In the Briefing Room: Acquia Drupal

Open source software comes in a variety of options, from the completely free downloads that require technical expertise to make them useable to commercial open source offerings for which support and implementation services are available from the vendor.  As with many things in life, with open source software the buyer typically gets what he pays for.  If an organization chooses to implement an open source solution on its own, it can expect to either put in a significant amount of time and effort, or hire another company to do the heavy lifting.  Commercial open software vendors such as Alfresco, Hippo, or Nuxeo specialize in a single open source project, and step in to provide support and integration services.  Other commercial open source vendors, such as Bluenog, take multiple open source projects and prepackage them as a platform, in addition to providing the aforementioned support services.

A relatively new entrant in the commercial open source field is Acquia, founded in 2007.   The company released its primary offering, Acquia Drupal, in September 2008.  Essentially, Acquia has taken the well-regarded open source Drupal content management system and positioned itself as a kind of guide for organizations that are looking to or have already deployed the Drupal system.  Acquia offers subscription-based services for support and partners with Drupal developers.

Acquia Drupal provides a convenient starting point for Drupal deployment by prepackaging a group of modules that include blogs, forums, social networking, vote and rating, mashups, and wikis.  The included modules are from Drupal 6, the Drupal development community, and Acquia.  Users can download the modules and quickly set up a Drupal site via a wizard-driven interface.  This relieves users from the heavy lifting that would include finding the key modules themselves and wrestling with integration.

Other Acquia services include support for all modules of Drupal 6 through subscriptions to the Acquia Network, a suite of remote site management services that includes search, profile management, spam blocking, site usage statistics, and software update management.

The company also recently demonstrated Drupal Gardens, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) version of Drupal, based on Drupal 7, which is presently in alpha.  The offering is still unreleased at this time, but Drupal Gardens is intended to allow non-technical users to quickly set up Web sites via a browser-based interface.

Acquia is fitting itself into a timely niche in the open source market.  The company is leveraging Drupal, a content management system not known for its simplicity or ease of use, and introducing products that provide users with an entry point to using Drupal as well as delivering on simplicity, the previous lack of which may have held back adoption.  The complexity of open source, in this case Drupal, has translated into a business opportunity for Acquia to both offer entry-level solutions as well as build a business providing support services for the inevitable problems that will crop up.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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