In the decade since its quiet emergence onto the scene, Drupal has become an industry standard in the web content management and web publishing field, one with an almost cult-like following among developers.
With its sophisticated, easy-to-use Drupal Core system and thousands of modules for additional customization, Drupal has something to offer everyone, whether you’re a high-performance development team or a small business owner who doesn’t know the first thing about Web Content Management Systems (Web CMS).
The rise of Drupal has led companies of all sizes to consider it for their content management needs, and for good reason. Its open source nature makes it incredibly cost-effective, while its options for customization are unmatched for flexibility.
But there’s a catch.
Despite its attractiveness, several myths have sprung up around Drupal, and though the years since its introduction have helped clear up some of these myths, others have only become more ubiquitous. The same open source nature that makes Drupal a cost-effective option, combined with the sheer number of modules available for customization, has led to the perception of Drupal as an anarchic “Wild West” for developers, one without any guiding direction, and therefore a risky investment for companies looking to harness it for their website development.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In this article, I’ll dispel three of the most commonly-held myths around Drupal and its uses, offering up reasons why rather than adhering to the misconception of Drupal as the Wild West, companies should strongly consider it as their CMS of choice -- when it fits their business objectives.
Myth #1: It Lacks Support
Because Drupal is an open-source framework, one not produced or offered by a well-established entity like Mozilla, many companies believe that once they adopt it as their CMS, they’re on their own. To many, the proprietary nature of solutions like Microsoft’s SharePoint mean they’re getting more than just software -- they’re getting an established, multi-billion-dollar support system to aid in the customization of their sites and troubleshooting in the event of any problems.
Drupal, as they see it, has none of this support. Sure, it has plenty of enthusiastic users, but how is that going to help if something goes wrong during development, or if features aren’t configured correctly? And if they’ve brought on a partner to aid in development, what happens when the engagement ends? Once again, they’re on their own without a safety net.
Why is this a myth? Because support for Drupal is nowhere near nonexistent -- in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Although Drupal is dedicated to the idea of community, this particular community has dedicated resources for supporting all facets of the development process. Many companies, a number of which are conveniently linked on the Drupal website, have built their entire business models on supporting and managing Drupal development efforts. And many of these companies are available 24/7 to aid and support every facet of the process.
Beyond this, Drupal has a thriving and growing community of enthusiasts, and options for support go far beyond just call center help. Hundreds of online and local groups have sprung up around the framework, many of which hold regular events and meet-ups to discuss anything and everything Drupal-related. Additionally, plenty of other online resources are available, including chat options, blogs (all conveniently aggregated on the Drupal website under “Planet Drupal”).
With Drupal, companies are getting much more than just software. They’re getting all the support they could hope for (and probably more), in addition to one of the most flexible and cost-effective CMS platforms on the market.
Myth #2: It’s Not Secure
For those larger companies looking to implement Drupal, security is, of course, a major concern, and here again the myth around Drupal support rears its ugly head. A company like Microsoft, for example, is well-known for the efforts it puts into fixing holes in its applications and systems, with a dedicated team monitoring 24/7 and issuing regular patches to fix newly-discovered flaws.
For a larger organization concerned about the security of its corporate data, the prospect of choosing a system that lacks this kind of resource can seem at best a risk and at worst, unthinkable.
But fear not. Just as Drupal has a thriving community of groups, committees and resources all dedicated to supporting and aiding in the development process, it also has a community dedicated to identifying and plugging any security holes in the framework, making it just as secure as some of the most widely-used proprietary solutions out there.
This doesn’t mean, however, that companies don’t need to do their homework when it comes to security and Drupal, or that securing your Drupal initiative can be done on the cheap. Companies need to look for partners who understand the ins and outs of Drupal security and development, and can help them leverage their Drupal investments in such a way that they understand the concerns around security, and do what needs to be done to ensure it.
Myth #3: It’s Slow
The third and final myth regarding Drupal that I’ll address has to do with its performance. For years, Drupal has been perceived as sluggish, and though steps have been taken to address this in subsequent releases of the product, the perception is still that it can be too slow for companies to gain any real value from it.
This particular issue is less black-and-white than the myths around security and support. The reality is that Drupal can be slower than other CMS frameworks, but this sluggishness comes with a caveat -- Drupal is only slow if you’re using it for purposes that don’t play to its strengths. Like the best software platforms, Drupal was built with specific purposes in mind, and it’s only when companies look to overextend these uses that performance issues come into play.
So just what are some ideal uses of Drupal? Generally speaking, Drupal is effective in scenarios where content delivery, analytics and individuals’ interactions are key requirements of the proposed solution. Examples can include: digital eMarketing branded and non-branded websites, educational portals, primary corporate websites, community portals and social applications.
When is Drupal not ideal? Again, generally speaking, Drupal can be an ineffective framework for purpose-built web applications, those in which critical and complex business rules are at the heart of the solution. The high level of customization required, along with the small number of out-of-the-box Drupal features being used, will probably not justify the usage of Drupal for those cases.
That isn’t to say that the Drupal framework can’t be customized for those solutions as well -- it’s just not ideal, and this is where complaints about the platform’s sluggishness are heard most regularly.
When looking to develop more complex websites and applications (beyond those that leverage the Drupal Core), here again my recommendation would be to enlist a development partner who understands the ins and outs of Drupal, one that has experience with overcoming the system’s performance limitations to develop and integrate sites that perform at the optimal level to meet business goals. Working with an experienced partner will help ensure companies to know they’re getting the most value from their development efforts, and that these efforts are having real, tangible impact on their businesses.
The myths about Drupal’s performance, security and lack of support have existed for too long, and it’s important for companies to understand the truths about development in Drupal so they can make educated decisions about whether it’s right for their businesses.
More important, however, is for companies, once they have made the decision to leverage Drupal for their projects, to look to its community of supporters and seek to partner with those companies that understand its strengths and weaknesses. Only then will they be able to fully leverage its potential as a tool to best meet their development needs.
As with most Web CMS platforms, the fact is that Drupal isn’t optimal for every website, and it’s not for every company. That said, its advantages in terms of flexibility, customizability and cost savings are tough to beat, and some of the leading companies in the world have capitalized on these benefits to reap real, significant business value.