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How Acquia is addressing the explosion of sites

I believe that the "digitalization" of the world is a "megatrend" that will continue for decades. On the one hand, organizations are shifting their businesses online, often inventing new ways to do business. On the other hand, customers are expecting a better and smarter user experience online.

This has led to two important sub-trends: (1) the number of sites an organization is creating and managing is growing at a rapid clip, (2) so is the underlying complexity of each website.

Forrester Research recently surveyed large enterprises about their website portfolio and found that on average they manage 268 properties across various channels. On top of that, each website is becoming more and more advanced. They evolved from simple HTML pages to dynamic websites to digital experience platforms that need to integrate with many other business systems. The combination of these two trends -- increasing number of sites and the growing complexity of each site -- poses real challenges to most organizations.

At Acquia, we are seeing this explosion of websites in the enterprise every day. Many organizations have different websites for different brands and products, want different websites for each country or region they operate in, or offer separate portals for their affiliates, dealers, agents or franchises. We're also seeing organizations, small and large, operate a large number of marketing campaign websites. These organizations aren't focused on scaling back their online properties but rather how best to manage them over time.

I outlined this trend and its challenges almost five years ago (see Acquia product strategy and vision) and most of it is still relevant today, if not more relevant. In this blog post, I want to give you an update and share some lessons learned.

Current situation

Most larger organizations run many different types of websites. It's not unusual for a small organization to have ten websites and for a large organization to have hundreds of websites. Some of Acquia's largest customers operate thousands of websites.

Acquia cloud site factory many sites

Most organizations struggle to manage their growing portfolio of digital properties. You'd be surprised how many organizations have more than 20 different content management systems in use. Often this means that different teams are responsible for them and that they are hosted on different hosting environments. It is expensive, creates unnecessary security risks, poses governance challenges, leads to brand inconsistency, makes it difficult to create a unified customer experience, and more. It costs large organizations millions of dollars a year.

Acquia cloud site factory many platforms

Drupal's unfair advantage

When managing many sites, Drupal has an unfair advantage in that it scales from simple to complex easily. That scalability, coupled with a vast ecosystem of modules, elevate Drupal from a single site point solution to a platform on which you can build almost any kind of site: a brand site, a corporate website, a customer support community, a commerce website, an intranet, etc. You name it.

This is in contrast to many of Drupal's competitors that are either point solutions (e.g. SharePoint is mainly used for intranets) or whose complexity and cost don't lend themselves to managing many sites (e.g. Adobe Experience Manager and Sitecore are expensive solutions for a quick marketing campaign site, while WordPress can be challenging for building complex websites). So the first thing people can do is to standardize on Drupal as a platform for all of their site needs.

Acquia cloud site factory many drupals

By standardizing on Drupal, organizations can simplify training, reduce maintenance costs, streamline security and optimize internal resources – all without sacrificing quality or requirements. Standardizing on Drupal certainly doesn't mean every single site needs to be on Drupal. Transitioning from 20 different systems to 3 still translates into dramatic cost savings.

The Acquia advantage

Once an organization decides to standardize on Drupal, the question is how best to manage all these sites? In 2013 we launched Acquia Cloud Site Factory (ACSF), a scalable enterprise-grade multi-site management platform that helps organizations to easily create, deploy and govern all their sites. Today, some of Acquia's biggest customers use ACSF to manage hundreds of sites - in fact on average an ACSF customer is currently managing 170 websites within their Site Factory platform and that number is growing rapidly.

Acquia commissioned Forrester Research to analyze the benefits to organizations who have unified their sites on a single platform. Forrester found that moving to a single platform dramatically reduced site development and support costs, conserved IT and marketing resources, and improved standardization, governance and scalability — all while accelerating time-to-market and the delivery of better digital experiences.

One of the things we've learned is that a complete multi-site management solution needs to include advanced tools for both developers and content managers. The following image illustrates the different layers of a complete multi-site management solution:

Acquia Cloud Site Factory solution stack

The different layers of the Acquia Cloud Site Factory solution stack.

Let's go through these individually from the bottom up.

Infrastructure management

Consider an organization that currently has 50 websites, and plans to add 10-15 more sites every year. With ACSF these sites run on a platform that is scalable, secure and highly reliable. This infrastructure also allows hardware resources to be logically isolated based on the site's needs as well as scaled up or down to meet any ad-hoc traffic spikes. These capabilities enable organizations to simplify multi-site management efforts and eliminate operational headaches.

