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Acquia retrospective 2012

For Acquia, 2012 was a great year. In many ways, it's been our best year.

Last year, we saw more evidence of Drupal continuing to become a growing part of the mainstream. While this trend has been apparent for some time, in 2012 we were being adopted at a faster rate by more and more enterprise businesses and government agencies. Acquia, in many ways, has risen on the tide of this acceptance. Maybe we helped build this momentum. And along the way, as we've grown, we have worked to keep the philosophy of open source as the guiding philosophy of Acquia.

The Open Source Way

The concept of being guided by the philosophy of open source, which I call the Open Source Way, is reflected in Acquia's approach to our products and services. For example, we believe it is important to provide the capability to easily transfer data from one platform or solution to another, and not be shackled to proprietary vendors' platforms. The solutions we offer, whether PaaS or SaaS, allow innovation and agility by following the open source way, eliminating lock-in. We've coined the terms OpenSaaS and OpenPaas to refer to this.

This approach has resonated with enterprise business. This is reflected in our growth metrics for 2012. Our growth was reflected in our sales bookings, which grew at a record rate. We finished the year with 15 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, surpassing even our own aggressive goals.

Acquia grew by more than 160 employees last year, and now totals about 280 staff. In addition to Acquia's base in Burlington (Boston, MA), we have 28 employees in the UK office, 14 in our new Portland office, and 82 working remotely. Success poses many challenges. Hiring so many people is difficult. On one recent Monday, we have about 20 new staff undergoing orientation in our Burlington office. We've met the challenge of hiring, though, and we've assembled a staff of talented, passionate people. They are the reason for Acquia's success.

Our core strength is our ability to accomplish the aggressive goals we set for ourselves. This ability is the result of both the collaboration and the passion the Acquia staff brings to everything we do. Acquia's culture, in which collaboration and passion are key, also reflect the Open Source Way. We bring this passion and collaboration to our customers as well, and we work hard to ensure every customer's success. In 2012, the number of customers renewing with us was up, returning that commitment and loyalty.

Landmarks and trends

As we moved through 2012, we saw the growing acceptance of cloud computing. No longer was it "should we be on the cloud", but businesses asked "how best to move to the cloud". More often, the open, elastic cloud computing offered by Acquia was the answer. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) both continue to gain further acceptance and grow, again providing that ability to react to business needs rapidly, putting a larger portion of resources into building exactly what is needed when it is needed, rather than investing in expensive infrastructure and maintenance. The success of our cloud products means that Acquia will continue to invest and expand in this area in 2013, especially as we saw the trend last year that having many microsites, often one for each product or service, is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Other landmarks in 2012 were the growing number of health/pharma businesses moving to Drupal and the cloud, joining financial services companies and government agencies also making the move. Until recently, these industries were wary of open source and cloud-based services, fearing that these solutions weren't secure or reliable enough. The reality that the cloud can also be fault-tolerant and highly available, and that security and government compliance requirements can be met with confidence, opened up the cloud to more and more enterprise businesses in 2012. Their move to the cloud in 2012 reinforced the fact that freedom of innovation and agility of open solutions are driving factors for large-scale business as well as smaller organizations.

As the public moves rapidly to mobile platforms of all kinds, including smart phones and tablets, the need to provide a great user experience on these platforms is becoming increasingly important. UX also became important in 2012 as marketing rather than IT became the driving force behind more and more websites. Acquia responded with the creation of our Spark team, which took shape as a five-person team made up of some of the world's best Drupal experts.

Also in 2012, Acquia acquired Mollom, a company I created to address the challenge of managing social spam on websites. With the tremendous growth of user-generated content as part of the social media explosion, unwanted content has become a more important issue to take on. As a SaaS tool, Mollom fits in with Acquia's existing services.

Drupal community

In 2012, Acquia continued to invest in the worldwide Drupal community in a number of important ways. First, we sponsored over 82 Drupal events around the world in 2012. These events brought new people into Drupal and helped existing Drupal users learn new techniques. We employ more than 110 Drupal specialists, most of whom are significant contributors to the larger community. We've sent our Drupalists to more than 30 of these events (as well as hosted sprints ourselves at Acquia) to collaborate with others in the community on important problems for Drupal.

We also grew Acquia's Office of the Chief Technical Officer, or OCTO, in 2012. OCTO includes a dedicated team who work on Drupal full-time, on projects that include:

And finally, Acquia has sponsored other key contributors in the community to take on critical work, including the configuration management initiative, web services, and "Views in Core".

Looking forward

This year, like 2012, will be a key year for Acquia as we continue to develop products and services built on the open source philosophy.

Life-cyle management applications will be an increasing focus for Acquia in 2013. These applications will help craft great digital experiences by providing the tools to monitor and optimize digital content.

Of course, we'll continue to nurture and expand our vision of OpenSaaS and OpenPaaS. We'll continue to make the move to PaaS even easier, providing solutions that offer all of the functionality needed, but in a simplified package. We'll accomplish this by combining PaaS, Drupal services and Application Performance Management to produce comprehensive solutions that continue to make Acquia a no brainer when it comes to choosing a PaaS provider. PaaS platforms that embrace an open ecosystem provide faster business value, as many of our customers have discovered. We are working with our growing number of partners to help them build customer solutions on our open cloud platform.

