With so many content management systems around, where exactly do you position Drupal and how are you different?
Drupal is an interesting animal if you look at it closely. It powers two per cent of websites across the globe. But what is unique about Drupal is that it scales from large websites to really small websites. It runs blogging websites but it also runs large media companies’ websites. It is also unique in terms of its features and functionality. Because of the Drupal community, there are tens of thousands of people actively contributing to it. We have more than 10,000 modules. Because of this, we have actually arrived at a point where we can build almost any kind of website with Drupal.
That makes your question particularly interesting because you can use Drupal for blogging, in which case we may compete with WordPress, and you can also use Drupal for creating large corporate websites, in which case we tend to compete with the proprietary enterprise software solutions. At the same time, you can use Drupal for external collaboration websites. In this case, we compete with Jive. So Drupal is unique, and unlike any other platform, it is applicable to all these different formats.
There are a few areas where Drupal shines. One of them is media and entertainment, where we see a lot of Drupal adoption. Governments would be the second area. At least in the US and Europe, we see a lot of government websites that have switched to Drupal. The White House website runs on Drupal. And I would also say education is yet another prominent sector. Somebody did some research recently and looked at the .edu domain, which is for education websites in the US. The study said that 26 per cent of the websites in this domain were running Drupal. Another report that talked about the top 100 universities around the world said that 71 of them were using Drupal. So we believe Drupal has a lot of penetration in this sector as well.
How many people are working in Acquia, and how many from the community contribute to Drupal?
Let me talk about the contributors first. If you look at Drupal Core, which is the base platform, and Drupal 7, which is the current version — Drupal core accepts patches from thousands of people. Some contribute many patches while others contribute only one or two. I mentioned about almost 10,000 modules. Each of these modules is also being maintained by the developers, and in some cases, by a group of developers. And then there are people working on other functions like organising events… so if you combine all of these people, it is literally tens of thousands helping to build, promote and grow Drupal.
Acquia, which is my company, employs 160 people. All of us help to grow Drupal. As you can see, in a community with tens of thousands of people, 160 is a relatively small share. Having said that, we have a lot of influential people in our company and we try to assign our people where the most help is needed. As a company, we are very visible and prominent contributors to the Drupal community.
Who decides on the roadmap for Drupal: the community, Acquia, or both?
It’s primarily me in my role as a community lead. I opt for a collaborative approach when I take such a call. I talk about it to the community and the company members. I travel all around the world, as I have travelled to India. I listen to people, to developers, small end-users and large end-users and I try to get a good sense of where everybody wants Drupal to go. Then, I run these ideas through different media to get the feedback of the community, at large. So, it’s a collaborative effort to design the roadmap.
You just mentioned the White House website running Drupal. When the Obama administration took the decision to switch over to Drupal, it invited a lot of criticism from all parts of the world. You chose to remain quiet at that time. Any reasons?
The fact that they opted for Drupal is a huge testament for open source, and obviously for Drupal as well, because people usually doubt open source and Drupal for its scalability. A website like the White House gets hundreds and thousands of visitors on any given date — it’s a large-scale project.
The other question people ask is whether it is secure? The fact that the White House adopted Drupal a year-and-a-half ago, and the fact that it’s been running smoothly ever since, is again a great achievement for open source. It proves that open source is at least as secure as, if not more secure than, a proprietary CMS.
What do you mean when you say ‘as secure as, if not more secure than’?
Drupal is secure for a number of reasons. First, the open source development model. By the time I come at a patch in the Drupal Core, it’s not unusual that 20-30 more people have seen it already. This is extreme pre-review, which I don’t think you can find in any proprietary software company. In a proprietary firm, at best, you can get one other person that gets close. The other reason is that we have a dedicated security team. There are almost 30-40 people on the security team, which is a much larger number than any other proprietary software company.
