Acquia’s Lightning distribution is designed to make it easier for enterprises to deploy Drupal to deliver their online presence.
Drupal 8 is yet to achieve the popularity of Drupal 7, but the most recent edition of the open source web platform is already helping deliver the digital presence of some of the world’s largest enterprises, according to John Kennedy.
Kennedy is a product manager for Acquia — the company founded by Drupal creator Dries Buytaert — and has spearheaded one of the company’s key initiatives to smooth the path to Drupal 8 enterprise adoption: The development of a Drupal distribution dubbed Lightning.
In a sense Drupal 8 adoption has been “faster and slower” when compared to Drupal 7, Kennedy argued. After its January 2011 release, Drupal 7 experienced exponential adoption, helping boost the CMS to more than a million installs by early 2014.
As of 1 January this year, Drupal.org figures generated by the platform’s Update Status module (which are limited to Drupal installs with that module enabled) show just shy of 110,000 sites running 8.x, compared to more than 950,000 running 7.x.
“If you just looked at Drupal.org you would say, ‘Ah Drupal 8 is hovering around 100,000 installs online and that is not keeping pace with what’s happened with Drupal 7’,” Kennedy said.
“After six months, Drupal 7 went through this exponential rise in number of sites and kept going until it hit about a million sites. Drupal 8 isn’t doing that — but if you look at the companies that are adopting Drupal and the size of Drupal sites, it’s completely changed.”
“We now, more than ever, have more of the top Forbes 2000 companies and Drupal 8 is taking over the Alexa 10,000 and the top ranking sites for big companies,” Kennedy said.
“It’s really changed the market [Drupal] works in and it’s changed who we’re competing against. We’re really competing against Adobe and Sitecore and the other people in the top right [of the] Gartner WCM Magic Quadrant.”
At the same time, Kennedy said what he describes as “legacy CMS providers” are dropping off. “IBM has their own WCM that they’re not using for Ibm.com, which is a sign of the times,” he said.
Nestle is an example of a global enterprise that has chosen Drupal for content management and is now shifting onto Drupal 8, Kennedy said. Nestle chose the platform for its Digital Services Unit to deliver thousands of sites to business units around the world.
Nestle originally used Drupal 7 on Acquia’s cloud-based Site Factory service but has begun to use Drupal 8 courtesy of Lightning, Kennedy said.
Kennedy stood up a team to build Lightning in October 2015, with development starting in November of that year. The distribution was formally released in July 2016, with Acquia pitching it as “the perfect starter kit for Drupal 8, bringing together critical functionality for enterprise-scale delivery of digital experiences”.
Running in parallel with work on Lightning was the Module Acceleration Program: An Acquia-funded effort to port a range of key Drupal 7 modules to Drupal 8. Kennedy also oversaw MAP.
“There were a lot of modules we thought would be important for Drupal 8 adoption and [for] the successful launch of an enterprise authoring edition of Drupal, which is Lightning,” he said.
“So as well as starting the development of Lightning, Acquia committed $500,000 to funding community members to accelerate the transition of their modules from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, and then also build a couple of new modules as well.”
MAP funded work on 47 modules, including 26 that found their way into Lightning.
“The key value of Lightning is that we take those 26 modules and put them together in a working configuration,” Kennedy said.
“In Drupal 7 there was a lot of fear, uncertainty, doubt around distributions,” he added. “There’s some really brilliant out-of-the-box distributions like Open Atrium that give people an idea of what a distribution is. But Lightning is very different to an out-of-the-box distribution. It’s a framework distribution that tries to be unopinionated about most of your development.”
“Our principles are that we don’t put anything in Lightning that a developer going to have to undo,” Kennedy said.
“We’re really building for the 80 per cent of builds in enterprise; so all of Acquia’s customers when they build on Drupal 8 they start with Lightning if they’re building through our professional services team, and more and more of our partners are starting with Lightning now as well.”
The core functions contained in Lightning — drag and drop layout support, media management, content workflow and preview — are relevant to almost any large enterprise with a digital presence, Kennedy added.
Kennedy said that a key selling point of the distribution is the team’s commitment to an upgrade path for all the modules it incorporates.
“We’re really saying, you don’t have to worry about these modules as they upgrade or as their functionality goes into core — we’re going to give you an upgrade path so you don’t have to think about it,” he said.
Kennedy argued that using Lightning could cut a Drupal project’s initial development time by reducing the effort spent choosing and configuring modules to implement baseline functionality needed by the majority of enterprises, allowing a team to concentrate on bolting-on modules required to deliver less-common features. It also cuts ongoing maintenance costs, he said.
“And also it means as Lightning upgrades you get the ability to turn on new functionality for free,” he added. “You upgrade Lightning, there’s something new, you decide to turn it on. Suddenly your authors can do something new, which is pretty fantastic.”