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Acquia and Drupal Experiencing Widespread Moves to Open Source Software

By April 9, 2012Article

Editor’s Note: Quickly growing open source software company Acquia provides products, services and support for enterprises using the open source Drupal social publishing system. I spoke with CEO Tom Erickson about the hot trends today and how open source will impact enterprises in the next few months. What trends have you noticed in open source in the last six to 10 months?
Tom Erickson: Some of the big news in open source is that Red Hat did $1 billion in revenue. That’s significant from a perspective of validating that open source is a way that businesses can actually get better economics, better innovation.
Secondly, we’ve noticed a lot of adoption of what I call open source 2.0 products. Open source 1.0 was improved economics on established technologies such as database technologies or operating systems. Open source 2.0 is about better innovation and better products.
A good example of that is what’s happening with Hadoop and Big Data. Hadoop is necessary to get superior performance in understanding what’s going on with all the data that a company collected in Web 2.0. But it’s open source, and several companies have been created to leverage what Hadoop does.
Drupal and what we do at Acquia is another example of open source 2.0. What Drupal is doing and how it’s starting to penetrate the enterprise, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, is an example of the fact that innovation of the technology is better than proprietary alternatives. Did open source 2.0 adoption happen faster than you anticipated?
Tom Erickson: There’s no question it’s happening faster than we anticipated. We base that on what our original business plans were and our revised business plans and the kinds of conversations we’re having with major enterprises about moving their sites over to Drupal. They’re moving not one by one, but by ten by ten and, in some cases, even 100 by 100. It’s much faster than we expected when we started Acquia. What is attracting so much attention to Drupal and to your company? Is it something other than the fact that open source enables companies to innovate faster?
Tom Erickson: Companies tell us they’re under unprecedented pressure to provide a dynamic experience on the Web for their visitors (customers, prospects, partners) – dynamic meaning real-time and social media materials. The tools that these organizations have used for the past 10 – 15 years can’t keep up with this requirement. They can’t innovate fast enough; that’s what’s attracting enterprises to open source technologies such as Drupal. The Drupal system was built from the ground up to incorporate features like social media innovation to engage with an audience. Is the quickly spreading adoption of social media helping to drive the adoption of open source?
Tom Erickson: That’s absolutely important. Some of the folks we work with – the innovators in high-tech companies such as LinkedIn, Twitter and eBay – are all using Drupal for their developer and user communities. They want to create a social experience among the folks in those communities. The requirement for social definitely is driving Drupal adoption because of Drupal’s ability to build it. I don’t remember where, but I read a quote recently that said no matter what your business is, if you want to keep developers around, you’d better do open source and social.
Tom Erickson: That’s exactly what we’re seeing in the market. How are Acquia and Drupal bringing together content, community/collaboration and commerce?
Tom Erickson: Drupal is 10 years old, but it’s a new-generation system in that it was one of the first built from the ground up to be able to bring content, community or collaboration and commerce all together in one system.
We issued a press release last week about Warner Music Group moving a whole bunch of very cool artist sites over to Acquia and our SaaS offering. It’s not a normal SaaS offering because there’s no vendor lock-in since it’s open source. With no lock-in, it’s fantastic for companies because they get the best of both worlds. Warner moved to this platform because they see the flexibility and the fact that it doesn’t limit their options as a business. In 2011 when I was writing stories on open source, that flexibility wasn’t something that was talked about.
Tom Erickson: Exactly. But it’s a big part of what’s being talked about this year. Do you think that the driver to look for no lock-in is a result of companies becoming more adjusted to cloud computing?
Tom Erickson: I think it’s due to three things. Open source has become a more accepted alternative than proprietary software. And cloud is becoming a more acceptable deployment mechanism. Plus it’s imperative now that companies reach their audiences in new ways on the Web. The combination of those three things makes a very powerful model. What about the driver that companies are starting to take a more collaborative approach to development?
