Case Study

Stanford University

Engage Awards 2022 Doers Finalist Banner



At its peak, Stanford’s Drupal 7-powered web platform, Stanford Sites, hosted 3,000+ university websites.


Upgrading so many sites at scale, without additional technical skills or budget, was daunting.

Our Solution

Drupal CMS, Acquia Cloud Platform, Acquia Site Factory

  • July 2021: Stanford Sites hosted 654 Drupal 9 websites and over 2,600 Drupal 7 websites
  • July 2022: Stanford Sites now hosts 1,381 Drupal 9 websites and only 114 Drupal 7 websites

The Client

One of the top-ranked universities in the world, Stanford University is a private research university located in Stanford, California. Its campus is one of the largest in the U.S. and boasts more than 17,000 students. 

The Situation

Stanford Web Services (SWS) launched Stanford Sites in 2011 on Drupal 7. A free, self-service CMS used by faculty, students, and staff to build and manage websites for university work, it hosted more than 3,000 sites at its peak.

The Challenge

With shifting Drupal 7 end of life (EOL) deadlines, SWS knew that upgrading Stanford Sites was a priority; it wanted to reduce the dual costs of hosting and supporting only the latest version of Drupal, ensuring its resources could focus on advancing the best version of its platform. But the task of providing an upgrade strategy at scale was daunting. How would it build a replacement for its massive Drupal 7 platform-as-a-service without requiring significant technical skills or budget? How would it move websites at scale, when they varied in design, users, modules, and configuration?

In addition, SWS wanted to create a new version that was more accessible for website visitors and easier for an editor to check and maintain accessible content. The overall project would require balancing what website owners wanted to support their digital communication priorities with rebuilding popular custom features and themes in Drupal 8 and Drupal 9.

The Solution

SWS formed an advisory board of the university departments managing the most significant number of websites on the platform. Together, they held regular meetings and brainstorming sessions to gather priorities, shape the roadmap, and test features as they were released. This close engagement was critical to ensure the service was designed for departments’ communication needs, remained easy to use by a non-technical editor audience, and delivered accessible, secure, usable, and beautiful websites. 

SWS also invested in user experience research, including surveys, interviews, and user testing of the product features all along the way. It partnered closely with Stanford’s branding team and Office of Digital Accessibility to ensure the final product adhered to design and accessibility standards with each release.

Additionally, SWS released new features, bug fixes, and security patches to the new system every eight to 10 weeks, and Acquia Site Factory’s central code management and multiple stacks allowed it to maintain dual Drupal distributions with dedicated infrastructure while ensuring high performance and stability. 

Finally, SWS offered editor training, a comprehensive user guide, intense end-user support, and extensive professional services to help website owners feel supported in completing moves before the deadline.

The Results

Acquia Site Factory was key to managing the growing shared platform. The flexibility of Acquia tools and Drupal itself have proven to be a great investment for managing the website ecosystem at scale and ensuring a smooth transition from start to finish.

In the last year, SWS designed, built, and released multiple new features to add value to the platform, in addition to launching an aggressive communications and user support campaign to help website owners plan and complete website moves by the June deadline to continue receiving security updates and support. As a result, in July 2021, Stanford Sites hosted 654 Drupal 9 websites and over 2,600 Drupal 7 websites. By July 2022, Stanford Sites hosts 1,381 Drupal 9 websites and only 114 Drupal 7 websites – with plans to eliminate these within the year.

The new platform is now in use for a wide variety of purposes: everything from new school announcements to COVID-related communications, department and research institute sites, lab sites, personal sites, and student clubs.

Featured Resources

View More Resources