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National Audubon Society

National Audubon Society Moves to Drupal and the Acquia Cloud

The National Audubon Society is a more-than–a-century-old organization that connects people with birds, nature and the environment. The organization has a national network of community-based nature centers, nearly 500 local chapters, and scientific, education, and advocacy programs that engage millions of people in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world.

In 2007, National Audubon Society’s Senior Web Developer Aaron Deutsch took over a project already underway to launch a blog for Audubon Magazine using Drupal (Drupal 5). With the blog successfully launched, Deutsch and his team began thinking about how they could expand their use of Drupal. They realized that the organization’s home grown web content management platform was no longer the best solution for their aspirations for an expanded, more integrated internet and social media presence, and started learning more about the Drupal platform.

While further looking into Drupal, Deutsch and team also looked at other options before putting another project together for a new Drupal site.

"The more we learned about open source the better we liked it, and decided it was the best business model and technology available, said Deutsch. "

Deutsch and his colleagues considered Joomla and CakePHP along with Drupal as open source web content management platform option, and ultimately decided Drupal was the best.

"We did our homework to see what was out there in the market, and it seemed like the Drupal community was ready to explode. Drupal’s growth seemed much faster and robust – we went to Drupal camps, meet-ups and DrupalCON and were amazed at how many talented people were in the community,"said Deutsch.

“We choose Drupal by assessing its community and support – to see a company like Acquia and businesses around it was helpful – knowing that we could hire a vendor to do whatever we needed versus being the only ones who knew and could do our work,” added Deutsch.

With the decision to go with Drupal made, National Audubon Society decided to put a dozen state websites and a few Audubon centers on Drupal to take advantage of Drupal’s ability to syndicate and share content between the sites (using Drupal 5 and the Domain Access module).

Audubon has over a hundred years of scientific data, programs, initiatives, magazine subscriptions/memberships, chapters, centers, national and state offices, microsites, online shopping, partnerships, and photo contests, and Deutsch and his colleagues had to spend a good amount of time on the initial site architecture to syndicate the data throughout their network of sites.

After the success of the blog and Drupal domain access site, Audubon took some coaching from Acquia to learn how it could create an architecture using Drupal 6 that would handle all Audubon 70+ sites. The previous blog and second Drupal 5 domain access site would be migrated to this newer platform.

The next question for Deutsch became – could National Audubon Society internally host these 70+ sites? National Audubon Society had been accustomed to supporting themselves internally as a Microsoft shop and decided they could handle it on their own, using new Linux machines and Acquia support services. But National Audubon Society soon ran into scaling issues when they launched the sites - a Facebook promotion and a Google Doodle which pointed to their webpages brought their site down. They then gained approval to move all Drupal hosting over to the Acquia Cloud.

Deutsch’s department determined that leveraging Acquia Cloud for the site would be less costly than hiring one or two more people and buying needed hardware. And Acquia Cloud would free up their developers to concentrate on new features rather than Apache/MySQL tuning.

“At the time of our site launches we didn’t have a budget for extra resources, so hosting internally was our only viable option. We did our best to tune and test, but we didn’t have the capacity for caching servers and a load balancer with the project timeline. We launched with virtualized service Ubuntu but found it was very difficult for a small staff to be the developers, architects, quality assurance, server admins and customer support at same time. And when you clock out for the day, who is monitoring the servers?” said Deutsch.

“In addition to saving money on staff and hardware resources, the other return-on-investment is that I now can sleep at night, knowing I have the staff at Acquia supporting me. With Acquia Cloud we no longer have to worry about 24/7 support, securing hardware and using up advisory hours to make sure we are implementing properly,” said Deutsch.

“One of the sites we launched on Acquia Cloud is Audubon Magazine, and there has been an increase in traffic and that the pages are cleaner. Drupal is now taking care of tracking paging trends and security that we could never keep up with,” Deutsch continued.

“Since using the Acquia Cloud service our workflow has changed a lot,” says Deutsch. “I can work on my own projects and drag databases and files over to my workspace much more quickly, where it used to take forever. And moving from release to production environments is much quicker too – I don’t have to back up anything to the server, now I press a button for that, and also have plenty of chances to live test in different environments.”

National Audubon Society is rallying around Drupal and Acquia Cloud for its other affiliates and entities in the organization and has a strategy to scale and migrate all 60+ Audubon websites nationwide - including Audubon’s e-commerce site Project Puffin and Open Atrium Drupal for internal project management.

Concludes Deutsch, 'The advantage to using Drupal and Acquia are that they allow us to leverage the best of everyone out there right now within a short time frame at the lowest cost. If I have a question I have multiple places to go – whether it’s Acquia, a Drupal meet up, forum, module, book – there are so many resources on the topic. I see the Drupal community grow and grow – which allows me to have continued faith in the solution.'

Some of the benefits of Drupal are the ability to get the structure setup fairly quickly to let content managers start entering content while the theme or template is being built at the same time,' said Deutsch. 'While there is a learning curve, prototyping a new site can happen very quickly with Drupal.