To build or borrow a CMS

Back in the early days of content management system (CMS) development, before there were any clear market leaders, developers had a genuine quandary: build or borrow. It was a valid question back in 2005 or so, around the time that Knectar was building a track record and momentum as a leading web development company in Western Massachusetts.

A home-grown CMS is one in which the site is built from the ground up using a language such as PHP, Ruby on Rails, Python, or a .NET based language. The system is built from original requirements, all the way down the to last details of workflow, page creation, and the administrative user model.

The advantage of these home-grown systems over a “borrowed” one were that we could deliver a fully tailor-made system that provided no more and no less than our client’s specific needs. And as the original developers, we had full ownership of every detail of the code. This was in contrast to the ramp-up and learning required to inherit a system such as Drupal.

The downsides of home-grown website builds

Unfortunately, as any organization that has experienced the pains of “vendor lock-in” knows all too well, there are many downsides for clients depending on a home-grown system for their business-critical web infrastructure. To name the most concerning:

Vendor lock-in, i.e., the dependence on an original developer or development firm for updates, extensions, and maintenance.

Far preferable for organizations is to minimize such dependency, and maintain maximum flexibility as it relates to sourcing development services. Open source systems such as Drupal address this inherently, given that they are supported by global communities of developers with a shared knowledge base.

Huge cost to maintain. While it is in theory possible to transition home-grown systems from the original developers (i.e., inventors), whether transferred or not, these systems tend to get more expensive to maintain over time. Unlike open source systems, which are continuously evolving with new features and security improvements, home-grown systems are, by their nature, complex and expensive to upgrade.

Still, back in the day, when there was no clear leader in the world of open source content management systems, these downsides to home-grown systems  weren’t so obvious. And “betting” on a CMS might mean making a major investment (in the form of learning curve, talent recruitment, etc.), in the “wrong” or “losing” platform. So based on this ambiguity, we joined the ranks of home-grown system developers and crafted a range of systems—some .NET based, others pure XML driven, light CMS models (like CushyCMS) among other schemas—all to solve the ubiquitous challenges of content management and publication.

But in our hearts (and business minds), we knew that the solution lay within open source, and we needed to make a tough decision. Ultimately, after research and experimentation with a number of leading platforms that were gaining traction at the time, we landed on Drupal (back in Drupal 4.7 days!).

What were our criteria in choosing an open source CMS?

As a web development company, choosing a framework becomes critical. That’s why a range of criteria went into our decision to go with Drupal. Here is what we looked for in (roughly) increasing order of importance for us:

Active, innovative community support: It was essential for us to build our business and key CMS technology around the premise that the platform had a broad, global community of creative and talented developers. As Drupal’s adoption has grown and the platform has evolved, the community has grown in parallel. Because of its strong and clever engineering community, Drupal is known for leading the way in terms of feature expansion and incorporating new and best practices as they emerge.

Light, open source hosting and database requirements: Unlike other leading platforms of the time that were .NET or Java based, Drupal runs on multiple hosting infrastructures (Apache, Nginx, Microsoft IIS), and in recent versions has expanded to a variety of database back-ends as well (MySQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, and SQLite). So, just as utilization of Drupal avoids the risks of proprietary or system lock-in, it also remains platform-agnostic. In this way, organizations don’t need to adjust their infrastructures to support Drupal.

Security: It was  critical for us to ensure that the platform was secure, and would be continuously “hardened” against hacking and cyber attacks. The global community based security model advocated and enforced by the Drupal Security Team fit this bill to a T.

Design flexibility and responsive or mobile support: Drupal’s theming engine is incredibly flexible. Whether leveraging one of the many strong “starter themes” or building a custom theme from the ground up, Drupal sites continue to win awards for design. It has been years since Knectar has built a non-responsive Drupal site, and we consider it a baseline requirement for new builds or upgrades.

Content re-usability, flexible architecture, and extensibility: Possibly more than anything else, Drupal has been, since the very early days, an exciting platform for creative engineers to work with . The innovations around custom content types, views, and templating systems appeal both to developers and clients alike. Unlike competing CMS’s, Drupal at its heart (and soul!) encourages web design innovation as it relates to information architecture, and efficient re-use and repurposing of content across a variety of contexts. In other words, by “abstracting” the essential content types, Drupal allows content publishers to promote, cross-post, relate, and filter content with minimal development effort like no other system. While other systems mimic this attribute, Drupal continues to lead the way.

Drupal continues to rule web development

Drupal continues to grow and gain adoption across many industries and sectors.

Universities: Drupal is the de facto standard among higher education and universities. Notable examples include:

Corporate and enterprise: Large corporations as well as small to medium-sized businesses continue to reap the benefits of Drupal. For example:

Non-profits: Because of its low barrier to entry (open source code is free for re-use), non-profits have been enjoying the benefits of Drupal for years, notably: