Things To Know Before Embracing Drupal Multisite Functionality

By Urvashi Melwani Jan 28, 2020

If you are an enterprise running multiple websites, adopting a multisite architecture is a key consideration. We've already taken an look and what is multisite, and how to decide if it's the right option for you.

Now let's say you have decided to opt for it, the next question is what is the technology stack to use. The key concern here is the CMS you choose, and how well that supports a multisite architecture. In this blog, we take a look at what the Drupal multisite solution brings to the table, understand its strengths, and also the possible risks that your need to be aware of.

The Drupal multisite solution allows separate independent sites to be served from a single codebase.

These sites have separate database, configuration, files and base domain or URL. This allows enterprises manage multiple sites on a single platform without impacting site autonomy.

Here's are a few scenarios where the Drupal multisite solution is a perfect fit:

  • You have a base website, and need to create multiple replica sites with minor variations in design. With Drupal multisite, you can have all this sites on the same codebase, clone a basic site template to have same features and functionalities for the replicas, and have a different theme for each site. 
  • Drupal multisite is also suitable when you have a base site with several related sites. If majority of your site need similar features, with some of them require unique functionalities, you can have a shared module profile and additional custom modules for some sites.
  • You want to spin out a sub-site to test certain new features and functionalities. Drupal multisite allows developers to quickly set up a new site and safely work and test out specific issues, without impacting any user-facing sites.

Benefits of Using Drupal Multisite Architecture

Quick Creation and Configuration of New Sites

Within Drupal multisite solutions, there are features implemented specifically for admins that allow them to create and configure new websites, without developer support. For instance, admins can quickly update website styling via custom themes, or drag and drop page elements. 

Capitalizing on such tools makes the ROI for multisite setup more attractive as they accelerate site creation, while decreasing the technical/IT team overhead. 

Streamlined Content Management

Drupal is one of the most powerful CMSes when it comes to content management. It brings the same capabilities onto its multisite solution, enabling simplified content management with streamlinded editorial workflows. It offers single content editing interface where content needs to be published or updated once, and is quickly shared across all sites, even in multiple languages, with Drupal's multilingual capabilities.

Standardized Development with Reusable Components

The Drupal multisite solution, once deployed, forces different website stakeholders across the organization to work within the structured tools and templates. A shared library of reusable integrations, functionality, UI components, and workflows are built at the beginning of the multisite deplyment process. And independent website teams can reuse them, rather than developing their own from scratch. Besides saving time, this ensures that any new site being developed or old ones beng updated, offer a consistent visual and user experience, and optimal performance.

Despite standardization, using the same codebase does not imply that sites are restricted to choosing the same layout, design, and features.

Rather, all the sites have access to all of the themes and modules deployed, and they can turn them on/off depending on the needs of the particular site. 

Maintenance and Security

With the proliferation in the variety of technologies or setup implemented, the complexity of maintenance and security has also seen an unanticipated upsurge. Given that, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of maintaining an online marketing presence and communication tools goes up to the whole other level. In such scenarios, keeping up a single CMS to ensure its security and maintenance is advantageous.

The Domain Access Module

Managing a database of every single site that has been created (say 11) without the multisite feature can prove to be an exhausting task.

That’s why Drupal has developed the Domain Access module which helps in consolidating all the individual databases to a single central database. The centralized database enables users to share content, tools, and site features across all sites while simultaneously being able to change the appearance of each site. 

Besides, a single database is easier to manage, upgrade, and makes the perfect solution if all sites serve a similar function.


Risks to Watch Out for with Drupal Multisite

While the benfits are significant, it is advisable to be aware to some common risks that come up with the Drupal multisite solution.

Heavy Maintenance for Differentiated Sites

In case you have multiple sites serving different purposes and functions, and have very little in common, Drupal multisite is not the best solution. The Domain Access module would not be functional here are each site database will need to be main tained separately. In such cases, multisite might actually become unweildy to handle, and it best avoided.

Restricted Innovation and Flexibility

While Drupal multisite makes it easy to maintain the codebase, it can does have a trade-off with your ability to deploy innovative website experiences. Rolling out replicas or closely similar sites using Drupal multisite is fast because of the shared set of modules in use. However, microsites for marketing campaigns or other interactive sites need a range of custome modules and creating those within the multisite set up could generate complexities. 

So it is advisable to keep such sites outside the Drupal multisite setup and manage independently. 

Single Point Of Failure

The dependence on a single codebase to operate multiple sites can be a problem in case of a flaw in the codebase. If your Drupal platform is not regularly kept up-to-date, you run the risk of having all you sites go down at once due to a security vulnerability or other major bugs.

As with every tech solution, Drupal multisite has its pros and cons. However, understanding how your current IT infrastructure is set up, and estimating your future requirements, would be the first step in figuring out if Drupal multisite will meet your requirements without running into the challenges. 

At Srijan, our teams can help connect and consult with you to help you through this process. And then step into designing an effective multisite architecture that works for you.

We have worked with several global enterprises to deliver multisite architecture with the Drupal multisite solution. We understand the business and technological nuances involved in a large-scale multisite setup and have the expertise to help you successfully navigate the discovery, development and deployment phases of the project. 

Looking to consolidate your digital presence with a multisite architecture? Let’s start the conversation on how Srijan can help. 

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