Code management

If this organization with 50 sites had individual codebases for each site, that would be 50 disparate codebases to manage. With ACSF, the underlying code can be shared and managed in one central place but the content, configuration, and creative look-and-feel can be catered to each individual sites' needs. ACSF also enable developers to easily add or remove features from their codebases for individual sites. ACSF also comes with tools to automate the process of rolling out updates across all their sites.

Site management

Organizations with many sites also need efficient ways to manage and govern them effectively; from developer tools such as Git, Travis, or Behat that enable them to build, test and maintain sites, to tools for non-developers to quickly clone and spin up sites using site templates defined by a brand manager or a digital design team. ACSF enables customers to effortlessly manage all their sites from a single intuitive dashboard. Developers can create groups of users as well as sites allowing certain users to manage their dedicated domain of sites without stepping over other sites. Non-technical content managers can quickly spin up new sites by cloning existing ones they have access to and updating their configuration, content and look-and-feel. These features allow organizations to launch sites at unprecedented speed inherently improving their overall time to market.

Content sharing

Write once, publish anywhere. We learned from customers managing multiple sites that one thing they often need is the ability to easily share content between sites. For example, if an organization has a privacy policy that needs to be updated, it doesn't make sense to update all their 50 sites individually. There needs to be an easier way to discover existing content that can be repurposed across other sites as well as the ability to author new content once within a platform and deliver it to other sites as needed.


Finally, I should mention personalization. For a few years now we have been developing Acquia Lift. Acquia Lift builds unified customer profiles across all your websites, and uses that information to deliver real-time, contextual, and personalized experiences. For instance, if the organization in the above example had 50 websites for each of their 50 different products, Acquia Lift can present relevant content to its users as they browse across these different sites. This enables organizations to convert anonymous site visitors into known customers and establish a meaningful engagement between them.


I believe that the "multi-sites era" will continue to accelerate; not only will we see more sites, but every site will become increasingly complex. Organizations need to think about how to efficiently manage their website portfolio. If you're not thinking ahead, you're falling behind.

Giving back and making money

It's not easy to build an Open Source software company.

Canonical recently has made a change to its intellectual property policy. The new policy prevents developers from distributing altered binary versions of Ubuntu. Users are still allowed to distribute unaltered Ubuntu freely, but if they make changes to Ubuntu, Canonical wants developers to either go through a review process or remove all references to Canonical trademarks, Canonical logos, and proprietary software and recompile the Ubuntu archive without any of those.

This change has caused friction with the Open Source community; many are not happy with these restrictions as it goes against the culture of Open Source sharing and collaboration. After all, Ubuntu itself is built on top of the work of hundreds of thousands of Open Source developers, and now Ubuntu is making it difficult for others to do the same.

Canonical's stated intention is to protect its trademarks and reputation; they don't want anyone to call something "Ubuntu" when it's not actually "Ubuntu". I understand that. That aside, many understand that the unstated goal is to make money from licensing deals. The changes affect organizations that base their custom distributions on Ubuntu; it's easier to buy a license from Canonical than to figure how to remove all the trademarks, proprietary software, logos, etc.

Jono Bacon, Canonical's former community manager, wrote a balanced post about the situation.

My thoughts? I understand Canonical has to find ways to make money. Most companies are downright greedy, but not Canonical or Mark Shuttleworth. I find the Open Source community "penny wise and pound foolish" about the situation.

I can relate because Canonical, like Acquia, is among a small group of Open Source companies that try to do good and do well at scale. We invest millions of dollars each year contributing to Open Source: from engineering, to marketing, to sponsoring community events and initiatives. It is not easy to build a software company on Open Source, and we all struggle to find the right balance between giving back and making money. This is further complicated when competitors choose to give back less or don't give back at all. Companies like Canonical and Acquia are good for Open Source, and helping them find that balance is key. Don't forget to support those that give back.

Acquia announces it is ready for Drupal 8

I'm excited to announce that starting today, Acquia is announcing we're ready to fully support our customers with Drupal 8. This means our professional services, our support, our product engineering, our cloud services … the entire company is ready to help anyone with Drupal 8 starting today.