Tom Erickson: There is definitely an element of that. We even have some initiatives with competitors collaborating (in the media and entertainment publishing industries in particular). They are large Drupal users, using Drupal as an advantage from a perspective of innovation and economics. They’re collaborating to build new features in Drupal. I know that’s unusual, but at the end of the day, technology is a tool; it’s not the end-all and be-all. As long as the economics make sense, these competitors are collaborating to build better software.
Acquia is doing some very, very innovative things in this area. Is this model of competitors collaborating something that Acquia is driving, or is it something that you’re observing?
Tom Erickson: Acquia is driving this. It’s a program we have. Its nickname – you’re going to laugh – is LSD. It stands for Large-Scale Drupal and was named by our client, Warner Brothers. They have a good sense of humor and were asking us what we can do for really large-scale Drupal users. So they collaborate to develop tools that each company can use for its own business. That’s really cool. What else are you seeing in the open source 2.0 world?
Tom Erickson: Companies are starting to move even their most strategic sites to open source Drupal. A large media organization that was using 10 proprietary content management systems is moving all of their sites to Drupal, including a mobile site that they’re building for the upcoming London Olympics.
Twitter is another good example. They are one of the technology powerhouses but had home-brewed their own system to power their developer community. They moved to Drupal to power their developer community because they couldn’t innovate fast enough for their developer community on their proprietary system. Are there concerns or comments that you’ve heard from potential clients or existing clients in the last three to five months that lead you to believe there will be even bigger changes in open source in the next year?
Tom Erickson: Yes. We talked to a Fortune 10 company this week. It’s an organization that has started to adopt open source across the board for many different areas of their business. They were previously a very distributed organization that used nothing but proprietary technology but realized that they simply couldn’t move fast enough.
They told us, “We live in a society now where Pinterest didn’t exist 6-12 months ago, and we want to integrate Pinterest with our website. But when we went to proprietary vendors and asked them to integrate Pinterest, some of them didn’t even know what it is, and the others said it will take 12-18 months for us to get there.”
So the Fortune 10 company made a wholesale shift to open source – including their flagship property, which encompasses 85 different sites for all of their countries sites. They’re moving across the board in any area where they can find an acceptable enterprise open source solution.
When we see blue-chip organizations like that adopting Drupal and other open source technologies, we know there are major changes coming. Many people in Silicon Valley, as well as enterprise IT groups across the United States, are talking about the talent wars for developers. Is this also true of Drupal developers?
Tom Erickson: There’s definitely a challenge finding Drupal people to fulfill the demand; there’s no question about that. That happens when you have major growth. Where there isn’t a problem is in finding contributors to Drupal. Those are different issues. One is fulfilling the demand that end users and corporations have for Drupal; the other is how many of the Drupal people want to contribute to growing the open source product itself. And the latter is more prominent and bigger than ever.
As a business, what would you rather have: five engineers locked up in a room trying to fix problems and trying to build projects or thousands of engineers and developers around the world who are contributing openly to the project?
DrupalCon in Denver just concluded a few weeks ago and almost 3,500 people attended. A number of co-sprints were held where people got together and built new Drupal stuff. There were two gigantic rooms full of well over 200 people who spent their free time on the weekend building Drupal. So this is bigger than ever. Developers want to be part of a community and want to feel that they are continuing something, that they wrote the code. Their feelings in this regard are stronger than ever.
Tom Erickson, CEO of Acquia, started his career in open source in 1980 and joined Acquia in 2008. Prior to Acquia, Tom was chief products officer at map maker Tele Atlas. Before that, he was CEO of Systinet, a leading provider of SOA tools and subsequently Hewlett-Packard. During the rise of the Internet, Tom was the EVP International for webMethods, based in Sydney, Australia. He also served in executive roles at the Baan Company and Watermark Software in addition to his early days at MRO Software, known as Project Software and Development, Inc. in 1980. He’ has been an advisor and board director for several private companies.

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