Drupal vs Sitecore - a points win in the 10th round

James H's picture

Ahhh - there's nothing warms the heart of an old europhile and CMS veteran more than listening to three Americans debating the pros and cons of web solutions that were created in that other world across the pond from them ;) .  And so it was as Drupal went head to head with Sitecore during 10 rounds of bruising questions for the latest CMS-Connected event :)

Drupal had the much greater reach but Sitecore was able to land some low punches

In the blue corner we had Bryan House from Acquia representing Drupal. In the red corner Darren Guarnaccia from Sitecore. The referee was Scott Liewehr from Outsell Inc and the delightful compere was Veronica Cooper from CHEK TV.

Early in round one it became clear that this wasn't a straightforward product bout but more a philosophical battle between open source and proprietary web platforms in which the names could be swapped out across different levels of  competition by any number of commercial and GPL offerings.

However, taking the Real Story Group's recent re-classification of Sitecore as an upper-tier solution and the growing reputation of Drupal as an enterprise capable platform then I would pitch this as a heavyweight title match.

Before entering the ring, a quick review of the competitor's stats had Sitecore talking thousands of implementations and Drupal talking millions so the relative sizes giving open source an immediate advantage in terms of reach but perhaps the smaller fighter being more nimble, agile and packing a stronger punch? On stats alone this looked a little like a David and Goliath scenario...  

Seconds out - Round One ...

A very even sided first round with each competitor dancing around each other on the question of whether they provided a platform or product. The answers really just confirmed that it was relevant to have them in the ring together as essentially they are both competing on the same or similar propositions. Both offer a flexible and adaptable toolkit with which platforms of varying size and sophistication can be built and interconnected with other solutions.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 1

Round Two - (Enterprise fit)

After Scott set the scene for what he was referring to in terms of 'enterprise' I sensed that Bryan could start to falter a bit in this round. A seasoned .Net solution like Sitecore has the potential edge on Drupal in an enterprise environment in terms of integration and interoperability, particularly in environments that are heavily Microsoft orientated. This was the angle Darren quite sensibly took. Bryan fought back well by emphasising the levels of adoption in enterprise environments for Drupal's 'social publishing' approaches and how some organisations measure success by the speed and volume of content produced.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 1

Round Three - (Web Engagement)

Darren was quick out of his corner on this one and possibly sensed the mood in the crowd as he questioned terms like Web Engagement Management and emphasised that engagement was much more about business processes than technology solutions. If my mic wasn't muted he would have heard an approving cheer from me on that one.

Bryan took the opportunity in this round to emphasise that the Drupal community will package functionality up to make it easier for developers to implement the vast array of modules available through offerings like Drupal Commons. He also mentioned that Acquia keeps its finger on the pulse with regard to what proprietary vendors are promoting and has discussions around packaging up solutions for things like web engagement as and where relevant.

In my personal opinion Bryan could have done more in this round to emphasise the contributions of other affiliated Drupal organisations like Commerce Guys for instance. Here you have an organisation similarly commercialising its previous involvement in the Drupal shopping cart solutions in a well organised and professional way. I have been impressed with how these 'guys' have hit their milestones this year with the launch of Drupal Commerce 1.0

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 2

Round Four - (Services)

Another round potentially favouring Darren as many proprietary CMS vendors have been able to create cosy and mutually agreeable relationships with web design and systems integrator companies. This is an area where 'money talks' and it is a lot about the margins partners can make in recommending and implementing various solution, particularly if they are able to sidestep responsibilities at a later date. At this point the lovely Veronica stepped in with a question from the audience (in this case from yours truly). I asked ... "How does Sitecore oversee its partner network to make sure it is not over-customising the solution and thereby creating a higher degree of lock-in for customers?".

This is something I am always mindful of on web projects and it is an easy trap to fall into. This obviously works in favour of both partner and vendor as it becomes harder and harder for the customer to move away from the software solution and/or the service provider. I'm not entirely convinced that the partner accreditation programmes the majority of CMS vendors operate today really emphasise best practices that are in the customer's interests and are often designed more to get the partner and vendor working closer so that the best financial deals can be struck. Too often, profit imperative is the main objective of these programmes which, ultimately, results in less flexibility for the customer.