While Drupal 8 is not yet released (as it has always been said, Drupal 8 will be "ready when it's ready"), the list of release blockers is dwindling ever closer to zero, and a beta-to-beta upgrade path will soon be provided in core. These factors, along with Acquia's amazing team of more than 150 Drupal experts (including a dedicated Drupal 8 engineering team that has contributed to fixing more than 1,200 Drupal 8 issues), gives us full confidence that we can make our customers successful with Drupal 8 starting today.

In the process of working with customers on their Drupal 8 projects, we will contribute Drupal 8 core patches, port modules, help improve Drupal 8's performance and more.

I'm excited about this milestone, as Drupal 8 will be a truly ground-breaking release. I'm most excited about the architectural enhancements that strongly position Drupal 8 for what I've called the Big reverse of the Web. For the web to reach its full potential, it will go through a massive re-platforming. From Flipboard to the upcoming release of Apple News, it's clear that the web is advancing into the “post-browser” era, where more and more content is "pushed" to you by smart aggregators. In this world, the traditional end-point of the browser and website become less relevant, requiring a new approach that increases the importance of structured content, metadata and advanced caching. With Drupal 8, we've built an API-driven architecture that is well suited to this new “content as a service” approach, and Drupal 8 is ahead of competitive offerings that still treat content as pages. Check out my DrupalCon Los Angeles keynote for more details.

One year later: the Acquia Certification Program

A little over a year ago we launched the Acquia Certification Program for Drupal. We ended up the first year with close to 1,000 exams taken, which exceeded our goal of 300-600. Today, I'm pleased to announce that the Acquia Certification Program passed another major milestone with over 1,000 exams passed (not just taken).

People have debated the pros and cons of software certifications for years (including myself) so I want to give an update on our certification program and some of the lessons learned.

Acquia's certification program has been a big success. A lot of Drupal users require Acquia Certification; from the Australian government to Johnson & Johnson. We also see many of our agency partners use the program as a tool in the hiring process. While a certification exam can not guarantee someone will be great at their job (e.g. we only test for technical expertise, not for attitude), it does give a frame of reference to work from. The feedback we have heard time and again is how the Acquia Certification Program is tough, but fair; validating skills and knowledge that are important to both customers and partners.

We also made the Certification Magazine Salary Survey as having one of the most desired credentials to obtain. To be a first year program identified among certification leaders like Cisco and Red Hat speaks volumes on the respect our program has established.

Creating a global certification program is resource intensive. We've learned that it requires the commitment of a team of Drupal experts to work on each and every exam. We now have four different exams: developer, front-end specialist, backend specialist and site builder. It roughly takes 40 work days for the initial development of one exam, and about 12 to 18 work days for each exam update. We update all four of our exams several times per year. In addition to creating and maintaining the certification programs, there is also the day-to-day operations for running the program, which includes providing support to participants and ensuring the exams are in place for testing around the globe, both on-line and at test centers. However, we believe that effort is worth it, given the overall positive effect on our community.

We also learned that benefits are an important part to participants and that we need to raise the profile of someone who achieves these credentials, especially those with the new Acquia Certified Grand Master credential (those who passed all three developer exams). We have a special Grand Master Registry and look to create a platform for these Grand Masters to help share their expertise and thoughts. We do believe that if you have a Grand Master working on a project, you have a tremendous asset working in your favor.

At DrupalCon LA, the Acquia Certification Program offered a test center at the event, and we ended up having 12 new Grand Masters by the end of the conference. We saw several companies stepping up to challenge their best people to achieve Grand Master status. We plan to offer the testing at DrupalCon Barcelona, so take advantage of the convenience of the on-site test center and the opportunity to meet and talk with Peter Manijak, who developed and leads our certification efforts, myself and an Acquia Certified Grand Master or two about Acquia Certification and how it can help you in your career!

Acquia retrospective 2014

As is now a tradition for me, here is my annual Acquia retrospective, where I look back at 2014 and share what is on my mind as we start the new year. I take the time to write these retrospectives not only for you dear reader, but also for myself, because I want to keep a record of the changes we've gone through as a company and how my personal thinking is evolving from year to year. But I also write them for you, because you might be able to learn from my experiences or from analyzing the information provided. If you would like to, you can read my previous retrospectives: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

For Acquia, 2014 was another incredible year, one where we beat our wildest expectations. We crossed the major milestone of $100 USD million in annual revenue, the majority of which is recurring subscription revenue. It is hard to believe that 2014 was only our sixth full year as a revenue-generating business.

