Acquia: Just Another Cloud Hosting Provider? Think Again

7 minute read
Barb Mosher Zinck avatar

Some say Acquia is just another cloud infrastructure provider. Some question its position on analysts' lists for WCM software when they don't actually sell any. But with Drupal as its underlying web content management platform, Acquia has big plans, and everyone should be paying attention.

Getting to Know Acquia

If you want a good picture of who Acquia is and where it's headed, just ask Tom Wentworth, its Chief Marketing Officer. Wentworth tells a compelling story.

In 2012, Acquia was ranked #1 by the Inc 500 as the fastest growing software vendor (it ranked 8th overall). 2013 shows a similar theme ranking them at #8 for software vendors and 109th overall. It's impressive to see the company grow from revenues of US$ 1.4 million in 2009 to over US$ 24 million just 5 years later. This rapid growth Wentworth told me is only going to continue. With annual earnings growing 50% year over year from last year, Wentworth said Acquia is growing as fast as marketing automation vendor Marketo (and we all know what Marketo did this year).

Actively driving towards its own IPO in 2014, Acquia is making a number of changes, both management and product/service wise. In terms of management, it recently added former Buddy Media CFO, Dennis Morgan as its new CFO. Morgan was there when Buddy Media was acquired by Salesforce in April of 2012.

As interesting as all this financial and IPO talk is, let's get down to the nitty gritty of why people talk about Acquia -- its Drupal-based hosting business.

Acquia's Cloud is More Than Just a Cloud

What makes Acquia successful? Wentworth points to two dimensions in its business:

  1. It has the right products/offerings for organizations using Drupal. The target here is Global 2000 organizations. Acquia has solid customer penetration in this target group.
  2. It proactively exposes Drupal's market opportunity for enterprise deployments. 

 Wentworth said that Acquia's future growth lies in doing two things:

  • Providing solutions that compliment what it already does (we'll break this down shortly)
  • Going head to head with Adobe and Sitecore for replatforming projects

Ninety nine percent of the time, if an enterprise is using Drupal, it's using Acquia. Now that's Wentworth's number, I can't back that up. But it does stand to reason that large organizations using an open source web content management platform are going to want to ensure it has official support for it -- and that's where Acquia comes in. 

Acquia has a set of core products. They are, Wentworth points out, a software company. And they have a support and services offering.  Let's take a close look:

Acquia Cloud

This is Acquia's primary offering. It is the Drupal platform as a service. Acquia Cloud is for organizations that want Drupal and all the security, scalability and availability that comes with it. But it's even more. It provides the workflow behind creating and managing a Drupal site. 

As most know, the traditional model for developing web applications (or any application really) is laid out as development, to staging, to production. You are able to manage Drupal as an application as well, so you have the workflow that will help you manage it if it goes down. You don't see that model in a lot of hosted offerings. It's a key selling point for this cloud. 

It's also good to point out that Acquia Cloud is PAAS -- platform as a service. So it provides the underlying infrastructure for an organizations that uses Drupal. The actual distribution of Drupal (and according to Wentworth there are 20 or more major distributions) is up to the organization. 

To get an idea of what you get with the Acquia Cloud, Acquia recently announced a free version that allows developers to learn to use the workflow and deployment tools between development and staging. That's the catch with this free version -- there is no production site. This is a sandbox for playing and testing new features. Great option for anyone learning Drupal. It's also a great selling tool for organizations that like to try before they buy.

Acquia Network

The Acquia Network is the second big offering from Acquia. This is a set of tools that help you keep your site running, in either the Acquia Cloud or your own network. It provides application assurance for Drupal environments. There are a few tools here including:

  • Insights: Runs 100+ data points for realtime analysis and alerts on your Drupal environment
  • SEO Grader: Suggests improvements for Drupal sites to improve organic traffic
  • Search: A Solr/Lucene based search engine

The Acquia Network is available to anyone.

Learning Opportunities

Wentworth told me that Acquia does not sell a hardened version of Drupal (similar to what Red Hat does with Linux). The company thought about it, but the Drupal community didn't want it. It does have its own distribution of Drupal through, and everything it does is put back into the community -- like Spark (an authoring environment) and Drupal Commons. This work, Wentworth said, is monetized through its primary offerings.

It also has the Acquia Drupal Desktop, a tool to help get Drupal up and running.

The Web Experience/Customer Experience Market

Acquia's goal is to achieve dominant market share in the enterprise web content management market. This puts them directly into the path of major CXM vendors Adobe and Sitecore. Wentworth said that when Acquia goes into short-list phase it always sees a Java platform (Adobe), a .NET platform (Sitecore) and an open source offering (Acquia/Drupal). 

Acquia is what is driving Drupal. It is playing the role of vendor and facing the challenge of getting Drupal in front of the right people. When asked if there is still a debate on open source vs proprietary, Wentworth admitted it's not the battle it used to be. In some ways it's more a challenge of skillset -- many organizations have Java and .NET in house. For many organizations open source is not an issue -- the issue is getting the best product for their needs.

So how does Acquia win this battle for market share? It's through solutions like Site Factory and Drupal Commons. These are distributions of Drupal that solve a specific problem.

Drupal Commons is an open source alternative to Jive Software, and Acquia has been going after this market hot and heavy for a while now. 

Site Factory is essentially an internal version of Drupal Gardens, a SaaS-based web content management service. Formerly known as Enterprise Drupal Gardens, Site Factory resolves some of the issues related to customization and infrastructure. Site Factory is very similar to what Scott Liewehr talked about last year when we discussed the true value of SaaS Web CMS software: taking this idea of a SaaS WCM offering to an organization allowing departments, or divisions to easily spin up their own websites, campaign sites, while still having some level of governance. 

In the end, Acquia has its work cut out for it, taking on a vendor as big as Adobe. I wouldn't say it's impossible, there are many who find Adobe expensive and difficult to work with (as I am sure there are organizations who will say the same about Sitecore and Acquia).

But Acquia is on a smart trajectory. It has a web content management platform under its wing with a strong community support system that will ensure the platform continues to evolve and get better. It has a cloud hosting model that offers capabilities you don't see with some of the other cloud hosting platforms. And it had some sharp talent behind it in the form of Dries Buytaert, creator of Drupal and co-founder of Acquia. 

This is nothing if not an interesting space to watch evolve. And we'll be watching. Closely.