But a lot of Drupal’s government growth is driven by the same reasons it is gaining private-sector popularity. “Due to its flexible, modular architecture, Drupal can be used for small to incredibly large builds. You can still meet niche needs while meeting the robust needs of the enterprise,” said Jacob Redding, executive director of the Drupal Association, which supports the Drupal project and maintains Drupal.org.
At its most basic level, the argument for Drupal tends to be financial. As an open source model, it spares user agencies from costly licensing fees and vendor lock-in. The resulting cost savings can be redistributed, adding value in other ways.
“Drupal’s selling point, in many ways, is value,” said Eric Miller, principal for Portland, Ore.-based Squishymedia, the vendor behind Drupal builds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Oregon. “It is a very stable, mature platform that is not a cobbled-together, makeshift solution. It offers flexibility, robustness and scalability, along with a compelling [total cost of ownership] calculation.”
For public-sector users, in particular, Drupal offers several incentives. The community-driven nature of the platform allows government agencies to feed back into its development and growth, ultimately influencing how Drupal evolves. “That’s where open source really starts to pay dividends,” said Treehouse Agency’s Caccavano.
“Government agencies are in the business of serving the public. With open source in general, and Drupal in particular, agencies are able to achieve a bigger public benefit from a single investment,” said Kurt Voelker, CTO of Forum One Communications, the vendor behind a Drupal build for the International Programs Center of the U.S. Census Bureau and a recently awarded three-year Drupal project for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “With Drupal, agencies can share and reuse code, reducing labor costs, and drastically accelerate the pace with which every agency can innovate.”
Possibly the biggest hurdle to Drupal adoption in government — security — has all but eroded, said Jeff Walpole, CEO of Phase2 Technology, the vendorbehind the Georgia migration, House of Representatives and FEMA, and part of the team that completed Whitehouse.gov. With the White House’s adoption of Drupal, questions and criticisms around security and compliance no longer hold much sway. “Lack of understanding, fear, uncertainty, doubt, concerns around security — those things have all really dropped off in the last year,” he explained.
Drupal has made major strides on security and compliance issues, added Squishymedia’s Miller, with strict adherence to best practices, and access to all source code for security and auditing purposes. Still, he said, there is a level of flexibility and agility required to explore open source, which by nature is about free software and agile development.
“I was part of the White House New Media team when Whitehouse.gov moved to Drupal, and I experienced firsthand how it helped pave the way for other government entities to make similar transitions,” said Croft from the Energy Department. “The unique requirements of developing for government — from security to accessibility mandates — were wrestled with and subsequently resolved and helped make the case for a smooth adoption of Drupal at Energy, and for any other government entities, for that matter.”