We've seen the most growth from our enterprise customers, but our number of small and medium size customers has grown too. We helped launch and host some incredible sites last year: from (a top 20 site) to the Emmys. Our efforts in Europe and Asia-Pacific are paying off; our EMEA business grew substantially, and the Australian government decided to switch the entire government to Drupal and the Acquia Platform.

We hired 233 people in 2014 and ended the year with 575 employees. About 25% of our employees work from home. The other 75% work from offices around the world; Burlington MA (US), Portland OR (US), Washington DC (US), Paris (France), Reading (United Kingdom), Ghent (Belgium), Singapore, Delhi (India), Brisbane (Australia) and Sydney (Australia). About 75% of our employees are based in the United States. Despite our fast growth rate in staff, recruiting remains a key challenge; it's hard to hire as fast as we do and maintain the high bar we've set for ourselves in terms of talent and commitment.

We raised venture funding twice in 2014: a $50MM series F round led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) followed by Amazon investing an undisclosed amount of money in our business. It's not like Tom Erickson and I enjoy raising money, but building and expanding a sales and marketing team is notoriously difficult and requires big investments. At the same time, we're building and supporting the development of multiple products in parallel. Most companies only build one product. We're going after a big dream to become the preferred platform for what has been called the "pivot point of many enterprise tech stacks" -- the technologies that permit organizations to deliver on the promises of exceptional digital customer experiences from an agile, open, resilient platform. We are also competing against behemoths. We can't show up to a gunfight with a knife, so to speak.

Building a digital platform for the enterprise

Digital has changed everything, and more and more organizations need or want to transform into digital-first businesses to stay in step with the preferences of their customers. Furthermore, technology innovations keep occurring at an ever faster and more disruptive pace. No organization is immune to the forces of digital disruption. At Acquia, we help our customers by providing a complete technology platform and the support necessary to support their digital initiatives. The Acquia Platform consists of tools and support for building and managing dynamic digital experiences. It includes Acquia Cloud, which helps developers deliver complex applications at scale, and Acquia Lift, our digital engagement services for bringing greater context to highly personalized experiences. Let me give you an update on each of the major components.

Drupal tools and support

Drupal gives organizations the ability to deliver a unified digital experience that includes mobile delivery, social and commerce. Great inefficiencies exist in most organizations that use a variety of different, disconnected systems to achieve those three essentials. They are tired of having to tie things together; content is important, social is important, commerce is important but connecting all these systems seamlessly and integrating them with preferred applications and legacy systems leads to massive inefficiencies. Companies want to do things well, and more often than not, Drupal allows them to do it better, more nimbly and in a far more integrated framework.

In 2010, we laid out our product vision and predicted more and more organizations would start to standardize on Drupal. Running 20 different content management systems on 20 different technology stacks is both an expensive and unnecessary burden. We've seen more and more large organizations re-platform most of their sites to Drupal and the Acquia Platform. They realize they don't need multiple content management systems for different sites. Great examples are Warner Music and Interscope Records, who have hundreds of sites on Drupal across the organization, resulting in significant cost savings and efficiency improvements. The success of our Acquia Cloud Site Factory solution has been gratifying to witness. According to a research study by Forrester Consulting, which we released late last year, ACSF is delivering a 944% return on investment to its adopters.

After many years of discussion and debate in the Drupal community, we launched the Acquia Certification Program in March 2014. So far, 546 Drupal developers from more than 45 countries have earned certification. The exams focus on real world experience, and the predominant comments we've heard this past year are that the exams are tough but fair. Acquia delivered six times the amount of training in 2014 compared to the previous year, and demand shows no sign of slowing.

Last, but definitely not least, is Drupal 8. We contributed significantly to Drupal 8 and helped it to achieve beta status; of the 513 critical Drupal 8 bugs fixed in 2014, Acquia's Office of the CTO helped fix 282 of them. We also funded work on the Drupal Module Upgrader to automate much of the work required to port modules from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8.