As we start down the road of 2013, we enter the year just having raised $30 million in Series E financing, the single largest financing we have done to date. As we have grown and matured during 2012, these funds will assure sustained growth and success in 2013. No matter how rapidly we grow, or how large the Drupal community becomes, Acquia will put its open source philosophy at the core of all the work it does. In the end, the people of Acquia and the Drupal community, following this philosophy, are building the future of the digital experience. The Open Source way.

Spark update: unified in-place editing

A major focus of usability efforts in Drupal core has been around making it easier to edit things on your site. In Drupal 7, we introduced the Contextual links and Overlay modules to make it simpler for content authors and site builders to jump directly to the parts of the administration that relate to the things they see directly on the page, such as blocks or menus. Drupal 8 has now upped the ante with the new in-place editing feature, which allows for direct modification of content on your site, within the context of the page it is displayed on.

The next logical step is to take in-place editing to the next level by unifying contextual editing paradigms: combining the concept of "edit mode" with the ability to contextually edit more than just fields on content, in order to allow for contextual editing of everything on the page, in a mobile-first way.

Specifically, we need to address the following challenges:

  • Conflicting patterns confuse users: There are contextual gears to edit content, local tabs to edit content, and "Edit mode" to edit content. These patterns need to be streamlined.
  • Tasks are not intuitive enough: Seemingly simple tasks can often result in "pogo-sticking" around in the admin backend trying to locate where to change a given setting.
  • Unnecessary information slows users down: Drupal forms tend to be long and full of advanced/confusing options, which can overwhelm users trying to complete simple tasks.
  • Interactions don't work with smaller devices: With Drupal 8's Mobile Initiative, it is critical that these tools be as easy to use on the desktop as they are on a smartphone or tablet.

Here is a video showing what we'd like to propose for solving these problems in Drupal 8 core:

We've now performed several rounds of internal usability testing on this functionality, and it has tested really well so far, with a high emotional value: in general, people can't believe this is Drupal. :-) Check out the prototype yourself at https://projects.invisionapp.com/share/U2A4IAGX.

I'm very excited about these changes, and feel that if we can get this into Drupal 8 it could be game-changing. But what do you think? If you like it, we'd love help with implementation and reviews in the core issue at http://drupal.org/node/1882482.

From Aloha to CKEditor

In the summer, I announced that we would adopt Aloha Editor as part of Drupal 8. The primary reason was that Aloha was the only WYSIWYG editor that supported in-place ("true" WYSIWYG) editing; something we need to accomplish our vision for in-place editing. The Aloha Editor developers have been excellent in their attention to Drupal's needs. However, due to the nature of their editor being based around the concept of "true" WYSIWYG, we've run into some issues (which the Aloha Editor folks are actively working on) surrounding the user experience and accessibility of Aloha Editor when using it on the back-end.

Since that announcement, CKEditor has caught up, and now offers feature parity to Aloha Editor when it comes to our needs. Frederico Knabben, creator of CKEditor, has reached out to offer whatever support he can to make CKEditor and Drupal work together better. They already prototyped a convincing alternative to Aloha Editor's killer "Blocks" system (which is an excellent match for Drupal's need to manage content within text content in a structured manner). In addition to that, we found that CKEditor is more mature in terms of APIs, documentation, and ecosystem around the project. Hence, after days of research and weeks of further discussion, the consensus is that CKEditor is now our best choice.

Therefore, we are going to switch from Aloha to CKEditor for Drupal 8 core. By making this switch, we will not only have a more mature WYSIWYG editor, but we also free up resources to work on other parts of Drupal's authoring experience. The CKEditor team has committed to fix the 8 functional gaps that we've identified in their two next upcoming releases.

Last-minute decisions like this are never easy. But we make them in order to do what is best for Drupal. I'd like to thank both the Aloha Editor team and the CKEditor team for helping us evaluate both editors and working with the Drupal community on closing functional gaps. But don't take your eyes off Aloha Editor; it's an editor that continues to hold a lot of promise for the future of the web.

Drupal bobblehead

If you've ever listened to one of my keynotes, you might have seen pictures of the Drupal bacon, Drupal socks, Drupal lager, or the infamous naked guy on a bike with the Drupal tattoo. Well, today I'm excited to tell you about the Limited Edition Drupal Bobblehead Toy. The perfect gift for your Drupal geek!

Giant Lego Druplicon

I'm proud to announce Acquia's newest member of the team, the LEGO Druplicon, courtesy of DataFlow (now ONE Agency). It all started on a hot August day at DrupalCon Munich. On that day, I stopped by DataFlow's booth to look at this amazing piece of art. Obviously I am a bit partial to the Druplicon and the innovative and creative ways people around the world are creating branding for Drupal.

Little did I know some lucky DrupalCon attendee was going to win the Druplicon by guessing how many bricks DataFlow used to build it. After asking a couple of questions, such as “Is it a solid structure or hollow?”, I entered my guess (along with 94 other Drupalists). My mathematical equation brought me to the answer of 12,222 blocks, which was 9 blocks over the correct number of 12,213. I won!

