Earlier this week Dries Buytaert, Acquia’s CTO and the founder of the Drupal project (a popular open source web content solution), announced that Acquia has received an additional round of funding. In the announcement Buytaert also outlined their successes from this past year.
In the last year, our business grew by more than 300% and we went from 30 to 70 full-time employees. Drupal Gardens grew from 0 to 25,000 sites, we added 100 enterprise customers to Acquia Hosting, and our support business has in excess of 550 customers.
In addition, Acquia recently announced plans to open offices in Europe. It appears Acquia has proven itself to their investors and are ready to build on their initial successes. Here are some investments Acquia could make with this latest round of funding:
- Drupal for the enterprise: Growing their presence in the enterprise market was the number one opportunity cited by Buytaert in his announcement. Drupal’s low-cost entry point, flexible architecture, and ability to support a variety of application scenarios provide a good foundation upon which to build Acquia’s enterprise business.
- Drupal as social software: In April Acquia released Drupal Commons, a prepackaged distribution consisting of Drupal’s core software and other add-ons configured to deliver a social networking site. It was a relatively low-cost investment for Acquia since the product is mostly based on popular community modules. Acquia could invest more in these types of capabilities, including additional hosting options. When first announcing Drupal Commons, Buytaert clearly positioned Jive as a target (see Drupal Commons, meet Jive Software).
- Separate platform from application: Many Drupalers think of the product as a framework first and an application second. However, it is difficult to get the attention of enterprise business managers with a technology framework; they are interested in the application. Being able to deliver both is difficult since there is a natural tension that exists between the two. Drupal’s core software needs to support thousands of scenarios while specific deployments strive to meet a business need. Strengthening the separation between platform and application would enable Drupal to continue growing in multiple directions (e.g., social software, WCM, intranets, etc.). Buytaert identified these two directions when laying out plans for development Drupal 8 (the next major release).
However, Acquia still faces many challenges going forward:
- Growth will increase community tensions: The Drupal community appears to have remained strong throughout Acquia’s successful entrance into the market. Credit Buytaert’s leadership for this. However, going forward this will not get any easier. Governance of volunteer-driven open source projects is still in its infancy and requires a different type of leadership than that of a project that was originally backed by a commercial entity and then later courted a community. The Drupal community came first and Acquia’s fate remains tied to its success.
- Competition within the enterprise remains fierce: With their release of Drupal Commons, Acquia clearly took aim at Jive. However, there are many more competitors to deal with, such as other enterprise social software and established content management vendors. The platform/application combination of SharePoint and NewsGator will be an interesting dynamic to watch, particularly given the direction Drupal seems to be heading.
- Open source on the Internet is really about the money: Although open source solutions are flexible and are able to keep up with the latest trends, cost is the real reason driving many enterprises go with open source web content solutions. However, many of these needs can now also be met by low-cost services such as Squarespace and Tumblr. Even WordPress’ recent major release adds lightweight WCM capabilities.Open source projects are formed to fill a need. Many commercial vendors have learned their lessons and now work hard to avoid creating conditions that would cause a competitive open source project to emerge.
Although Acquia is still a small company, the Drupal community and the number of installations on the Internet is large.Given the low-cost of the product, the strong community appeal, and a growing commercial company (Acquia) offering support and other services, Drupal could be a competitive and disruptive product for some time to come.
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