The third reason is Drupal’s reach. Drupal is the base of almost 2 per cent of the websites of the world. A lot of government agencies are using Drupal. Because the source code is available, what happens is that for a lot of important projects, government agencies and entrepreneurs use Drupal and conduct a formal security audit on the source code. So if you look at it, Drupal is being audited more than anything else.
The entire domain of open source is under question when it comes to security, not just Drupal. Thousands of WordPress blogs have been hacked. Even the website of the Linux Foundation went down because of the attacks. Not that proprietary software is safe, but when it comes to open source, security becomes an issue. How do you defend that?
Well, one of the important things is: since WordPress and Drupal have such a large market share, this makes them a bigger target. Besides, Drupal has been adopted by the House of Representatives in the US and several defence agencies, so it continues to get checked and reviewed on a constant basis. Drupal’s adoption is accelerating when compared to the proprietary systems. In the Indian context, I have come to know that people do not like upgrading, which is one of our major issues. Whenever sites get hacked, it’s usually because people are not upgrading.
Open source projects, in general, are doing an excellent job. If people are not applying security fixes, they are bound to be targets. That’s usually what happens. Every software has security issues. Security teams can do the best job in the world by offering security fixes, but if the users are not upgrading, they are prone to being attacked. It’s up to the users to apply those fixes. For people who do not want to upgrade but focus on the content and building the actual features of the site, hosted solutions are a good answer. At Acquia, we have a solution called Drupal Gardens — basically, software as a service, and we apply the security fixes for you.
If a Drupal user comes across a bug, how does he get that fixed?
Everything we do in Drupal is open, so you have full visibility of what’s going on. Updates are made available at different levels. Very much like the Windows update or the Mac software update feature, Drupal will tell you when new versions of modules for Drupal code are available. We tell you which bugs have been fixed. So you know why you need to upgrade.
But then, if you do not want to wait for the official releases, you can go on the Drupal website. We have an open back-tracker, by which everyone can see all the bugs as well as the status of these bugs. So you can come to know if the bug has been fixed or not. If not, you can help fix it, of course. That is the USP of open source, where you can keep track of all these things.
How do you view Alfresco as a competitor?
We almost never compete with Alfresco. In fact, we usually work together with it. At the core, Alfresco is a document management repository used to manage documents, while Drupal is a content management system. Our document management component is pretty light-weight. Organisations with more sophisticated documents needs use Alfresco and Drupal together. Alfresco manages the documents, while Drupal manages the presentation, and brings a lot of features to these documents. We actually partner. We know their management team pretty well.
So, who are your competitors?
We consider a lot of CMSs as competition. In fact, Drupal as a platform can do many things. Some people use Drupal for blogging, like myself, and we compete with WordPress. At Acquia, we focus more on the enterprises. So there we take proprietary CMSs as our competitors.
Is there one CMS that you look up to, when it comes to improving Drupal?
I think we like to learn from all these CMSs. Frankly, we have learnt from WordPress, and similarly, they have learnt a lot from us. In the open source community, I won’t say we are competing. I think we are all fighting the same battle against the proprietary software vendors. We keep learning from each other. I am good friends with the Joomla leadership and the WordPress leadership, so we share notes and our opinions on building the community. We have a lot of communication with the open source community.
How easy is it to integrate Drupal with other open source projects?
It depends on the other project, to be honest. There are a lot of integration modules available. In some cases, it may be as easy as enabling modules and configuring both systems. If a module is available, it might be very easy. It also depends on the complexity of what you want to achieve and the complexity of the other system.
You have said that if you were to start Drupal from scratch today, you would do it for the mobile rather than the desktop. Any reasons in particular, or is it just that the growing market of mobiles attracts you?
When I started Drupal about 11 years ago, there wasn’t really a mobile market. Laptops were very fancy things at that time, which is kind of a mobile device in a way. But now with hand-held devices like the mobile phone, it’s a completely new world.
