Building an enterprise Drupal, Acquia style

Take a million downloads and a huge community and what do you get? Acquia, if you're lucky.

Acquia

What do you do with 2,000,000 downloads and a 100% growth rate? With 240,000 members of your community and 900-plus developers (a number that doubled in 2007)?

You'd start Acquia, that's what you'd do. Or, at least, that's what North Bridge Venture Partners did, and the company looks to have a huge opportunity before it. I spent some time with Jeff Whatcott, vice president of Marketing at Acquia, to get more detail on the company and its launch of its products.

First off, however, I just had to know:

Does Acquia compete with Microsoft Sharepoint?

This is bigger than Sharepoint. Sharepoint is primarily behind-the-firewall collaboration. Drupal can be used for this, but Drupal's real sweet spot today is outside-the-firewall social publishing, or collaboration.

Everyone is getting into social publishing. Web content management software, web application frameworks, and social media software are all converging into social publishing. You see all sorts of different content-related industries adding collaborative features. We don't really spend much time worrying about competitors: we worry about how to help customers build collaborative content sites.

OK, so what, exactly, are you releasing?

Acquia

Acquia is following closely on the model developed and embraced by Red Hat and other leading open-source companies:

  • Carbon - First commercially supported release of Drupal;
  • Spokes - Update notification service (First iteration of its Network offering);
  • Plus we're offering a variety of subscription levels based on SLAs to complement Carbon and Spokes.

Drupal has a huge community of over 240,000 members. Acquia, if it plays its cards right, will benefit from this. What are the benefits and challenges of starting with a community first?

First and foremost, there is very little technical risk for prospective customers if there's an existing community around the product. You know that there must be great technology behind it or no one would build a community around it. It also means we have a built-in community of potential customers, which makes the marketing job much easier.

On the challenges side, we can't just show up and expect people to immediately respect what we're doing. A community is about people and relationships. We have to earn credibility with the community.

Acquia
We've stressed with people in the Drupal community that Acquia is not Drupal and Drupal is not Acquia. We are members of the Drupal community, and hope to be valuable members of that community.

As part of this, we have tried to bring people from the Drupal community into Acquia, starting with Dries, Drupal's founder. This is good for us, but also good for Drupal as it allows these developers to work on Drupal full-time and improve it. We're showing up to the community with code, not words.

What are the primary things prospective customers are asking for?

Support and accountability are the two primary requirements that prospective customers are asking Acquia to deliver. Today companies have to hire a Drupal expert to get accountability, which isn't necessarily easy as such experts are in short supply and are located all over the planet.

The other thing that they want is someone to tell them what works. In Drupal there's a core and there's 1,800-plus independently developed modules, each with their own development cycle, their own maintainers, etc. Having someone sift through these modules and provide "editorial value-add," in addition to testing and such, to the Drupal community is something for which enterprises will pay.

There's a great opportunity for adding fit and finish to Drupal and its modules. There are a lot of modules developed for Drupal that aren't well integrated with Drupal. For a Drupal expert, these aren't difficult problems to solve. But most customers don't want to be Drupal experts, per se. They just want a collaboration system that works. We can help with that.


Indeed. I wasn't sure how big the Acquia opportunity would be when I first heard about it from Dries, but it looks like a great opportunity for the company and for the Drupal community. I wish them the best of luck.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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