What Acquia did next

Acquia is expanding its horizons and adding support for Node.js and Magento as it creates a “universal platform” for enterprises to build digital experiences

Boston-headquartered Acquia is entering a new phase of its evolution as it expands its cloud offering, seeking to be the “universal platform” for enterprises to build digital experiences.

“If you think about our history, when I started the company the vision was to provide commercial support to Drupal — that was phase one,” Dries Buytaert, the creator of the open source Drupal content management system (CMS) and the co-founder of Acquia, told Computerworld on the sidelines of the company’s recent Engage conference in Sydney.

“I mean we’re still doing that today — when we say next phase, it’s not like we’re throwing things out; we’re adding things,” added Buytaert, who is Acquia’s chief technology officer.

“Phase one was commercial support for Drupal. At the time that was the traditional open source business model; that’s what Red Hat did, MySQL, and others. Then relatively quickly we spearheaded a new business model for open source, which was to leverage the cloud.

“It wasn’t really called cloud at the time, but we saw a future in Amazon, EC2 and S3 — these services had just launched and we jumped on them to build a variety of cloud-based offerings around Drupal.”

Acquia CTO Dries BuytaertCredit: Acquia
Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert

Phase two saw the launch of Acquia Cloud and services such as Site Factory, which allows enterprises to manage large collections of Drupal-based websites.

“Today, most people will know us as a Drupal-optimised cloud platform,” Buytaert said. “If people think about Acquia they’ll say, ‘That’s where you go and host your big websites based on Drupal.’ And that’s reflected in our revenues — most of the revenue comes from cloud.”

The next phase of Acquia, Buytaert said, is “moving beyond Drupal”.

“It doesn’t mean we’re throwing Drupal out,” he hastened to add. “It will be a very critical component, just like support is still a critical component to what we do.”

“But what organisations do today is very different to what they did eight years ago,” Buytaert said. “Eight years ago, companies had a website and that was it.

“Today most companies have a ‘digital experience’, we call it — which involves a website, which involves a mobile application. It involves social media, it involves marketing automation tools and email campaigns. It involves more and more and more: Things like conversational UIs, like chatbots or Amazon Echo just add more complexity to it.”

“Today, it’s no longer sufficient to just have a website,” the Acquia CTO said.

“Add to that the whole decoupled movement around JavaScript frontends and we felt that it was necessary to expand what we do to other technologies to be a more complete digital experience platform.”

“Our vision is to be the universal platform that people can use to build these ambitious digital experiences versus just [building] a website,” Buytaert said.

Acquia is in the process of expanding its cloud platform to reflect this. Site Factory will no longer just manage Drupal-based websites; it will also allow enterprises to host and manage thousands of Node.js applications and instances of the Magento ecommerce platform on Acquia Cloud.

“We chose those two primarily because it’s what our customers want,” Acquia’s chief products officer, Christopher Stone, told Computerworld. “We don’t want to turn ourselves into a generic cloud company — we really want to stay more opinionated about how we want a journey to work.”

“Our customers are actually asking us to be prescriptive,” he added.

“Our goal is to prescribe and say, ‘Here’s a world-class digital experience platform and it includes a content management repository, it includes a commerce backend, it includes a market innovation tool’,” Buytaert said.

“It’s not about the hosting; it’s about providing a complete platform that allows you to manage the entirety of the customer experience,” he said.

That means that Acquia will continue to add to its cloud ecosystem, but avoid an open-slather approach, Buytaert said.

Acquia is building out a new integration layer for its cloud to ensure customers can access “best of breed” applications delivered by other companies, Stone said. “We can’t build all this stuff, nor should we,” he said. 

Acquia chief products officer Christopher Stone
Acquia chief products officer Christopher Stone

An API layer currently dubbed ‘Connect API’ — the name is provisional and likely to change by the time it is released — will provide a mechanism for ISVs, digital agencies and Acquia customers to more easily integrate external services with its cloud offerings. The plan is to roll it out in phases.

It will facilitate connections to CRM applications such as Salesforce and ecommerce engines such as Hybris, as well as third-party marketing automation, video, DMP and ad delivery tools, and allow enterprises to leverage bidirectional data flows when building out their digital offerings on Acquia Cloud.

“The first thing to do is to make sure all of the APIs are available for all products — that’s still underway,” Stone said. Acquia still needs to add a number of APIs to its personalisation offering, Lift, and a number of its other products, he said.

“The intention right now is for a first set of third party ISVs to start using it in Q4,” Stone said.

New services

Acquia is also preparing to roll out a number of new services of its own. In the future, every release from the company will fall in one of two categories, Stone told Engage: ‘Digital factories’ and ‘customer journeys’.

The company will release a toolkit — Acquia Journey — to help enterprises map customer journeys.

On the digital factories front, it is preparing to add support for continuous delivery from within Acquia Cloud as well as event-driven scaling, Stone said.

Acquia is also preparing for its first foray into machine learning: Its ‘Similarity Engine will allow customers to automatically categorise content. Stone said he expects it to be available by the end of the year.

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