Why We Replaced 13 Years of Proprietary Code With Drupal 8


A Little Bit of Background

Having started building websites for clients in 1995, we quickly discovered the benefits of using standard platforms for site management. We didn’t find a solution to meet our needs then, in particular the commitment to CSS as a core of the edit process. In 2003 we launched our own content/website management system, I-ntarsia™.

I-ntarsia developed in scope and function very quickly, benefitting from a modular design. We were very early in the adoption of a cloud based infrastructure, automated provisioning, SaaS/PaaS techniques and business systems integration. This development was also driven by customers, large and small who used the platform to build and manage their digital estates.

The broadening of the platform as a whole, however, meant we had less time to focus on the core content management functions. About 18 months ago we created a paper design for an upgrade to the core CMS. Before cutting code, we benchmarked our paper design against the best content management systems out there. We were pleasantly surprised to find a fairly close match in Drupal 7 and a very close match in the yet to be released Drupal 8.

Drupal 8 vs Drupal 7

On the surface there would seem to have been a strong argument to develop the I-ntarsia platform on Drupal 7.

  • Drupal 7 was released in January 2011 and by 2016 powered over a million Drupal sites (84% of all Drupal sites)
  • Drupal 8 was released in November 2015 and by mid 2016 powered only ~90,000 sites (7% of All Drupal sites)
  • Drupal 8 is a considerable departure from previous Drupal versions. The module development process is very different requiring a greater understanding of the core architecture of Drupal 8
  • Drupal 8 has a number of key modules taking time to be ported and released

These facts might make our selection of the Drupal 8 platform questionable. However, here at I-Next there was no D7 vs D8 decision, there didn’t need to be once we researched the two versions. We moved to Drupal from our successful proprietary code base BECAUSE of Drupal 8.

Drupal 7 was the product of an intense period of organic growth in the Drupal community. The end result, whilst highly capable, leaves a lot to be desired from a systems design perspective. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which we recognised from our own experience:

  • PHP code standards were not mature
  • Lack of commitment to backwards compatibility
  • Drive for features at the expense of coherent design strategy
  • Exponentially increasing contributor base creating a multitude of add-on modules

Drupal 8 is a complete, ground up, redesign of the Drupal system. The Drupal Community decided to use the experience gained in developing and maintaining some of the world's most complex web services to build a system that was elegant and scalable as well as being familiar and easy for people to use. They have done a great job, and core issues were addressed:

  • Adoption of object oriented coding across the system
  • Adoption of PHP standards (now more mature) making code cleaner and easier to quality assure
  • Integration of configuration management
  • Adoption of semantic versioning to drive a continuous development process with assured backwards compatibility
  • Integration of many 'essential' modules into Drupal core

So the outcome is a much, much better piece of software, but why should anyone care about that? Well, there are  huge number of reasons not least of which are:

  • D8 is the most advanced open source CMS available
  • D8 features make it the easiest to use CMS available
  • D8 is the version with development momentum
  • D8 has the longest active support life
  • D8 is where the brightest and best developers and theme builders want to be working
  • Whilst some modules may still be in alpha/beta they are maturing at lightning speed. Drupal 8 is most definitely production ready
  • Some of the latest and best Drupal features, such as BigPipe are ONLY available on Drupal 8

I-ntarsia 8.16 Was Born

That is why we replaced 13 years of proprietary code! On top of that the i-ntarsia platform puts Drupal 8 into a highly stable software stack with managed infrastructure which is maintained by a team of highly skilled, highly experienced engineers.