Any modern CMS needs to be able to work in this multi-device world. Drupal actually does a pretty good job there. Through modules, you can do pretty much everything you want. Like there is an HTML5 module, which will change the Drupal output to HTML5. Then there are Web services modules, which enable you to build mobile applications that can run on the phone.
The reason for my statement is that, I believe, tablets and mobile phones are the future. They will be bigger consumers of websites than desktops. The other reason is that I wanted to be a little controversial to get the community to embrace the mobile, because in Drupal 8, the next version of Drupal, it’s going to be our biggest theme — just like usability was the biggest theme in Drupal 7. I want mobile devices to be the big thing in Drupal 8. So, this was more of a wake-up call to say, “Hey, this is what is coming up next.”
An insight into Durpal 8
So, what is ‘Drupal for mobile’ going to be like?
The most interesting thing about the mobile is that it’s many different things to many different people. For some people, it’s being able to experience a regular website on a phone. So for that, we need to do HTML5, because some of the features of HTML5 allow you to optimise that experience. It also means responsive design, like images that will scale based on the screen size. It also means you need to do device discovery. So it’s a long list of check-boxes.
On the flip side, for some people the mobile means native applications that run on iOS or on Android. For those things, we need a completely different set of technologies. When I say we need to do mobile, I really mean we need to do all of that. So we are evolving the Drupal architecture and we are extending its feature sets, so that Drupal can truly become one of the de facto platforms for building mobile applications. It means we have to do a lot of different things.
When are you coming up with it?
We don’t know yet. If I were to guess, I would say a year-and-a-half to two years from now. It’s a rough guess. The reason I don’t know yet is because I want Drupal 7 to take its time. I want it to be a default release. It’s gradually getting there. I want everybody to be comfortable with Drupal 7. I want all of the Drupal talent to really truly understand Drupal 7. So, I want the entire ecosystem, the entire community to fully embrace Drupal 7 before we even set a date for Drupal 8.
So, being really mobile-ready will be the highlight of version 8. Any other focus areas?
Drupal 8 will focus on a number of things. The No. 1 thing would be the mobile, as mentioned earlier. It will also bring along configuration management, which is important for a lot of large organisations. It allows them to better manage configuration changes. Drupal 8 will have more usability improvements as it’s important for both small and large users. Some enterprise features will be added to make it attractive for large organisations, for better management of their Drupal sites.
Drupal can make big money…
You said Drupal can be a big business. If you could please elaborate…
Drupal started off as a project and it is evolving now to become an industry. There are hundreds of Drupal shops all around the world. Together, it means millions of dollars. That’s what I meant when I said it can be a big business. I see it growing even more. I think it can be a multi-billion dollar industry. I would like it to grow from two per cent of the Web to hopefully ten or more per cent of the Web. For this, we need to grow the entire ecosystem. Hence, trips like these will be required.
What is the business model of Acquia?
When I started Acquia, the initial thought was to make the company supportive to Drupal as Red Hat is for Linux. We started off with the Acquia Network, just like the Red Hat Network or the JBoss network. The Acquia Network gives you commercial support with service level agreements as well as access to a number of electronic services like performance monitoring — exactly the way the Red Hat model works.
However, we quickly discovered that there are additional products that we wanted to build. So, today we have three products. Acquia Network remains the main source of revenue. The second is Acquia Cloud, a scalable hosting solution. We are able to dynamically scale Drupal websites across many servers. In addition to the elasticity, we have also developed a lot of tools that help you manage Drupal websites; so you get source-code-management tools, and you get development staging and production environments. So it’s a complete solution to help you manage Drupal sites, from hosting to development tools, to support. And then we have Drupal Gardens, software as a service, which is a fully hosted solution. It is targeted at enterprises that want to build micro-sites, and small and medium enterprise businesses. So these are the three products.
And then we have a consulting practice as well, where we do architecture advice, security audits, performance scalability audits and training. Training is a big issue, particularly in India, where we have found a lot of interest from the community.
All these deployments in India or in the US are through partners, or does Acquia do them itself?
