The fact that thousands of developers use Drupal to make money building websites for their customers has resulted in thousands of modules being created and hundreds of events being organized around the world. When I started Drupal, I wasn't aware of the importance of such a commercial ecosystem. Looking back at 10 years of working on Drupal, it is an important lesson learned. If I were to start a new Open Source project (I'm not!), the ability to build out a large commercial ecosystem would be one of the criteria that I'd look for. Disruptive innovations change entire industries, not just tools. Not every Open Source project lends itself to that.
I'm repeating myself, but if we want Drupal to be relevant longer term, one of the things we need to do is "make Drupal distributions work". Drupal distributions allow us to compete with a wide range of turnkey solutions as well as invent new markets. The number of different distributions we could build is nearly unlimited. From what I can tell, Drupal is the only Open Source content management system that is actively encouraging its community to build and share distributions. We have a very unique opportunity in front of us -- distributions can be a game changer.
But what does it mean to make Drupal distributions work?
We've began work on Drupal distributions during the Drupal 4.6 era based on our experience with CivicSpace (a distribution for political campaigns). Drupal 5 was a big milestone as we introduced a web-based installer with support for install profiles. We made incremental improvements to install profiles in the Drupal 6 release, and it wasn't until Drupal 6 that we saw a number of great Drupal distributions emerge: OpenAtrium (an intranet distribution), Acquia Drupal (a convenience distribution for site builders), OpenPublish (a distribution for online publishers), Pressflow (a distribution with performance and scalability improvements) and more. Finally, with some of the install profile related improvements in the upcoming Drupal 7 release and the fact that we can build and host distributions on drupal.org, I expect to see many more distributions going forward. In summary, we evolved the underlying technology over the course of 5 years and might have reached a point where our vision of install profiles can really come to live.
While we made a lot of progress on making distributions feasible from a technical point of view, we have yet to figure out the business model around Drupal distributions. Building and maintaining a high-quality Drupal distribution is no small task. It is also different from contributing a module. While writing a module is often billable, maintaining a Drupal distribution is arguably less so. In other words, can we build a successful commercial ecosystem around distributions so that we'll see hundreds, if not thousands of high-quality distributions, flourish?
We need to figure out how to make it commercially interesting (or at a minimum, commercially viable) for organizations to invest the time and money it takes to build and maintain a distribution. If not, distributions risk being nothing more than a costly but fun lead generation tool. I don't think that is scalable. To make Drupal distributions the game changer it could be, it has to be a no-brainer for organizations to get into the game of building one. Reducing the maintenance cost through tools like Drush Make and the packaging infrastructure on drupal.org certainly helps, but is probably not enough to make distributions take off in a big way.
At Acquia, it occurred to us that we might be able to help. Many Drupal shops lack the go-to-market infrastructure that Acquia built out over the last 2.5 years (i.e. 24x7 help desk, a marketing and sales organization) and that products often need. We can help market and sell offerings around distributions (e.g. 24x7 SLA-based support, hosting, remote administration) and share the revenue with the organization actually building and maintaining the distribution. It is a well-known model in the software world (such as the game industry), and is one example of how we could try to make it commercially interesting to build and maintain distributions. For more information about this, I recommend reading Tom's blog post on the 'Software Publishing Model'.
Four Kitchens has built a business around offering consulting and support for Pressflow, the distribution they authored. Pressflow's popularity has driven demand for these services, creating a unique positioning and opportunity for Four Kitchens. Development Seed is in the early stages of rolling out their business model for OpenAtrium, one of the distributions they have created. They announced plans to offer developer support and a paid partner program as key tenets of their business model.
Of course, these are only a few examples of how we can help make Drupal distributions work. As a community, I think we need to brainstorm about this more.
Roughly 8 months ago at DrupalCon Paris, we launched Acquia Hosting. In this blog post, I wanted to give a quick update on where we are after 8 months.
For those who don't know, Acquia Hosting is a highly-available cloud-based hosting platform tuned for Drupal performance and scalability. From a technology point of view, we've built tools to automatically launch multi-server hosting environments optimized for Drupal. It is built on Amazon Web Services (i.e. Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, etc) using Open Source components such as Varnish, Puppet, GlusterFS, NginX and more. If you are interested in the technical details, I highly recommend watching Barry Jaspan's DrupalCon San Francisco presentation on the challenges of hosting Drupal on AWS -- I'm biased, but it is the best technical presentation that I've seen on hosting websites on Amazon Web Service (AWS). Highly recommended. The presentation is the result of 2.5 years of experience building products exclusively on Amazon Web Services and having to maintain close to 200 EC2 instances.
At Acquia, we're all very proud of what we've built. For example, we were recently able to have a new, enterprise-scale Acquia Hosting customer online only a few days after they first contacted us. It takes most hosting companies weeks or months to roll out, configure and tweak all the servers required to host a high-traffic traffic sites like this one. In just a few days, we scaled past the limits of their previous hosting provider and flawlessly served 3 million page views per hour (i.e. 830+ page views per second or 5000+ HTTP requests per second -- yes, Drupal scales). I hope the customer will allow us to write-up a detailed case study at some point. It is a real success story for Drupal, Acquia Hosting, Amazon Web Services and cloud computing in general: incredible time to market, great performance and scalability. We've come a long way since we started working on a Drupal hosting product about a year ago.
