Since 2017, or so, Pantheon has had a dedicated page on their site comparing themselves to Acquia. At times, the comparisons are misleading, but more often than not, they’re just flat out wrong.
Look, I’m an old-school marketer. I appreciate a good competitive attack campaign. I’ve read Marc Benioff’s “Behind the Cloud” too many times to count. Pantheon is playing the role of the scrappy startup taking on the Goliath with FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). But Pantheon isn’t a small, scrappy startup anymore. They’ve raised over $100m in venture funding. They should be held accountable for what they say.
A couple of years ago, Dries worked on Drupal's Values & Principles. Principle 9 is Be constructively honest and relentlessly optimistic. The principle encourages Drupal users to give constructive, honest and optimistic feedback, but also to give suggestions for how to improve things. In this post, I'll do exactly that, along with an ask for Pantheon to correct its mistakes. I owe this post to the teams at Acquia who work hard on our products, only to have Pantheon’s marketing team offer up false claims and opinions-presented-as-facts on their website.
Let’s start with a big one: “Pantheon is the world’s fastest host for Drupal websites”
Pantheon bases this claim on some analysis they’ve done on the public HTTP Archive dataset. Pantheon, of course, delivered the fastest response time in their analysis.
But Pantheon is comparing apples with oranges by measuring the difference between having or not having a CDN. Pantheon bundles in a basic CDN with all their sites, so of course a Pantheon site using their default CDN is going to be faster than an Acquia site without a CDN.
Acquia offers a CDN called Acquia Cloud Edge that delivers a similar response time to using the Pantheon CDN. If website performance is important to you, (and it should be) then you should use a CDN. This is considered a standard best practice for any modern web application.
Elsewhere on the Pantheon website, they have an entire page dedicated to comparing themselves with Acquia, including the ubiquitous feature comparison table. Let’s go through each of their feature claims one-by-one to see how accurate they really are:
Not accurate. Acquia offers a Remote Administration service. While the service is available as an add-on, you also get more. Acquia will automatically push both Drupal Core updates and updates to contributed modules. Pantheon doesn't patch modules unless you use their specific upstream. Even core update support is limited to verifying that the external repository can connect to the platform.
Correct! Acquia is 100% focused on building the world’s best hosting platform and developer tools for Drupal.
Not accurate. Acquia provides a customer success team with a named Account Manager. Not only do we work with customers to provide them with the services and resources they need to launch, Acquia offers priority ticketing during onboarding, in-depth technical discovery, platform-level load test monitoring, training, certifications, developer tools and more.
Not accurate. Acquia provides named customer success resources at all stages of onboarding and implementation, including Account Managers who are responsible for overall customer success. The word “dedicated” implies that Pantheon offers resources who are full-time assigned to a specific customer. They aren’t.
Correct! Acquia does not currently provide a free SSL certificate. Of course, there's no charge if you want to apply your own SSL certificate to an Acquia hosted website. You can obtain certificates from many sources, including Let's Encrypt, the source of Pantheon's free certificates. If you want to use your own certificate on Pantheon, you’ve got to pay extra for it.
Correct! Acquia is focused on building the best hosting platform and developer tools for Drupal. We do provide a unified dashboard across all your Drupal sites running on Acquia Cloud.
Correct, sort of. Pantheon offers Fastly for both CDN and DDoS protection. But you can’t configure it, so if you already have an existing CDN, DDoS or need any other proxy in front of your site, it won’t work for you. Acquia Cloud Edge (powered by Cloudflare) is an add-on that provides highly configurable CDN and DDoS protection.
Correct! Acquia doesn't yet offer live chat for support issues. Instead, we offer 24/7 critical support availability by phone for all Enterprise customers. Pantheon doesn’t offer phone support at all.
Not accurate. Pantheon only offers limited support for your Drupal site and modules, and even then only with their highest-tier support plan. It’s not as robust as the end-to-end Drupal application support provided by Acquia. Our award-winning team supports the entirety of your digital experience from your site all the way down to the infrastructure.
Shared VM Reseller? Not accurate. This is the comparison that pushed me over the edge to write this post. Pantheon runs on Google Cloud Platform. Acquia runs on AWS, also a modern cloud backbone. The Acquia Cloud Platform is built using a number of AWS services that have all been tuned specifically for Drupal.
Running on AWS gives Acquia an advantage in areas like scalability, security and compliance. Some of the highest-trafficked events in the history of the web ran on Acquia.
Not accurate. By Pantheon's own admission, 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 flexible to me.
Not accurate. Acquia provides a free cloud that includes dev and testing environments. While an Acquia Cloud free trial only lasts for 30 days, you can download your codebase and relaunch as often as you'd like.
Not accurate. From the way this page is written, Pantheon implies 99.95% uptime for all customers, but only those with Elite Pantheon support get the high availability SLA.
In addition to a contractual 99.95% SLA for our enterprise customers, we believe that everyone should expect a reliable platform. The historical average uptime for our non-enterprise tier is 99.96%.
So that’s a recap of the feature comparison table, but there’s more. Next, Pantheon makes inaccurate statements about Acquia’s pricing.
Not accurate. More than a year ago, Acquia introduced simple pricing that scales with traffic requirements and feature needs. We work closely with customers throughout the onboarding process to ensure that they are on the right package to prevent overages, and we provide overage protection for the first 90 days as an Acquia customer.
Note that the "Complicated pricing" link goes to a misleading GSA pricing page because 1) Doing business in the public sector requires pricing for multiple product configurations and will make even the simplest pricing look vastly more complex than it really is and 2) It’s based on our older pricing model.
Lastly, Pantheon makes the correct observation that today Acquia offers several development tools.
Totally fair, we do offer a number of developer tools including Acquia BLT and Pipelines. But at Acquia Engage in London, we unveiled new unified tooling for developers called the Acquia Developer Studio. Developer Studio offers powerful, flexible tools including custom Docker containers for local environments, out-of-the-box continuous integration and CLI capabilities for faster testing and deployment. It’s in private beta right now, and we’ll start to roll it out more broadly in the coming months.
So, that’s the complete list of Pantheon FUD that I could find. In the spirit of Principle 9, we ask that Pantheon corrects their site, and stops misinforming the Drupal community. Thanks for making it this far, and I hope this post sets the record straight once and for all. Before I go, I have one last observation I’d like to share:
We'd like to see Pantheon contribute more code to Drupal.
Pantheon has raised over $100m in venture funding and is the 2nd largest tech company in the Drupal ecosystem behind Acquia, yet they haven’t been in the top 30 of Drupal code contributors for the past three years.
Acquia is the single largest corporate sponsor of Drupal with over 10 full-time Drupal developers. We are helping on important projects that advance Drupal for everyone, like Layout Builder, JSON:API, the media initiative, Lightning, Drupal 9 preparation, Drupal 8 release management, the security team and much more. Acquia is committed to Open Source and giving back more; it’s in our DNA.
Pantheon does contribute to open source, but with all their resources and $100m+ of VC funding, it’s disappointing that they won’t contribute more code to Drupal and help make Drupal better for everyone.
Thanks to all my Acquia colleagues (too many to name!) for reviewing and contributing to this post.