DataFlow went to great lengths to ship the delicate, yet massive structure from Belgium to the United States. After contacting numerous courier companies and hearing the Druplicon needed a special Visa, VAT and insurance documents, as well as it needed to be fumigated (sigh, it's just LEGOs), they found one company that was willing to take on the task. About a month and half later, a pallet jack wheeled into our office and dropped off a 4 foot crate.

Unfortunately due to my travel schedule I wasn't able to open the crate for about a week, which created quite the buzz around the office. We had to schedule the unveiling and make sure we had a crowbar and hammer on hand to open it. Coincidentally this was on my birthday, so it was quite the gift!

I'm happy to report that the 12,213 LEGO Drupalicon made it intact (just a few pieces came loose) due to the wonderful packing material of Belgian toilet paper! I probably don't have to buy toilet paper for a year now. :-)

Lego druplicon
Lego druplicon
Lego druplicon
Lego druplicon
Lego druplicon

A huge thanks goes out to DataFlow who spent the time replicating the Druplicon in LEGOs, as well as shipping it over the Atlantic. We are in the process of finding a permanent spot for it in the Acquia office, so it's on display for everyone to see.

Using the Akiban database with Drupal

For four years now I've been an advisor for Akiban, a Boston start-up building a new class of NewSQL/NoSQL database. I'm excited that after 4 years of hard work, Akiban launched their first Drupal customer solution in the Acquia Cloud. A great opportunity to talk a bit more about what Akiban is doing, and why I'm excited to help their team.

The early phase strategy for Akiban is to augment existing deployments (for example MySQL) to enhance query performance among other capabilities. Our mutual customer was facing performance, concurrency and availability challenges with some custom Drupal report code. The report was built in Drupal as a module, and involved a series of complex joins making performance unpredictable, frequently resulting in slow query performance and periodically crashing the whole site. Using Akiban's database, the customer is realizing 66x performance improvement over their existing implementation, without any significant change to the Drupal application.

One of the core benefits of Akiban is query acceleration. The Akiban database can run along side of MySQL server in "augmentation mode" comparable to master-slave configuration. Akiban implemented a simple Drupal patch which allows the reporting queries to be redirected to the Akiban server. While Akiban’s solution requires data duplication, it also means that there is virtually no intrusion on the day-to-day running of the site.

The report module remains as originally designed but now the problem queries are redirected to the Akiban server. Akiban’s core technology is called Table Grouping. Table Grouping enables for the physical grouping of tables while preserving a logical layer allowing developers to continue to use SQL. This grouping eliminates complex traditional joins while preserving the use of ANSI SQL. In addition, Akiban can create cross-table indexes thus accelerating formerly slow queries. As a result, with the reporting queries now directed to Akiban server, the report performs 66x faster.

The Akiban team refers to Akiban server as a new class of database that accelerates SQL and NoSQL data by 10-100x, while allowing developers to access data in both traditional SQL and RESTful environments (SOAs). Compared to other database technologies, Table Grouping provides an innovative way to store and query structured and semi-structured data.

Akiban's Padraig O'Sullivan is working on a module for Drupal 7, and while there is still some work to be done to test and optimize it, he has already enabled Akiban to run as the source database for Drupal 8 in development. Something to keep an eye on. If you want to test out Akiban yourself, head over to akiban.com and download it.

Holly Ross to join Drupal Association as Executive Director

I'm pleased to announce that the Drupal Association's Board of Directors has appointed Holly Ross as its new Executive Director. Holly is a well-known visionary leader in the nonprofit technology community with a proven track record of developing and implementing organizational strategies that provide direct community benefit.

Most recently, Holly was responsible for NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network, which works to help nonprofits use technology to create the change that they want to see in the world. During Holly’s ten years at NTEN, she helped grow the community from just a handful of individuals to over 60,000 people. NTEN has also been using Drupal for the last six years, so she is no stranger to our community.

Holly shared her excitement with the Drupal Association Board of Directors about her new role, saying, “I am thrilled to be making this move, which allows me to capitalize on my experience building community and embrace the added challenge of helping this international community collaborate on the Drupal project. I can’t wait to get started and be a part of a group of colleagues who share the values and passion for technology that I do.”

We are fortunate to have someone like Holly step up to lead the Drupal Association. Holly will start on February 1st, 2013. Like the rest of the Board of Directors, I look forward to working with Holly to grow the Drupal Association and to support the Drupal project.

Holly succeeds outgoing Co-Managing Director Jacob Redding and interim Managing Director Megan Sanicki, who both led the Drupal Association during the search process and have prepared it for new leadership over the last few months. The Board and the entire Drupal Association thanks Jacob for his hard work and dedication over the last several years. He has architected a strong foundation for the Drupal Association that allows Holly to take the organization to the next level. We wish Jacob best of luck with his new ventures. We are excited to have Megan continue with the Drupal Association as Chief Operating Officer, focused on Operations and Business Development.

Holly is looking forward to connecting with our community, and you should feel free to reach out to her with your feedback and ideas at holly@association.drupal.org.

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