Start-Ups

How Acquia brought Drupal to the enterprise

Drupal has long been one of the most popular open source communities on the web. Here's how Acquia helped make it enterprise ready.

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Acquia CEO Tom Erickson (left) sits with Acquia co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert (right).
Image: Acquia

Dries Buytaert built what would become the open source software Drupal in his dorm room at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. What started as an experiment to build an intranet message board for his friends eventually turned into the open source software behind Drupal, and launched in 2001.

Drupal quickly grew, now boasts more than one million participants in its open source community online. In addition to a spike in individual users, Buytaert began to see an uptick in Drupal adoption by big businesses and large nonprofit organizations.

While working on his research dissertation, Buytaert began providing support to companies that had adopted the Drupal software. He recalled one particular evening when, after he was approached by a company in the UK for help, he spent the entire night working to resolve the issues it was having.

"That was my ah-ha moment," Buytaert said. "I realized there was a big opportunity to help organizations accelerate their adoption of Drupal and be successful."

Buytaert founded Acquia with Jay Batson in 2007 after the pair were introduced by Michael Skok, a partner at North Bridge Venture Networks. Acquia provides enterprise products, services, and support for Drupal, with the goal of accelerating Drupal adoption among enterprise users. Currently, Acquia works with brands such as Pinterest, Mercedes Benz, Warner Music Group, and Stanford University.

Along with businesses and nonprofits, governmental sites now run on Drupal too. The official White House site has a Drupal initiative, and Acquia published a case study on data.gov.uk, an open data project started by the UK government.

While some enterprises are hesitant to embrace open source, Buytaert believes that the collaborative software development it provides is what has kept Acquia innovative. His hope is that Acquia can be a role model for entrepreneurs with similar aspirations.

The product set

Acquia's product set aims help enterprises successfully use Drupal. The company's offerings begin with Acquia Cloud, the company's platform-as-a-service that provides cloud solutions and development tools. Buytaert said that it includes pre-built testing solutions, an API for creating custom tests, and a tool called Acquia Insight.

Acquia Insight is a QA tool that assesses your website's code to help you make sure there are no lulls in performance or security. If it comes across a potential issue, it will notify the customer of an area that can be improved upon. In some cases, it may automatically resolve the issues it detects.

To help customers get started quickly, Acquia promotes the use of Drupal Distributions. These distributions are packed solutions that contain features and functions for a specific kind of site, such as an eCommerce site, in a single download that also contains Drupal core software. Instead of downloading, installing, and configuring site elements individually, users can download them as a package and set it all up in a few steps.

Acquia also offers engagement tools with its product Lift, a search tool with Acquia Search, support through Acquia Subscription, and other versions of its cloud tools, including one dedicated to commerce. Mark Kramer, head of digital technology at Pac-12 Networks, uses many of Acquia's products in his stack.

"It really cuts down the amount of time we spend on dev ops," Kramer said. "We like a dev ops style approach to deploying our software, but we don't like having to build out all the tooling to do that. You get a lot of that out of the box with Acquia."

Kramer said that Pac-12 Networks uses Acquia Cloud and Acquia Search, along with a few other Acquia tools in its deployment. He said his team wants to spend its time building out functionality so that they can focus on giving Pac 12 fans the content they want, and Acquia helps them spend more time on that.

The state of the business

Acquia works with roughly 4,000 organizations worldwide and has experienced revenue growth for the past 21 consecutive quarters. Deloitte recently named Acquia the fastest-growing private company on the 2013 Deloitte Technology Fast 500. According to Skok, the company has grown because it is willing to rebuild its product.

"Every release of Drupal, Dries [Buytaert] was willing to break the architecture to avoid an innovator's dilemma," Skok said. An innovator's dilemma, being a situation in which an innovator focuses too heavily on the customer needs at present, failing to build a business model that will meet future needs.

Acquia raised $50 million in its latest financing round in May 2014, bringing the company's total capital raised to $118.6 million. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) led the round with participation from North Bridge Venture Partners and other notable firms. A few months later, in August, Amazon announced an investment in Acquia, as well.

In addition to adding capital, the company added new talent to its executive team. Bill Sorenson was recently appointed to CFO and Michael Cayer was recently appointed to general counsel, both are known for taking companies public. Buytaert didn't mention if any exit options were currently on the table for Acquia, but Skok said, "It's also in a position where it can choose when to go public."

Buytaert said that, in 2015, the company will continue investing in the cloud platform and extending the capabilities of its tools for engagement. He also mentioned a renewed focus on website customization and commerce.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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