Drupal in Italy
by Robert Douglass
I recently did an interview about Acquia and Drupal with one of the leading IT magazines in Italy, Data Manager. The interview is running in the current print edition. Below you can find an English version of the interview.
The interview was arranged by one of Acquia's Italian partners, SinerVis, as part of a larger Drupal awareness campaign that culminated last week in the Do You Drupal? event that was held in Milan. Jam (Acquia's Senior Writer) and I attended and got to meet with colleagues from SinerVis as well as with members of "Associazione Drupal Italia", the non-profit that is promoting Drupal in Italy.
The take-away from the event was that Italy is seeing an explosion of interest in Drupal. Every company and service provider we talked to spoke of strong leads from many different industry segments, the need for training more drupalists, and an excitement for hosting more DrupalCamps (and possibly even a DrupalCon).
With such an acute need for training, it was good to learn that SinerVis, one of the leading companies for Drupal training in Italy, has as many as five Drupal courses each month with 10-12 people attending each one. They even teach a class on Drupal Gardens!
The demand for training was also mirrored in the response to the "Do You Drupal?" event. On the first day there was a room full of 50+ CIO/CTOs who listened to a range of presentations and discussions about Drupal and Acquia. Jam and I delivered a 2 hour (bilingual!) introduction to Acquia. The second part of the event, on the weekend, included training workshops for students and the general public. This drew over 200 people for two sessions. Jam ended up teaching for 5 hours, introducing Drupal, Acquia, and Drupal Gardens.
Although I was only in Milano for one day I did manage to enjoy some of the cultural delights. This is me sampling some gelato with graphic designers and account managers from SinerVis. The market for Drupal has rarely looked better.
What is Drupal?
Drupal is a modern web content management system that meets the needs of organizations who value speed and flexibility in developing their web presence. It has a vast worldwide community of passionate developers who have built a library of over 5,000 add-on modules in the last nine years. These let you add nearly any feature to a Drupal site that you can imagine. Drupal's core code is also modular, enabling developers to change and maintain the system cleanly. This has made it very popular with people who want highly customized web sites and specific functionality.
The past two years have been very exciting for Drupal. It keeps winning awards, such as Packt Publishing's "Best PHP Open Source Content Management System (1st place)". It has been part of the Webware 100, three years in a row. Gartner called Drupal "Visionary" in its 2009 Magic Quadrant report. U.S. President, Barack Obama, launched the Whitehouse.gov website using Drupal – specifically to foster openness in government and to better engage with his constituents.
Drupal's popularity and vitality can also be seen in its developer community that includes tens of thousands of people around the world. There are over 100 Drupal related events every month, on all continents, and over 3,000 people attended the DrupalCon San Francisco, the Drupal project's main annual gathering. Drupal's community works together to make Drupal better and to drive innovation in web technologies. We do so in true open source fashion, with volunteers and nearly completely decentralized planning.
Why is Drupal so popular?
People are now familiar with sites like YouTube.com and Facebook.com, which have raised expectations for other websites. When I visit a website I want to know if I can leave comments, share with my friends on social networks, upload photos or videos, find things on maps, and create a user profile for myself. Drupal is the ideal system for building sites that do these things. Many "social web" features like profiles, forums, and commenting are built into the core. You can then choose from the 5000 add-on modules on Drupal.org that give you the extra features you need.
From a developer's point of view, Drupal is popular because it is easy to develop new add-on modules, add new features to existing modules, or even to modify the way Drupal itself works. You can do this cleanly without "hacking core" – without modifying the Drupal source code itself. Drupal has also been proven to be massively scalable, capable of handling millions of page requests in a month, so you can build really big websites with it.
Who is Acquia?
Acquia is a US-based company that provides commercial support for organizations that use Drupal. Acquia was founded by Dries Buytaert, who is also the founder and leader of the Drupal project itself. The company was started in 2007 and has received $15 million in venture funding. Now, with nearly 70 employees working in North America, Europe, and Asia, Acquia is playing a vital role in bringing Drupal to enterprise clients in sectors like government, media, and non-profit. One of the first things we did was to create a free Drupal installer package (Acquia Drupal stack installer) that lets you get started with Drupal very quickly, and has a number of important add-on modules that are used on nearly every Drupal site. Beyond that, we have four core product offerings that I'll briefly describe:
- Acquia Network: Provides Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) web services for Drupal sites. Our flagship web service to date is Acquia Search that adds faceted search and content recommendation features to any Drupal site.
- Drupal Support: Our Drupal experts help you solve the problems that you encounter while building or running your Drupal site. Support is subscription based, and it guarantees that you will have a human to talk to whenever you get stuck or need advice.
- Acquia Hosting: We provide a complete, high-availability, cloud-based hosting solution for Drupal websites. With special tools to accommodate best-practice development workflows, and the scalability and performance that comes from a cloud architecture, Acquia Hosting is a great product for anyone running high-traffic Drupal sites.
- Drupal Gardens: "Design to online in 15 minutes", this is Drupal at its easiest. One-click Drupal sites that you can design and build in the browser. Perfect for launching new campaigns or microsites. Host the site with us, or export it and host it somewhere else.
We also offer high-level architectural consultation, training, and project management services for critical Drupal projects.
Are there any interesting Acquia success stories?
Indeed, there are! We're working with a lot of government agencies, in the US and elsewhere, to meet new mandates for openness and citizen engagement.
Another success story has been our partnership with Microsoft in the context of their Windows Web App Gallery. Acquia's Drupal package has been downloaded over 70,000 times through the Gallery, and has often been on the list of its most popular applications altogether.
Acquia is also proud to work with the more than 160 excellent companies in our partner program. We work with them to make sure Drupal projects succeed and to support their Drupal clients. Our partners have access to the Acquia Network and our Client Advisory services. These tools give them great leverage while they're building awesome Drupal sites.
What are Acquia's plans in Italy?
So far we've been very focused on the English-speaking market. Drupal, however, was actually born in Belgium in 2001 and has become a worldwide success story, partly thanks to its great support for internationalization and localization. It makes good sense therefore, for Acquia to be thinking about having a more direct presence in Europe. Our business model may be slightly different in Europe, however, since it would be very difficult for us to directly build the customer support teams and training courses that are needed in every country and for every language. As a consequence, we're very interested in finding the right partners in Italy and elsewhere in Europe who will help us bridge this gap, and work with us to meet the needs of enterprise clients and governments.
To this end we've recently become partners with SinerVis, because they have developed a strong Drupal training curriculum and have done impressive work on big Drupal sites such as DataManager.it.
Are there any big challenges for the future?
Of course! The marketplace is always changing, especially in technology. Two of the big challenges we have identified are making Drupal easier to use, and training more Drupal developers and experts. All of our products and services aim to reduce the complexity of your website projects. Acquia's stack installer lets you set up Drupal on your computer easily, our hosting makes it easier to scale your Drupal website, Drupal Gardens helps you design your website or implement the web elements of promotional campaigns, and the Acquia Network lets you have enterprise quality search features. And still, there's so much more we have our eye on - improvements that can make the whole process easier for everyone. Furthermore, Drupal's popularity is growing so fast that new Drupal developers quickly get jobs. Even though we are training people as fast as we can, the demand for Drupal talent is so strong that we are always on the lookout for new people, and we're thinking about ways to help more people get started down the road to being experts. If we succeed in making Drupal easier and at growing the pool of available Drupal talent, Acquia, our partners, and the entire Drupal community will continue to have a great deal of success in the years to come.