We, as a company, don’t build websites ourselves. We always work with partners. Sometimes the partners come to us with a lead, like, “Here is a customer and we would like you to be involved in providing some expert services.” Sometimes, customers come to us, and we go and find the partners, depending upon the need. We basically do the match-making in these cases.
For some of the customers, the location of the partner is not important, but their specifications are primary. In that case, we keep in mind their demands and find them a suitable partner with the defined expertise. Like in some cases, the customers want to have partners who have done a lot of government projects — while for others, the requirement may be that the partner should have an office in their base city. Whatever the case may be, we find them the right partner, depending upon their demands.
So, essentially, we have partners involved in the website building. We have over 300 partners around the world. We intend to expand the partner network considerably next year, not just in India, but in other countries around the world. We get a good number of queries on our website from customers, which we pass on to our partners to be attended to.
Drupal and India…
How do you plan to expand your training program in India?
We have already been doing some training in India. One of the reasons for this trip is to understand the state of Drupal in India and what the needs of the community here are. One of the things we have discovered from the interactions we had is the strong desire for training, both from small Drupal shops and the large SIs. Everybody has expressed a desire to get expert training in Drupal. We work with a lot of training partners as well. We have a lot of small Drupal shops. We have found that the demand for trained Drupal professionals does not match the supply at all.
So do you offer a certification course for Drupal?
Right now, we have some full-time staff at Acquia to build and maintain the training curriculum. We provide expert training in all Drupal aspects. We are using that training material and sharing it with all our partners. We are also training the trainers effectively. We help our partners impart that training, because we feel it is more scalable and that’s how we can reach thousands of Drupal people. We do not have any formal certification in place, but I think that it is only a matter of time before either we do that as a company, or someone else from the community does it. At some point of time, the demand for Drupal and its adoption will be so large that this will become a necessity.
So how do you plan to scale up training in India?
If you look at North America and Europe, Drupal basically grew there for two reasons. First, a lot of developers and engineers working for bigger organisations started organising Drupal meetups and camps. That’s one of the things I would want to promote here. One of the main reasons of this trip is that we want to help people organise these camps. We are also trying to take the “top-to-down approach”. We are meeting up with the partners and exploring possibilities as to how can they take it up more effectively. We already have 8-10 stronger partners and we are also working with larger SIs. Some of them are doing architecture work, development work and training. So we already have 2-3 training partners in India.
Have you set any target regarding how many people you plan to train in a given period?
We are here to gauge how big the domain really is. We would like to work with as many Indian partners as possible. Clearly, there is a demand for thousands of trained Drupal professionals. Now we have to see how to cater to that kind of demand. This is the reason why Drupal training in India is so important. The biggest challenge is to find Drupal developers and trained Drupal professionals. This is one of the biggest hindrances for the growth of Drupal adoption in India, so there is a huge opportunity for every engineer in India to get involved in Drupal.
What did you like most about the open source community in India and what do you find lacking here?
First, I have had some great experiences with the community in India. While in Delhi, we expected a hundred people and almost 250 showed up, which is awesome. It shows that there is real interest in Drupal and a passion amongst the people for open source. Yet another thing worth talking about is that, for the first time, 10 or more Drupal companies from Delhi came together. They got an opportunity to share their best practices. The positive thing is that they are starting to come together as a community. I have seen such a scenario before — that’s why I know what the result of this will be. I am very excited to see the early momentum of the community.
Might sound like a really strange question, but I’m just curious — how many visits do you see from India on drupal.org?
Last time I checked, which has been a couple of months ago, Indians were actually the second biggest group of visitors to the Drupal website. I am sure they still are. The first group was North Americans. The Indian traffic for Drupal continues to grow, which is one of the major reasons why we are here. We saw the interest from the Drupal community.
What about Drupal’s physical presence in India?
