Drupal 8: Re-architecting for world domination

Drupal's creator, Dries Buytaert, on Drupal 8 and the open source project's future in the enterprise

Buytaert believes that the combination of Symfony and Drupal will end up living side-by-side in many enterprises. He's met developers who have moved from Symfony to Drupal, either because Drupal can speed development by offering more high level components or because they are dealing with an increasing number of websites. But he expects to see organisations deploy both in harmony,

"They can use Drupal for probably most of their websites, but then they can use Symfony for their very unique, custom Web applications," Buytaert said.

"It's interesting because it kind of allows them to do everything they want to do with those two platforms, and Drupal being built on Symfony only makes that better."

However, Buytaert admitted that these changes in Drupal 8 will result in a learning curve for some developers.

"I think there are two kinds of developers — I'm generalising — in the Drupal world," he said.

"There's the self-taught Drupal developer and Drupal is how they learn to program. There's a lot of those people, because people download Drupal, they install it, they use it as a user, and then it's 'I need to make a change, so now I need to learn PHP' and then they become really good at programming. There's a lot of these people.

It's pretty hard to compete with the Adobe sales and marketing force... They're really optimised to talk to, say, a CMO versus we speak really well to developers

"And then there are the professionally trained developers as a second category that went through college or had some sort of training...

"I think for the first category, the switch to Symfony is going to be a shock in a way, but for the second category, for people who have used other frameworks, people who have trained in computer science, it's going to be very natural."

"Certainly there's a lot of these people in the first category and we need to train them," Buytaert said.

"So we'll write articles, we'll do videos, we'll do sessions at DrupalCons [and] we'll have professional training for people."

Re-architecting for world domination

Buytaert said his focus is now squarely on the enterprise and on competing with companies like Adobe and Sitecore.

"I think we do a lot of replacements from Vignette and Interwoven. We [also] compete a lot with Sitecore and Adobe CQ5 and we beat them. And sometimes we lose. It depends really. But I think with Drupal 8 we will close some of these gaps, and in [some] areas we'll leapfrog them even..."

The "sweet spot" for Drupal is larger sites rather than smaller ones. "I think when people think big websites, they usually think Drupal, and when they think small blogs or limited small websites in complexity then they think WordPress," Buytaert said.

"At Acquia we never compete with WordPress. We don't see them ever. I'm sure the smaller Drupal shops run into them, but in the enterprise we never run into WordPress."

"I think with small sites I'm not willing to give up on them but I think we just need to say we're more about big sites and less about small sites, but then the small sites are still very useful to get people into the community," Buytaert said.

Along with the need to offer integrated solutions out of the box, the problem with competing in the enterprise is that Drupal is not always on the radar of CMOs.

Drupal often gets a foot in the door in enterprises through developers. "They build a site, the site is successful, they build another site, and it kind of spreads through the organisation," Buytaert said.

"Where sometimes, we don't really lose but where we're not in the game, is where, say, the CMO of a company says, 'Well we need a new platform for our website' and it's a top-down decision versus a grassroots, bottom-up thing.

"That's where we lose, because Drupal doesn't always have the visibility with these people. And even when it does, it's pretty hard to compete with the Adobe sales and marketing force. Because they have a lot of them and they have slick MOs. They're really optimised to talk to, say, a CMO versus we speak really well to developers. "

Drupal's future

Drupal 8 "will determine Drupal's future for the next five years," Buytaert said. "So it's a big deal."

"That doesn't mean Drupal 9 won't be released for five years," he added, "but even when we release Drupal 8, if we were to release it tomorrow, it would still take a little time for people to go with it because some of the contribute modules need to get ready and all of these things.

"So there's an overlap phase. But I think Drupal 8will fuel Drupal's growth for a couple of years. That's why we need to get it right."

"I really think we can say we've built the best CMS for enterprise systems," Buytaert said. "I really think so. Best architecture, most modern design. And I think we should claim that position. And I think we finally get there with Drupal 8... We're really ready to compete hard with the proprietary software vendors."

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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