The way we started work on Acquia Hosting is the way we have continued: with a very strong focus on engineering. Our first area of focus was on reliability. The results of this were: providing multiple, redundant web nodes; real-time database replication; backups; monitoring infrastructure (we track 25+ system parameters); customer isolation, and so on. Next, we focused our efforts on improving Acquia Hosting's performance by adding tools like Varnish for page caching; customer isolation; reorganizing parts of our underlying architecture; lots of tweaking to Apache, PHP and MySQL; and repeated rounds of realistic load testing. Along the way, we developed deployment tools to make it easy to roll-out and automatically configure our customers' EC2 instances -- it takes just a matter of minutes to upgrade a site's capacity.
Considering our costs and other metrics eight months into the hosting business adventure, the real value of our hosting offering comes not from the technology alone, but rather from our support team's work while getting customers' sites online and helping them day in, day out. Once servers are provisioned for a new site, getting customers up-and-running involves detailed site audits (making sure they don't have core hacks, analyzing their site architecture, etc.), teaching them how the Acquia Hosting environment works, helping them learn to best leverage clusters of servers, doing load testing, and helping them get over performance bottlenecks (slow or excessive SQL queries, expensive uncached Views or blocks, etc.). At the end of the day, our team's deep knowledge of Drupal and our technology stack are the essence and ultimate value-proposition of our Drupal hosting offering.
Going forward, a top priority is to make the process of getting new customers online easier for us and better for them. Among other things, that means developing more "self-service"-style systems, improved customer dashboards and documentation, and streamlined, focused support operations to make sure our customers are getting their questions answered and their problems fixed in the shortest time possible so they can worry about their business and not their websites.
Free Acquia Hosting program
We also announced a free Acquia Hosting program. To help support the Drupal community, we give free Acquia Hosting to sites for non-profit groups that promote Drupal use and adoption. We're now hosting 25 community websites including Drupal Edu, SpreadDrupal, Drupal Dojo, Drupal Catalan, Design 4 Drupal Boston and more. There are about 50 more Drupal community sites in the backlog waiting to get setup with an Acquia Hosting account. Yet another reason to make it easier to get new users and customers up and running!
DrupalCon San Francisco ended a few days ago, so once again I'm sitting here with post-DrupalCon blues, trying to wrap my head around what just happened, digging out my backlog of work, and rediscovering my usual rhythm. It happens to me every time, and it is a sign of having had a great time. In short, DrupalCon San Francisco was 'fantastic', a word I use sparingly. It is best expressed in numbers, like Matt Cheney of Chapter Three did in his closing session:
- Roughly 3,000 registered attendees at an average ticket price of $205 USD.
- 357 days of preparatory planning, including 31 general meetings and 105 daily phone calls. Unlike in the old days, I only participated in one such phone call.
- 408 proposed sessions of which 131 sessions were accepted and presented.
- Rented 37 conference rooms covering 750,000 square feet of the Moscone center.
- Organized a core developer summit with 150 attendees, 16 lightning talks, 11 breakout sessions and 1 Franciscan monk.
- Trained 495 people on Drupal using 20 Drupal training classes.
- 80 people sprinted on testing.
- 21 people sprinted on documentation.
- 120 people trained to be core contributors.
- 120 BoF gatherings across 11 rooms.
- 6,000 people watched my keynote live, one big stage, and assisted by a backstage A/V team of 6 people.
- 2 amazing keynotes; one from Tim O'Reilly and one from the Whitehouse, who is now an Open Source contributor.
- Spent $25,000 USD on scholarship to sponsor 20 attendees.
- Recorded 131 sessions on video with 24 hour turnaround.
- Streamed 10 sessions live with up to 3,000 simultaneous viewers thanks to Brightcove.
- Had up to 2,200 people use the internet simultaneous consuming a 92 megabit pipe. Whoever did the wifi at Moscone needs a raise.
- 1100 t-shirts sold along with 320 Drupal umbrellas.
- Raised more than $400,000 USD from 50 sponsors. Thanks to Trellon, GravitekLabs, Chapter Three, Commerce Guys, Acquia, Phase2 Technology, Microsoft and Rackspace for being Platinum Sponsors.
- 50 volunteers helping with registrations on the opening day of the conference.
- One volcano and no volcano insurance.
- Had a 24/7 coding lounge named after Chx along with free ice cream.
- Free parties with open bar every evening.
- 0 IE6 users on the DrupalCon website, 43% Apple users.
- 60,000 unique visits and 30,000 unique visitors on the conference website during the conference.
- 15,000 e-mails, 7,650 tweets, 35 press hits, 5 press releases and 1 television spot on ABC.
- $691,677 USD estimated expenses, $1,004,470 USD estimated revenue, $312,793 estimated profit for the Drupal Association.
- $72,000 spent on coffee.
- A big thank you for Jennifer Lea Lampton, Stephanie Canon, Lauren Nicole Roth and Matt Cheney and hundreds of other people that helped.
- Two new Drupal conferences announced; one in Copenhagen, one in Chicago.
Quick but cool update on Drupal Gardens: Drupal Gardens users can now use Typekit fonts on their sites. The ThemeBuilder in Drupal Gardens offers a nice set of fonts, but we wanted to work with Typekit to give users access to a huge library of fonts that they can use on their site. Users can create a free or paid account on Typekit, select their fonts and use them on their Drupal Gardens site.
Attractive and distinctive fonts can transform a nice looking website into one that is beautiful. We can't wait to see the designs that Drupal Gardens site designers create with their Typekit fonts. Take a look at this 3 minute video to see Drupal Gardens and Typekit work together.