Why Big Sites Run Drupal

Open source Drupal content management system powers some of government’s biggest sites.

by / April 26, 2012
Steve Nichols, CTO, Georgia. Stan Kaady

For the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), the decision to dump its aging content management system (CMS) was easy. Running 65 state government websites on two different versions of proprietary software — Vignette 6 and 7, one of which is no longer supported — had become cumbersome and costly. And moving all sites to Vignette 8 was too much of a “force fit,” said state CTO Steve Nichols.

Instead of buying another proprietary package, Georgia chose an open solution that’s quickly gaining favor among state and federal agencies. “As we dug in, all the obvious best choices were open source,” said Nichols. The strongest of those contenders turned out to be Drupal, which powers Whitehouse.gov and other key federal government sites.

Though the deployment is only midway through completion, Nikhil Deshpande — director of Georgia.gov Interactive, an office within the GTA — could not be happier. “I would absolutely recommend Drupal as an option, based on this experience,” he said.

“In looking for a new CMS for all 65 websites, we had to meet important criteria,” explained Deshpande. “No. 1, it had to be an enterprise solution. Second, we needed to move off the proprietary model that had become too expensive. Last, we looked for a solution with major market share. What really sold us on Drupal was its enormous market share in government and the public sector in general. The success of all the federal government sites convinced us.”

Drupal powers more than 150 sites for the federal government, including the White House; the House of Representatives; NASA; and the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Health, Defense, Justice, Transportation, Homeland Security and Agriculture. It was perhaps the 2009 decision to move Whitehouse.gov and its associated sites to Drupal that gave the open source platform its biggest boost and gave other government agencies the confidence they needed to follow suit. To date, 34 state and territory agencies also use Drupal, with every new adopter solidifying the offering and creating new avenues for innovation.

The Department of Energy, for instance, moved to Drupal when it became clear that Energy.gov needed immediate attention: Traffic was low, bounce rates were high and the site design focused around an internal office structure that was notoriously difficult to navigate.

Photo: Cammie Croft, director of new media and citizen engagement, Office of New Media, U.S. Department of Energy. Photo courtesy of Cammie Croft.

“The prior CMS supporting Energy.gov was outdated,” said Cammie Croft, director of new media and citizen engagement for the department’s Office of New Media. “To make matters worse, I discovered that the Energy Department had lots of outdated digital technologies. I sought a solution that would be able to scale and adapt to many requirements — those known and those yet to be discovered. I wanted a solution that would empower the Energy Department to evolve and develop as quickly as our users’ needs.”

The Energy.gov build has resulted in cost savings upward of $10 million annually to taxpayers, through the consolidation of duplicative digital technology platforms and expensive internal hosting solutions, along with using the Drupal platform to disseminate information for new initiatives, rather than building new, stand-alone websites. If it’s good enough for the federal government, some say, isn’t it good enough for any government agency?

Drupal open source software is maintained and developed by a community of more than 630,000 global users and developers. Distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License, Drupal is free to download, use and share.

“I classify Drupal as an open source Web infrastructure and complete social publishing platform,” said Michael Caccavano, developer-turned-CEO of the Treehouse Agency, the vendor responsible for Energy.gov and other Drupal government projects.

Because it’s open source, Drupal works to remove silos and barriers to innovative development through collaboration, making it ideal in the government sphere. In the private sector, to be sure, there is no advantage to giving a competing business any intellectual property, but in the public sector it’s the opposite. The more government agencies that share code through Drupal, the more every agency using Drupal benefits.

Jessica Meyer Maria Contributing Writer

Jess Meyer Maria has written for online and print publications across the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

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