefit from upgraded technology to orchestrate those jobs.

We also plan to keep providing a Windows installer for the new tool, so that users don’t have to deal with the somewhat arcane procedures required to install everything as separate components.

For several years to come, OL Connect Workflow and the new automation tool will be available side-by-side. Users may elect to use one or the other, depending on the nature of the processes they want to automate. Obviously, at some point we’d like most users to have transitioned to the new tool because it is based on state-of-the-art technology, but we have no intention of forcing users to do so. It is still up to each user to decide which tool they want to use for any given process, and we will support both. Note that we already have a user forum dedicated to the Node-RED stack, so early-bird users can provide feedback and submit issues for the pre-release version.

Hopefully, this will dispel some of your concerns about the future of OL Connect Workflow.

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Well it’s somewhat comforting to know we have some years in front of us to transition. As you point out “due to its aging technology stack. The more obvious of those shortcomings are the half-support for UTF-8 and the 32-bit nature” it doesn’t make sense to keep building new workflows using the current software, it’s just creating more work for the transition. The current issues with UTF-8/unicode are very problematic, we are today circumventing those problems. Also having seen the Node Red interface and features we can see how obsolete the OL Connect Workflow is.

On the support side it is unclear in your response if you will support Node Red. Our worry is that Node Red problems/bugs will affect the methods used for generating OL Connect jobs, how will this be supported?

We are also looking at using Microsoft Power Automate to create automated workflows, the interface lacks the pizzaz of Node Red but it can do the work and integrates with office 365. Power Automate is also quite well supported and documented.

Basically we have concluded that due to current issues with the OL Connect Workflow that we must choose a different platform to create our automated processes and are looking for guidance. We are worried on using Node Red due to the open source platform support. We would prefer to move in the same direction as Upland but we are hesitating when we look at support. Note that in the forum we have see post where a problem is identified but is positioned as something to be fixed in Node Red and was simply dismissed. I understand that Upland doesn’t have official support for the Node Red software but that’s the type of issue that makes us hesitate.

As I stated:

Granted, NR may at some point come out with a version that contains breaking changes. But the great thing about the NR ecosystem is that the individual nodes can target specific versions of NR, allowing you to delay the NR updates until the nodes have been modified (if necessary) to adapt to the NR changes.

As for Power Automate, it’s a great tool as well but - and this is a purely personal opinion - it lacks the fine-grained control afforded by Node-RED (or even OL Connect Workflow, for that matter).

While I understand this is a common concern, I need to point out Open Source is no longer synonymous with low-quality. Think of 7Zip, MySQL/MariaDB or WordPress, for instance. Node-RED is part of the OpenJS Foundation, with participation from Google, Microsoft and IBM, which could hardly be described as fly-by-night organizations. We, at Upland Objectif Lune, believe this technology is solid and mature enough to handle the types of automation processes our users expect for OL Connect jobs.

I encourage you to start exploring our Node-RED stack, so you can determine if it is fit for your purposes. We’ll gladly accept any feedback you might have so we can improve it as quickly as we can before version 1.0 officially comes out, some time next year.

What differs from the Node-Red and the new tool? Also does our current OL-Care package cover us from any purchasing cost as if it is an upgrade? Does the cost for support stay the same?

This will all be explained in time when we release the product officially. For now, it is still in release preview mode, so you can play with it as much as you want. With the preview, you can’t contact Support, but you can post questions to the forum I mentioned previously.

For more information about it, visit this Node-RED flow page.