Simplifying the Drupal Multisite with Acquia Site Factory
Complex business models often come with complex governance models. In these situations, a single website or application rarely meets a business’ needs. As you scale up the number of sites in an organization, you scale the overhead costs of creating, managing, and governing those sites as well. This is where Acquia® Cloud Site Factory provides value.
Site Factory does this by centralizing control in its administrative interface. From here, non-technical users can manage users and permissions, create sites based on recipes, organize sites into groups, deploy testing environments, and perform a number of other tasks. The SABMiller case study on Acquia’s website is a great example of managing complexity and reducing overall operating costs through Site Factory.
For state and local governments like the City of Los Angeles, this means rolling out department-specific websites based on some common sets of features in a relatively quick and painless fashion. In addition to the public sector and large business conglomerates, higher education is another area where Site Factory provides a lot of value and reduces the cost of ownership.
In many universities individual departments are mostly autonomous and have their own budgets, leadership, and needs. A product like Site Factory makes a lot of sense for central governance by a university IT department; this way each department gets its own property, with its own users and content, free of influence from other university departments. The cost of the product is then spread out over the university, which in turn reduces the cost of ownership per department. Using Site Factory, a university’s IT department can create users, assign them roles with different sets of permissions, and assign to them groups of sites, or even individual sites.
Site Factory also provides significant value in organizations that need to be able to rapidly create, deploy, and destroy marketing campaign sites, whether for products or nonprofit fundraising. Marketing departments can spin up a campaign site, leverage some components that are a part of their campaign starter kit, update and tweak the theming and branding, and have an operational campaign site in a fraction of the time it would take to build and launch something from the ground up.
Without Site Factory, someone with Drupal technical knowledge has to provision a database, copy directories, modify settings in those directories, and then deploy code. They must go through Drupal’s installation process, create users, and assign those users to groups. What would otherwise take a Drupal developer a couple of hours would only require about 15 minutes of non-technical work in Site Factory.
Drupal Challenges that Site Factory Solves
You’ll get the most out of the solution if you understand not only how to implement it but why to implement it. We’re addressing the strategy around the business problem that a client is ultimately trying to solve. As part of that, we’re focusing on resolving how to govern and manage a lot of websites, which means it’s about creating websites as well as being able to efficiently close down websites when they are no longer needed. Keep in mind that the purpose of websites has changed dramatically over the years, thus necessitating a dynamic, flexible solution to meet the evolving needs of marketers and IT departments.
Sites can be created specifically for the length of a marketing campaign and then taken down when that specific purpose has been fulfilled. This need for fast rollouts of sites is a driver for solutions such as Site Factory. If you have marketing sites you need to spin up and deploy for six weeks, you can do that, and then terminate the sites at the end of the campaign with very little extra work. You won’t need to put a team of four developers on it since you’ve already built out the original template. You’re able to spin out multiple versions, drop in content, and put them online.
When the campaign is over, you can easily destroy the pages without technical know-how and expertise. The great part is that you don’t need to spend on the order of magnitude of a few hundred thousand dollars just to build a small, temporary campaign site that you intend to destroy in a matter of weeks, after it has accomplished its goal.
Access and Governance
Depending on the type of agency or organization you are in, the type of person within your organization that is going to use Site Factory will differ. Typically, it’ll be whoever manages the web for all of the different departments; a central IT department within a university, for example. You can create multiple sites in Drupal without having Site Factory, but to do so requires technical expertise. And, even if you have a technical person doing it, it may take them 30 minutes to an hour to create a new website that’s based on similar ones; using Site Factory, it’ll take them five minutes. It scales not only the creation but governance as well.
Now, let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re the head of a math department that offers Calculus, Geometry, and Finite Math classes. Professors in your department teach multiple classes. As the head of the department, you could choose to govern all of the sites yourself. Conversely, you’d be able to give each professor access to govern multiple sites, so they could manage all of their own class sites. With single sign on, they’d be able to log in once and access all of their different instances.
At some point, with any large, traditional, Drupal multisite architecture, releasing updates will become an unwieldy challenge for testing. Depending on the variance and complexity of the sites, “large” could be as few as 10 and as many as thousands of sites. Site Factory makes deploying test environments as quick and easy as creating new sites. As an administrator, deploying an environment to test code before releasing to production is as simple as choosing sites that represent the variety of sites you manage.
You can deploy a testing environment that has five sites on it, for example, if you feel like those five represent all of your sites really well in terms of features and functionality. Then, you can deploy and run tests on just those five sites, representative of the remaining 995. Site Factory deploys the code and copies and scrubs the databases for the sites you need. Once it finishes, you have a safe place to test code changes before releasing new functionality into your production environment.
Site Factory is one of Acquia’s oldest products and is used by many large, well-known brands including Pfizer, City of Los Angeles, and Warner Music Group. It is also used by clients in a variety of industries, from a radio conglomerate in the West Coast to a leading dental support practice.
As we can see from the examples we examined, Site Factory works well for organizations that have numerous departments or agencies with each needing their own website under a similar basic structure such as a university or government. Site Factory also works for businesses that are growing quickly and want to spin up new instances without having to re-engage a technical expert every time they need a new site, for example, for short-term marketing campaigns.
Are you considering Site Factory for your Drupal implementation? Join the discussion via the comments below or Tweet Us @Velir, and feel free to reach out to us with questions you may have. We’re happy to share our insights.