Acquia Cloud

Drupal alone isn't enough for organizations to succeed in this digital-first world. In addition to adopting Drupal, the cloud continues to enable organizations to save time and money on infrastructure management so they can focus on managing websites more efficiently and bringing them to market faster. Acquia customers such as have come to depend on the Acquia Cloud to provide them with the kind of rugged, secure scale that ensures when the world's attention is focused on their sites, they will thrive. On a monthly basis, we're now serving more than 33 billion hits, almost 5 billion pageviews, 9 petabytes of data transferred, and logging 13 billion Drupal watchdog log lines. We added many new features to Acquia Cloud in 2014, including log streaming, self-service diagnosis tools, support for teams and permissions, two-factor authentication, new dashboards, improved security with support for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), an API for Acquia Cloud, and more.

Acquia Lift

As powerful as the Drupal/Acquia Cloud combination may be, our customers demand far more from their digital properties, focusing more and more on optimizing them to fully deliver the best possible experience to each individual user. Great digital experiences have always been personal; today they have to become contextual, intuitively knowing each user and dynamically responding to each user's personal preference from device to location to history with the organization. After two years of development and the acquisition of TruCentric, we launched Acquia Lift in 2014.

It's surprising how many organizations aren't implementing any form of personalization today. Even the most basic level of user segmentation and targeting allows organizations to better serve their visitors and can translate into significant growth and competitive differentiation. Advanced organizations have a single, well-integrated view of the customer to optimize both the experience and the lifetime value of that customer, in a consistent fashion across all of their digital touchpoints. Personalization not only leads to better business results, customers have come to expect it and if they don't find it, they'll go elsewhere to get it. Acquia Lift enables organizations to leverage data from multiple sources in order to serve people with relevant content and commerce based on intent, locations and interests. I believe that Acquia Lift has tremendous opportunity and that it will grow to be a significant business in and of itself.

While our key areas of investment in 2014 were Acquia Cloud and Acquia Lift, we did a lot more. Our Mollom service blocked more than 7.8 billion spam messages with an error rate of only 0.01%. We continue to invest in commerce; we helped launch the new Puma website leveraging our Demandware connector and continue to invest and focus on the integration of content and commerce. Overall, the design and user experience of our products has improved a lot, but it is still an area for us to work on. Expect us to focus more heavily on user experience in 2015.

The results of all our efforts around the launch of the Acquia Platform have not gone unnoticed. In October, Acquia was identified as a Leader in the 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management.

The wind is blowing in the right direction

I'm very optimistic about Acquia's future in 2015. I believe we've steered the company to be positioned at the right place at the right time. As more organizations are shifting to becoming digital-first businesses they want to build digital experiences that are more pervasive, more contextual, more targeted, more integrated, and last but not least, more secure.

The consolidation from many individual point solutions to one platform is gaining momentum, although re-platforming is usually a long process. Organizations want the unified or integrated experience that Drupal has to offer, as well as the flexibility of Open Source. It is still time consuming and challenging to create quality content, and I believe there is plenty of opportunity for us and our partners to help with that going forward.

Without a doubt, organizations want to better understand their customers and use data-driven decisions to drive growth. Data is becoming the new product. The opportunity this creates in commerce is massive.

Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) continues to be on the rise. Cloud is top of mind and the transition away from on-premise solutions is accelerating even as the arguments around security and privacy issues in the cloud continue to be raised. While there is a certain amount of emotion, and sometimes politics, people are beginning to realize that the cloud is usually more secure and more robust against cyber-attacks than traditional on-premise systems.

The promise of Drupal 8, arguably the most significant advance in the evolution of the Drupal software, has me very excited. It is shaping up to be a great release, and I'm confident it will further secure Drupal's reputation among developers, designers, agencies and site managers as the most flexible, powerful content management solution available.

All of this is not to say 2015 will be easy. This is an incredibly exciting and fast-changing space in the world of technology. Acquia is growing in an incredibly fast-paced, dynamic sector and we realize our mission is to help our customers understand how to think ahead to ever more innovation and change. Simplifying our overall messaging and defining ourselves around the Acquia Platform is a significant first step.

Of course, none of this success would be possible without the support of our customers, partners, the Drupal community, the Acquia team, and our many friends. Thank you for your support in 2014, and I look forward to working with you to find out what 2015 will bring!


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