Secure vs. Snowflakes: Why Acquia Wins at Multisite Governance

Acquia Cloud Site Factory does multisite management and governance smarter and faster by removing the headache of snowflake site updates.

As organizations expand their digital presence there’s been a massive storm of site creation across every industry. Global brands today typically have hundreds or even thousands of digital properties to manage, and a lack of IT resources leads to a loss of visibility into an organization’s full digital ecosystem. When IT workers are stretched thin, other departments will take site creation into their own hands, resulting in an unregulated digital sprawl where assets are created and maintained in a multitude of platforms, spreadsheets and other incompatible technologies. At Acquia, we call this fracturing of digital property ownership: “snowflaking.” Luckily, there are ways in which you can turn around the snowflaking and gain control no matter how many sites you plan to deploy in the next year and beyond.

Guaranteed Consistency, Security and Governance at Scale  

Acquia Site Factory takes a lot of the burden off of IT departments and simplifies the experience of managing multiple sites on a day-to-day basis through three principles: consistency, scalability and governance. The platform provides standardized site components like templates that teams can utilize across thousands of sites to maintain a cohesive and holistic brand presence. The ability for organizations to have a centralized view across their entire digital ecosystem means that no one has to worry about rogue gaps in security or non-compatible integrations suddenly bringing down all of their sites. 

Unlike other hosting options that don’t offer the same oversight, Site Factory also includes site collections and groups that you can use to organize your websites. These bundle a brand’s primary website with selected secondary and related sites, making it simple to organize your digital ecosystem around a shared, common brand or purpose. This kind of multisite platform gives non-technical site builders and digital marketers the power to duplicate sites, add domains, etc. without needing to rely on developer input, reducing the need for review and providing more value in less time.

Launch and Update Sites With Maximum Efficiency 

A common criticism of a common codebase approach to multisite management is that it’s both inflexible and time-consuming to create unique features across different sites without every property looking too much like all the others. However, our Drupal expertise provides customers with a smarter, more efficient way to create and manage Drupal multisite deployments, making it easier to ensure that new sites will still have their own unique style while remaining in line with your greater brand standards. With ACSF, developers can quickly launch new sites with just a few steps:

  1. Select the existing site you wish to clone.
  2. Select a name for your new site.
  3. Complete the cloning process.
  4. Login to the site to customize its settings and appearance.
  5. Add a custom domain
  6. Configure DNS
  7. Profit!

And for more complex customizations, you can use the following more advanced workflow:

  1. Clone codebase locally
  2. Create a new branch
  3. Add new functionality to your site, then push that branch back to the origin
  4. Stage all sites down from Production to your testing environment
  5. Deploy the new branch to the testing environment and confirm that everything is working as expected
  6. Merge the branch to master and deploy a tag onto production, kicking off an automated update process that works at any scale!

The Problem with Pantheon Upstreams

Acquia’s automated code deployment ensures successful site updates and governs the update orchestration procession for each site. Custom upstream solutions offered by other hosting services like Pantheon rely on decentralized site owners to work through code queues to update their sites with no governance and uncertain compatibility between sites. While some may believe that a custom upstream approach to site creation offers greater flexibility in features, Pantheon admits that if you don't use their specific upstream, support is limited to making sure the externally hosted upstream repository connects to their platform. That doesn't sound particularly flexible to me.

The process to launch and add to sites created through Custom Upstreams is similarly complex and requires large amounts of developer attention and time to regularly maintain. The upstream repo must be maintained on a third-party service, and if you make site-specific modifications, you have to be careful not to create conflicts with the upstream code. When pushing code to a custom upstream it’s necessary to log into every website and click the button to update that site. For multi-national enterprises operating thousands of sites, this simply isn’t feasible. Their Upstream distribution only pulls the code into a queue, requiring developers to manually pull changes from development to test to production.

In comparison, Site Factory empowers users to build and manage thousands of sites simultaneously through a centralized cloud management console. This ensures that all updates are applied to every site in your brand’s portfolio, sparing you from having to worry about any legacy properties getting left out in the cold. Further, bringing multiple brands together under one roof means consolidating people, processes and technology. Organizations won’t be duplicating their efforts or falling into the trap of purchasing redundant technologies that serve the same purpose. 

With Acquia Site Factory, the governance capabilities afforded by a multisite platform and common codebase lets the entire organization feel confident that all of their sites are being built and maintained according to agreed-upon standards, empowering them to focus on innovation, rather than drowning with upkeep.

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