AEM, Blog, Technical Development, WEM / WCM

Changes and Challenges When Upgrading to AEM 6.1

Upgrading any enterprise software is always a challenge. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but close your eyes, press an “upgrade” button, and hope for the best.  
One of the biggest perks of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is that you’re not constantly applying patches and having to deal with upgrades every other week. When there is an upgrade, it’s usually a pretty major one, with many new features and changes under the hood.
Adobe released AEM 6.1 in May of 2015 — since then, we’ve helped several clients through the upgrade process.

Challenges of Upgrading to AEM 6.1

Perhaps the biggest challenge with upgrades is the general documentation and support around the changes that are happening. If you look at some of the documentation around AEM 6.1 you’ll notice a few architectural changes that have happened.
Some of the major ones are:

  • Mongo DB for optional database distribution
  • Replacement of the older Jackrabbit engine with the Apache Oak repository.
  • OSGi version upgrade (4.6.1)
  • Sling version upgrade (2.9) as well as API changes.

How would these architecture changes affect you?

If you’re migrating content from an existing AEM instance (5.6), then you’ll need a CRX2OAK tool to help with the migration of the content (there are also other tools you can use, such as Grabbit).
One important thing about MongoDB is that an out of the box install of AEM 6 uses the Tar MK by default.  Mongo can be configured after the fact, but you can also stand up an AEM author instance with just Mongo.
You’ll also need to check for compatibility of existing components. In our findings, many of the granular components and components pulling and pushing content from the JCR will work the same in the Classic UI as they do in 5.6.
However, additional work is sometimes needed for components to work in the touch UI, particularly if they use custom xtypes or start off as an empty parsys. Now, that’s not to say every component will work in the Classic UI, but in our experience many of these types of components will continue to work.
And you’ll want to think about fixing bundle dependencies.
Some of the other big changes to look out for, that could affect you, are:

Technical Improvements in AEM 6.1

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Along with an upgrade there are always new and exciting features for you to use.
A nice new feature is the addition of Sling’s health check tools. This enables new monitoring features, such as security checks, system checks, and query performance.
A few other nice new features of AEM 6.1 include:

  • Addition of Sightly HTML templating system.
  • Added documentation in multiple languages, including Spanish, German, and Japanese
  • The old ExtJS-based Sidekick and dialogs have been deprecated. AEM 6.1 ships with a new HTML5 jQuery-based Coral JS used for its admin and touch authoring UI.
  • Now leverages PhoneGap and Adobe Publishing Solutions, allowing you to create and manage both content-rich and utility-based cross-platform mobile applications. One thing to keep in mind is that the phonegap build tools within AEM are licensed separately.

What to Watch Out for When Upgrading to AEM 6.1

Now that we’ve talked about the great new features of course there are always some negative ones as well.
AEM 6 now ships with a new touch UI powered by Coral JS — which is great if you’re authoring content on a touch device, but if you’re on a desktop (which most authors are) this can be a major challenge.
You’ll have a lot of trouble finding what components are where on the page, and adding components to an existing page can be confusing at times (especially if you’re used to the classic UI).
Don’t worry though, you can still (thankfully) switch back to the classic UI with ease, or forgo the touch UI entirely and set classic as the default. In addition to these touch UI issues, there are a few more known issues from adobe.
It’s also important to note that, in our experience, AEM 6.0 has been known to have issues. We strongly recommend if you’re going to upgrade that you go straight to 6.1.
If you have the time and resources to do it, upgrading is always the route to go since you never know when Adobe will no longer support older versions of the software. One of the last things you would want is to have your site be unsupported and contain possible security flaws you didn’t upgrade.
With any upgrade there are always going to be good, bad, and ugly parts of the process, but you really don’t want to be stuck behind the times with a legacy version of AEM.

John Zeren
John Zeren has over 12 years of industry experience with a passion and focus on web application development. As the VP of Software Development, John is responsible for ensuring quality and consistency in our delivery to our customers as well as helping to maintain and build strong relationships. He is also responsible for the tactical and operational direction for the Digital Solutions team and ensuring that individuals have the best means and opportunities to succeed, thrive, and grow in a fast-paced environment.
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