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Shopware Cloud and the App System

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On our most important day in ecommerce, the Shopware Community Day, we launched the Shopware Cloud with the Starter and Professional Edition. With this new product, we offer customers the opportunity to quickly launch an online store using a straightforward solution that scales as their business grows.

We caught up with Jörn Paulsen, Product Director (Cloud & Services) and Daniel Nögel, Cloud Product Manager in Research & Development, to give you a look behind the scenes of this new product. In this interview, you can find out more about the Shopware Cloud and the creation of a new product line:

 

Jörn and Daniel, thank you very much for joining us today. Could you please briefly tell us about your areas of responsibility here at Shopware?

Jörn: Hi! We’re happy to be here and talk about our new product. I joined Shopware as Product Director nearly one and a half years ago. I’m responsible for implementing cloud services and the underlying product strategy.

Daniel: A big hello from me as well. As the Cloud Product Manager at Shopware, I’m responsible for defining the requirements and conceptualising the topics we want to address in the cloud. For instance, I’m currently working on concepts for the app store and for migrating Shopware Cloud to self-hosted cloud environments.

Jörn, the whole “cloud” topic is actually nothing new for you. Rumour has it you’ve managed a successful SaaS launch before.

Jörn: What rumour? Just kidding. It’s no secret that I spent the last 10 years before joining Shopware building a SaaS shop system – a product called SUPR aimed at small retailers, which I helped build from scratch – so I was able to bring a lot of experience to Shopware.

Daniel, you have an interesting background – you actually studied German. And you’ve written a bestseller! So how did you end up in development?

Daniel: Indeed, I did my master’s degree in German, politics, and philosophy, but when I joined Shopware back in 2012, I already had a good 15 years of programming experience under my belt – simply because I’ve always had a passion for it in my private life. I first worked as a developer on Shopware 4 and then as a team leader and product manager, overseeing various teams and products – most recently in the enterprise area and now in the cloud area.

We know that Shopware is well established in the on-premise sector. To clarify: We also use the term “self-hosted” for this purpose. So, why are we now looking to conquer the cloud universe as well?

Jörn: It’s really not a decision that you make in the sense of “It’s a trend right now, so let’s jump on the bandwagon.” If we take a look at the global market, it is clear that the cloud is becoming the standard. And it makes sense, considering we’re talking about a higher level of service. Customers receive more directly from the provider, leaving them with less to worry about themselves. The technology itself becomes a service. This is the only way to set yourself up competitively for the future.

What does that mean for the ecosystem? Can our customers use the current plugins or will something new be added to the cloud as an extension option?

Jörn: First things first: We know exactly where we come from and what made us successful – and that’s our great community out there. It made Shopware what it is today. And that’s why, of course, it matters a great deal to us to integrate the ecosystem into the cloud. However, the plugin system is a model that is strongly geared to the on-premise world, because you can change almost everything with it. Being a multi-tenant structure, i.e. many shops running on one application – the operation and safety of which we’re responsible for – this type of manipulation isn’t feasible in the cloud for a variety of reasons. We’ve therefore created a new extension system: the app system. The great thing about this system is that the extensions work in both worlds – in the cloud and in the self-hosted version of Shopware.

The Shopware Starter Edition has been available since the beginning of June and was presented to the public at Shopware Community Day 2020. How many customers are already using the Starter Edition?

Jörn: More than 1,000 customers have registered so far, and the first few are already using the shop productively – the first few orders have even been received. We’re very proud of that and look forward to welcoming more new customers to Shopware and watching them grow.

With such an exciting project, it’s worth taking a look into to the future: How many shops does Shopware expect to have by the end of the year?

Jörn: We expect well over 10,000 retailers to have registered by the end of the year. And a large number of them will certainly be using the shop productively.

As you, Jörn, described earlier, there is a new type of extension for Shopware Cloud – the app system. Daniel, from a technical point of view, is it possible to transfer the on-premise ecosystem into the cloud universe without hassle?

Daniel: Shopware Cloud is a fully-fledged version of Shopware 6. Anything that communicates with Shopware via APIs, for example, can be transferred without hassle. The same applies to themes, at least those that can be customised with very little effort.

The situation is somewhat different with plugins, however. In self-hosted environments, these extensions can interact directly with the Shopware core. In a true cloud environment, this isn’t possible for a number of different reasons. With the new app system, we have therefore found a solution that is not only easy to develop, but can also be used in both self-hosted and cloud environments.

I think that now, as a solution provider, it is simply our job to work out and communicate the differences and similarities between the two paths so that customers and developers understand where the benefits lie. At the end of the day, Shopware Cloud is making the Shopware universe more colourful and diverse – and offering lots of new opportunities for customers, partners, and extension developers alike.

Jörn and Daniel, you’ve just told us about the Shopware Cloud ecosystem and the apps. What else does the ecosystem need, and what do we already have?

Jörn: The app system is still in its infancy, which means developers can be among the first to develop apps in their respective categories. It’s like the gold rush. Besides enhanced functionalities and connections to external services, an important aspect for the new target group is the variety of themes. There are currently only 7 themes available for purchase, so we welcome any new additions here.

Nevertheless, it’s important to add one more thing: The Shopware Starter Edition in particular is intended to be a business-out-of-the-box model, with the target group of small retailers requiring the best possible guidance and an optimal user experience. We therefore work with select technology partners for the most important services in this segment to create optimal native integrations. We recently implemented a deeply integrated payment solution called Shopware Payments in collaboration with payment provider Mollie, as well as a shipping solution with SendCloud. We want to continue to offer other crucial services in the future as well, such as legal text configurators and newsletter campaigns, for example. Of course, we also plan to talk to providers of the most popular apps to create native integrations alongside the app store.