With this visit, we will gauge the temperature of Drupal in India. We will take some time to decide whether we need a presence in India or if our presence will help the Drupal community in some way. We have understood so far that it will clearly help if we have some people in India.
Google has recently launched a service where it facilitates SMEs. The company plans to develop about 500,000 websites for SMEs in India. Users just need to go to an online location, where they can create their website in three simple steps. Does this kind of a format, coming from a giant, pose a challenge for Drupal?
It’s hard to tell what its impact will be, right now. I have heard about it but not tried it. But I can imagine it allows you to create pretty basic websites. I think where Drupal will shine is in building more sophisticated and feature-rich websites. A lot of SMEs will actually find that at some point in time, they would like to use all of those features.
The Google platform is good to bring people onto the Web, to get them to see and feel the initial benefits of the Web — but I guess at some point, they would want more. And hopefully, once they want more, they would naturally be attracted to Drupal. So I am not sure if I can call this competition for Drupal. In a way it is, but at the same time it will also introduce so many people to the Web, who can later resort to Drupal. So I think it will eventually be a benefit for Drupal.
India already has 100 million Internet users. I see it as an opportunity for Drupal to flourish in India. And also, Drupal has never been good for minimal websites. People never use Drupal to build a five-page static website. So I believe it could be quite an opportunity for us.
Dries & Open Source…
What do you think of open source as an individual?
Every piece of my body strongly believes in open source. I think open source is a better development model. I think open source is an opportunity to disrupt a lot of software technologies, specifically those which I would describe as commodity technologies, for example, websites. There are millions of websites and I think open source can be a real game-changer. The other example is operating systems. Millions of people use operating systems. Because of its reach, I think open source can be very disruptive. That’s been proven with Linux, obviously.
As far as proprietary software is concerned, it will always exist, especially in certain niche areas. Like if it’s a project amongst 100 people, it will not be feasible to apply the open source development model to such a project. Open source matters where there is scalability involved.
Yet the market share of open source is pretty small. What exactly hinders the growth of open source technologies?
I think it depends on how you measure things. Like in the mobile space, open source definitely has much more of a role in the form of Android. But it usually comes down to marketing, frankly. The typical open source community is good at engineering solutions but doesn’t necessarily have the same marketing strength. Marketing is really required to help push the technology to the masses. With time and the advent of technology, I see the fear of security subsiding and this will give open source a much-desired boost. It will get accelerated in the next three years.
What are the real challenges in the implementation of open source technology and how can one overcome them?
Things like documentation come to my mind when I try to look for so-called drawbacks. I think open source projects don’t always have good documentation. It depends on the stage of the projects also. Bigger projects have documentation but when it comes to small open source projects, the documentation is clearly an issue.
Few criticisms & fact checks
Is Drupal difficult for users?
Drupal has a bit of a reputation of being hard to use, as compared to WordPress, Joomla and other enterprise solutions. That criticism is, in a way, correct — and we have worked on it too. Starting from Drupal 7, we have tried to simplify things. It is much easier to use now, but this does not mean we will stop in our efforts. We will continue to invest in usability. Drupal 8 will be an answer. We want to lower the barrier.
Does Drupal hate changes?
No, not at all. It’s funny, because Drupal enjoys the reputation of being a CMS that changes the most. As compared to WordPress and Joomla, we change backward compatibility. We are always changing our APIs and our architecture. In Drupal 7, we made so many fundamental architectural changes. Unlike any other open source CMS, we embrace change.
Is Drupal disorganised?
Well, I think all open source projects are — and that’s the beauty of open source! I think it’s the nature of the beast, as all open source projects have thousands of volunteers all around the world. It’s pretty hard to organise those numbers of people. I think this is a strength because there are people always working on Drupal and improving it. It’s a huge advantage, but it’s also an interesting challenge. But I don’t say it’s a bad challenge. It’s a fun kind of a challenge. It looks like chaos, but the creativity that comes out of it is really amazing. The fact that it is disorganised makes it accessible.