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Drupal's Multi-Site Functionality

Posted by: Rich Lawson on Feb 10, 2017 8:45:00 AM in Development Strategy


Have you ever tried to count the number of websites that exist within a single university? Obviously, there is the main university-wide site. Each school or department has its own website. And then there are countless other offshoots — hundreds of other sites that all ladder back to the university.

multi.jpgNow imagine this scenario happens. The university goes through a rebranding exercise, and in the process, develops a new logo. Each and every one of those websites needs to feature the updated logo. Think of all the work it will take to make those changes. Each site has a different administrator who is responsible for seeing the edits through, either by making the changes themselves or working with the IT or Marketing/Communications team. And then, it will be up to a university administrator to check each site and ensure the changes meet the compliance requirements.

That’s a lot of work, and a lot of time. What if there was a way to make the change one time and have it affect the entire ecosystem of university sites? 

 

Thanks to Drupal, that answer is here.

Drupal features multi-site functionality, which is the ability to run multiple websites off of a single platform that allows for the easy use of shared functionality and templates for each site. The sites can be separate with different looks and purposes, but they can still leverage the same functionality.

So, in the scenario above, instead of having all those different staff members needing to devote time to incorporate the new logo on each site, you could have one person incorporate it into the university’s Drupal platform, and every site would automatically be updated. Running all university pages off a single code base and having this simple method for deployment can also be extremely helpful from the perspective of maintenance, security and developing new features. 

Take the University of Colorado at Boulder, for example. The university has more than 1,000 sites, stretching across colleges, departments and the administration, and these are all managed by a team of nine people. As staff add new features to their Drupal platform, any of the sites it hosts can incorporate the feature into their site.

See Why Marketers Love Drupal 8! Another benefit of this functionality comes back to branding. Beyond the example mentioned above about a logo, a central marketing/communications office could create a suite of approved website templates and themes for departments and faculty to leverage. Again, the sites could have an entirely different look and feel from one another while still running off the same core code base, all while maintaining consistent branding for the university.

Another major benefit of multi-site functionality is the ability to create a standard method for sharing content across the university. There are a variety of different methods to accomplishing this within Drupal, which provides the flexibility necessary for implementing a solution that makes the most sense for a particular university’s workflows, governance and structure.

In one implementation, much like selecting categories for a blog, editors were able to assign content to any taxonomy across the university, and this was used to share content across any number of sites. So, for example, say that an economics professor won a prestigious award that garnered coverage from the university’s marketing department. The story was posted on the main university news page, but by selecting or “tagging” a particular term, it could easily be posted on the economics department website as well.

There are a number of reasons why Drupal makes sense for higher education institutions, but in my opinion, the multi-site functionality is one that has a very positive impact. 

Let's Talk! Do you have questions about Drupal or its multi-site functionality, or would you like to hear more about a different topic we haven’t covered yet on the blog? Feel free to email me directly and let me know.