Even if there is already a native integration in any given category, there’s no reason why we can’t offer alternatives, additional services, or even solutions from other providers.

But there is one small restriction: The first version of the app system is currently only suitable for asynchronous processes, i.e. payment methods cannot yet be integrated into the checkout process, for example. We are of course already working on the next steps to offer more possibilities with the app system.

Daniel, you just mentioned the “new ecosystem for Shopware Cloud”. What is behind this and what do our plugin manufacturers and developers need to be able to create new extensions for the cloud?

Daniel: We refer to extensions that run in the cloud as apps or themes. Themes are simply classic Shopware 6 themes that have just been packaged a little differently. So, if you’ve built themes in the past, you will not have to make any major changes.

Apps are a simple but powerful extension system. A developer can be notified of certain events in the shop (for example, if an order is triggered). This was also the case with plugins. What’s new here, however, is that this notification goes to a URL that’s been stored in the app. So as a developer I need a web server where these notifications can be sent and processed.

The same applies to administrative extensions. Instead of thinking in detail about the implementation of our VueJS components, developers can simply store Iframes in specific locations – these are then also loaded from the stored web address.

To cut a long story short: For apps, I really only need a web server where I can process the incoming notifications or prepare the Iframes to be displayed in a programming language of my choice.

DanielJ-rn-04Daniel Nögel (l.) and Jörn Paulsen (r.) at Shopware in Schöppingen.

Daniel, thank you very much for bringing us up to speed on the new app system. You just touched on an important point – developers need their own web server for apps. Do we offer support in setting that up?

Daniel: We’re working on two types of templates for this purpose: On the one hand, we are creating a development base for apps based on Symfony, so that developers don't have to reinvent the wheel, but can stick to our guidelines for the code that runs on their servers if they choose.

But we’re also developing a template for the web server that the developers need. Using so-called platform.sh templates, we can describe in a text file which servers and services we think are useful for app development, and the developers can then create exactly these servers with just one click.

In both cases though, it’s important to offer lots of guidance and to provide our developers with optimal support for creating cool extensions.

Promoting knowledge is always important for our community – is there going to be an academy training on the app system?

Daniel: Yes, definitely. Further information on that will follow shortly.

How can developers and plugin manufacturers acquire the technical knowledge in advance?

Daniel: We have developed a whitepaper for partners and developers that highlights the key differences between plugins and apps, and also provides information on what you need to get started, so that’s definitely a good place to start.

To the Whitepaper

 

Apart from that, there is of course comprehensive documentation for the app system with many examples. We’re also going to offer webinars where the app system will be explained in detail by the developers involved.

At the end of the day, however, the quickest way is to learn by doing. The first small app I built uses webhook and a call to IFTTTI that triggers a smart light bulb in my hallway to flash when an order is placed in my test shop. And I can assure you, it’s easier to develop an app than it is to convince your wife you need a flashing light bulb in the hallway.

On behalf of our plugin manufacturers, we would like to ask how the apps can be uploaded to the store and admin and be made available in the future.

Jörn: There’s good news here: All of this is done in the usual way. In the same place in the account where you have made plugin settings up to now, you can now choose between the different variants of the extension: plugin, app, or theme. And then, the same process we already know from the plugin environment takes place.

The additional “themes” category is based on the app system, but we have introduced it separately. That’s because we want to make a clear distinction between functional system extensions (plugins/apps) and simple storefront customisations (themes), which don’t require the provision of an external server and can be transferred directly to the app world without major modification, and are therefore available for both the cloud and on-premise. From our point of view, it makes more sense to provide themes via the app system.

Are the uploaded apps available directly in the Community Store?

Jörn: Apps and themes can be added and activated directly from the Shopware administration or the Shopware Community Store. The plugins are also available in the same way in the admin of on-premise installations. Unlike plugins, apps are not installed but simply activated with a click after purchasing.

We plan to launch the app and theme stores in the 3rd quarter of 2020, so it’s already worth developing apps and themes now and setting them up in your account so that you can be among the first when the stores are launched.

Apps and themes based on the app system should of course also be available in the Community Store.

We now know a lot about the new ecosystem. What will happen to the on-premise plugins in the future?

Daniel: Plugins will always be around. They are the best option when very specific customisations are to be made to Shopware that we cannot or do not want to make possible in the cloud. We’ll certainly see these kinds of customisations in the high-end professional environment or in the enterprise area when very special individual solutions are implemented. In this respect, plugins are simply a fundamental part of our product promise: When you grow out of the cloud, you can set up the same product as a self-hosted version and then tailor it very individually to your requirements (as a plugin).

At the same time, I’m also convinced that a large part of today’s plugins will one day be converted to apps. Simply because apps are executable in the entire Shopware universe and they also bring many advantages for developers in the long run. For example, you only have to correct errors once in your own infrastructure instead of having to roll them out as plugin updates and then wait for a large number of customers to actually install the plugin updates.

One last question: What are you most looking forward to with Shopware Cloud? What are your personal milestones?

We are looking forward to seeing the first successful shops, especially those with exciting and innovative ideas. We’re also looking forward to seeing the first apps and themes in the stores. These will add true value to our customers and make Shopware even better.

Jörn and Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to watching Shopware Cloud grow and sharing the success with you and our partners, manufacturers, and customers.

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