Part 1 of 2 - I recorded an audio-only conversation I had recently with Tom Erickson, Acquia's CEO. In this podcast, Tom and I talk about how he met Acquia's founders Dries Buytaert and Jay Batson, why Drupal looked like a good bet even back in 2007, how Drupal has changed and grown, the advantages and challenges of running a business in the open source world, the Drupal community, how Acquia Cloud Site Factory helps businesses manage hundreds of sites in a cost-effective way, Acquia's contributions to Drupal over the years, "community open source", and what Tom is excited about in Drupal 8. Tune in next time for the down-low on what Acquia's "Drupal 8 All-In" effort is all about.
Drupal then and now: the competitive landscape
Rather than talking tech features or community, Tom focuses on "the people that use it and how they use it," which seems to be to be a great barometer for how we're doing in Drupal today. "The real difference is first and foremost the number and kinds of organizations that use it; it's much broader than it was 8 years ago. Whether they are consumer packaged goods companies like SAB Miller or MillerCoors or life sciences companies Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, those large organizations were not adopting Drupal in a big way. Another thing that was happening at the time was people were hitting limits in their ability to scale Drupal. I can remember a conversation with Kieran and Dries with Disney back in early 2009 where Disney was struggling with some of their modest--what you'd describe today as modest--page requirements. And today if I look and say what people are scaling to, you look at something like Weather.com with billions of page views per month... The world has come a long way in terms of their understanding of how scalable Drupal is, how sophisticated, how ready it is for the enterprise. It's being used in situations today where people are deploying hundreds and thousands of Drupal sites in their organizations where I'd say back in 2007, it was used in a few, isolated places inside of enterprise. Lots of people thought about 'Is it Drupal or Joomla! or Wordpress?' and today, our conversations are, 'Is it Drupal or Adobe or Sitecore?'. A very different thing; competing with the main proprietary systems as opposed to thinking about ourselves first and foremost as an open source product [in competition with other, open source products.]"
Running and open-source-based business
I asked Tom what the differences are running an open-source-based business compared to a "classic" or proprietary-based one.
- Advantage: "The difference with open source is first and foremost the power and innovation of the community is unbelievable. We realize this is a huge advantage."
- Advantage: "There's no notion of a 'roadmap prison'," where you ask your proprietary software company to put a feature you need in their roadmap, "and maybe it comes out in three years and maybe it doesn't ever come out. So there's tremendous amounts of innovation."
- Advantage: No vendor lock-in. "You're not tied-in to working with Acquia to be able to work with Drupal."
- Advantage: "There's a tremendous feeling of community, people around the world working together, even though it's this notion of 'coopetition,' where agencies might compete with each other, yet they all contribute to a common good. That's a very wonderful dynamic that I think is the future of software actually."
- Challenge: "In Drupal there are literally thousands of modules that you can choose from. While that selection is great, it's daunting."
- Challenge: "Assurances that if something goes wrong, how will you mitigate your risk."
- Challenge: No vendor lock-in. Regarding the previous two points, Tom underscores, 'That is, of course, why we started Acquia. Our mission is to make you successful using something that you opt to do. You're not tied in to working with Acquia to be able to work with Drupal. So our services have to be above and beyond in order to be compelling enough," for clients to choose and remain with Acquia ... or any open source service provider. "So working hard to always be that organization that has a compelling offering to work with such a powerful product is another challenge."
No one expects the ... !
When I asked Tom what was something unexpected he's encountered running Acquia, his answer sure was the right one for me! :-) "The robustness and the vibrancy of the community for Drupal specifically ... I don't want to say it's open source in general, I think it's Drupal in particular ... did surprise me. And that was a very pleasant surprise in terms of how active the community is, how responsive they are to each other. Developers entering the community really enjoy the experience of having that camaraderie with other developers and the ability to solve problems without feeling alienated or inferior. How the community works together is really quite fun to see."
Drupal: Community Open Source & contribution
Since hiring Gábor Hojtsy to work full time on releasing Drupal 6, Acquia has a massive history of giving back and paying it forward to the Drupal project. "Since we started, there are probably 200-250 people in the Acquia team that have contributed to Drupal. We do it every day. Our history and give back mentality is long and it's part of who we are. We realize that we are part of the Drupal community and for us to succeed, we will help the Drupal community because we also benefit from the community and what they do. While we are, as an organization, the single largest contributor to Drupal, we are not at all a majority contributor to Drupal. It's a concept that Dries and I call 'Community Open Source' and opposed to 'Commercial Open Source' where if you take other projects--many other projects--most of the contributions to the project come from a specific commercial entity. That's not the case with Linux and that's not the case with Drupal. We're very proud to be part of that community."
What are you most excited about in Drupal 8?
"First and foremost, Drupal 8 from an architecture and capabilities perspective, is a monumental release. Dries and I talked about it a lot. We think of Drupal 8 as the biggest incremental Drupal release in the history of Drupal in terms of new capabilities, new structure, new promise. The number of different things in it, I think are very exciting, from user interface improvements to being totally mobile-first. But perhaps I'm most excited by the API-mentality that Drupal 8 has. Every single piece of information, every single node and entity is addressable through an API. To me, this is the foundation of the next generation of software in the cloud and it's very exciting."
- Name: Tom Erickson
- Work affiliation: CEO Acquia
- Twitter: @tom_eric
- LinkedIn: Thomas Erickson
- More about Tom in his own words:
- Tom's 2014 Reddit AMA: I'm Tom Erickson, CEO of Acquia, Ask me (almost) anything!
- 2014 New York Times profile interview: Tom Erickson of Acquia, on the Philosophy of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’
- 2013 opensource.com profile interview: Acquia CEO on open innovation and new markets for Drupal