What to Know When Considering Drupal Multisite Functionality





If your enterprise runs multiple websites, adopting a multisite architecture should be a key consideration. We recently wrote a backgrounder on multisite architecture, and how to decide if it’s the right option for you.
Once you’ve decided to deploy a multisite architecture, the next question is which technology stack should be used to support it. The biggest consideration at this stage is which content management system (CMS) to use, and how well it supports a multisite architecture. Drupal is the leading multisite architecture CMS and has numerous benefits when deployed effectively. In this article, we will review what the Drupal multisite solution brings to the table, understand its strengths and uncover any potential risks.
The Drupal multisite solution allows separate independent sites to be served and managed from a central codebase. These sites can have separate databases, configurations, files and base domain or URLs, allowing enterprises to manage multiple sites on a single platform without impacting site autonomy.


Here are a few scenarios where the Drupal multisite solution is the right fit:
  • An organization has a base website and needs to create multiple replica sites with minor variations in design and functionality. With Drupal Multisite, all these websites are on the same codebase and a basic site template is used to create the same features and functionalities for the cloned sites, but each website can have its own theme.
  • Drupal multisite is also suitable when you have a base site with several related sites. If most of your sites need similar features, albeit with some requiring unique functionalities, you can leverage a shared module profile and additional custom modules for other sites.
  • Another strong fit is when a sub-site is needed to test certain new website features and functionalities. Drupal Multisite allows developers to quickly set up a new site and safely work out and test specific issues without impacting any user-facing sites.


Benefits of Drupal Multisite Architecture


Quick creation and configuration of new sites
Within Drupal multisite solutions, there are features implemented specifically for website admins that enable the creation and configuration of new websites without developer support. For instance, admins can quickly update website styling via custom themes or drag-and-drop page elements. Capitalizing on these features and tools increases the ROI for multisite setup because they accelerate site creation while decreasing the need for technical/IT team involvement.


Streamlined content management
Drupal is one of the leading CMS solutions or content management. It provides the same capabilities with its multisite solution, enabling simplified content management with streamlined editorial workflows. It offers a single content editing interface where content can be published or updated once, and then quickly shared across all sites, even in multiple languages with Drupal’s multilingual capabilities.


Standardized development with reusable components
Once deployed, the Drupal multisite solution enables 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 deployment process. Other website teams can then reuse them, rather than developing their own from scratch. Besides saving time, this ensures that any new site being developed, or old ones being updated, offers 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 or features. Instead, all sites have access to all the themes and modules deployed and they can turn them on or off depending on the needs of the site.


Maintenance and security
With the proliferation of technologies and software solutions, the complexity of maintenance and security has also increased. Given that, the total cost of ownership to maintain an online marketing presence and communication tools also increases. To help mitigate these cost increases, using a single CMS enterprise-wide can ensure security and streamline any maintenance needs.


The Domain Access Module
Managing a database with multiple sites without the multisite feature can be time intensive and exhausting. That’s why Drupal developed the Domain Access module, which helps to consolidate all the individual databases to a single, central database. The centralized database lets users share content, tools and site features across all sites. This single database is much easier to manage and upgrade, and can be the perfect solution when all sites serve a similar function.


Potential issues with Drupal Multisite

While the benefits are significant, it’s worth being aware of some common risks that may potentially arise with the Drupal Multisite solution.


Increased maintenance for differentiated sites
If an organization has multiple sites serving different purposes and functions that have little in common, Drupal multisite may not be the optimal solution. Since each site database must be maintained separately, the benefits of the Domain Access Module would not be realized in this scenario. In such cases, multisite might become unwieldy to use as designed.


Restricted innovation and flexibility
While Drupal Multisite makes it easy to maintain a single codebase, there can be a trade-off with the ability to deploy innovative website experiences. Rolling out replicas or highly similar sites using Drupal Multisite is fast and efficient because of the shared set of modules in use. However, microsites for marketing campaigns or other interactive sites need a range of custom modules, and creating those within the multisite setup may present issues. Therefore, it is advisable to keep these types of sites outside the Drupal Multisite ecosystem and manage them independently.


Single Point of Failure
The dependence on a single codebase to operate multiple sites can be a problem in case of a potential flaw in the codebase. As with any CMS, if the Drupal platform is not regularly kept up to date with the latest security patches, you run the risk of having all your 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. Understanding how an organization’s current IT infrastructure is set up and estimating its future requirements are the first steps in deciding if Drupal Multisite will meet its needs without exposing issues or risks.
At Material, our Drupal experts can guide you through this process and design an effective multi-site architecture that works for you.
We have worked with global enterprises to deliver multisite architecture with the Drupal Multisite solution. We understand the business and technological nuances involved in a large-scale, multisite deployment and we 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? Reach out today for a consultation with one of our Drupal experts.