Conversely, service providers in the open source arena have a long way to go to present and market their offerings as well as those in the proprietary eco-system. Acquia is an encouraging start and showcase for the Drupal eco-system and hopefully it will inspire others and increase choices in the next few years.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 2

Round Five - (Customisation)

This round gave Bryan a great opportunity to emphasise the processes that sit around developing the Drupal core and how well controlled it is. My perception of proprietary vendors is that knowledge of the core system is guarded closely by a small number of people for commercial reasons but that this ultimately leads to implementors having to customise heavily and create workarounds to satisfy customer needs. If those customisations prove popular and the vendor then wishes to incorporate them into the core solution problems can then arise because the partner lacked essential knowledge of the core. Once again, customers often have to pick up the pieces for add-on modules that don't work as seamlessly as they should.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 1

Round Six - (Steering the ship)

At this point in the battle I started wondering whether the referee Scott had put on a pair of red gloves and started battering Bryan on Darren's behalf. Describing himself as cynical and skeptical (not normally descriptions I'd apply to your average American) about how this community organises itself and actually manages to agree on anything or delivers results to satisfy fast moving business demands. The creation of Acquia and the influence it has on the community was also questioned. This reminds me of comments I've seen from Drupal community leaders in the past about the challenge in 'herding cats'.

However, despite having doubts myself in the past about the sustainability of community driven software projects I believe that Drupal 7 is superb testament to the fact that a large and diverse community can be sufficiently motivated, organised and inspired to deliver a very high quality software solution. Rather than being railroaded by big customers with big budgets or big product managers with big egos, the community has focused well on improving the usability of the core solution and really understood what is needed to create a productive and user-friendly interface.

My scorecard - Drupal 2 - Sitecore 1

Round Seven - (Customer Experience/Cloud services)

Bit of a muddled round this as Bryan was asked about Acquia's cloud/PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings and what this meant for the acknowledged challenges in moving from one version of Drupal to another - particularly from 6 to 7. There was some confusion around terminologies at this point but Bryan emphasised that when it came to the cloud/PaaS solutions, there was no distinction made between versions and that it is simply 'just Drupal'.

At this point Darren got the opportunity to talk about Customer Experience Management and spoke about the importance of recognising customers at various touchpoints in their online and offline journeys and the challenges of integrating systems to provide that single view of the customer and their interactions. There was also some debate about the importance of developing things like analytics capabilities versus enabling 'best of breed' solutions to be integrated effectively. Bryan made a valid point about some proprietary vendors currently promoting new Facebook integration capabilities that have been available for a long time in the Drupal eco-system.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 2

Round Eight - (Learning from each other)

Just before getting stuck in to the next round a question was fired in from Veronica about how secure Drupal is. There is obviously a running joke at these events about Drupal making reference to the whitehouse.gov site as Scott seemed surprised that it had taken almost an hour for it to mentioned in this debate. However, this was a relevant choice by Bryan as it is easy to see how this site must be one of the most targeted in the world from hackers with all sorts of greivances.

In terms of the responses to the question of what Sitecore emulates from Drupal and visa versa, they were pretty predictable. Darren emphasised the importance of community - something that many proprietary vendors tried to avoid for as long as possible until open source made it impossible to ignore - and Bryan acknowledged the importance of marketing and identfying how to package solutions to customers needs.

My scorecard - Drupal 2 - Sitecore 1

Round Nine - (Cost of Ownership)

An opportunity here for the proprietary corner to fight a bit dirty over the popular held belief that despite the fact open source solutions do not carry license costs, they can cost twice as much to implement. The emphasis appeared to be particularly on how long it takes to build stuff and that complex proprietary projects can be delivered in weeks not months. Having used Drupal 6 and 7 quite extensively now I can see validity in this comment for the previous versions but I think the latest version has improved ease-of-use and deployment considerably and so such observations from the proprietary corner are looking increasingly thin.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore 1

Round Ten - (Open question)

In the 10th and final round, Scott gave each competitor the opportunity to ask a question of their opponent. Now, I'm not sure the history to the question Bryan asked of Darren but it seems Sitecore has been a bit dismissive of Acquia in recent whitepapers. To me, it appeared a justifiable and humble enough question to ask why the opponent seemingly refused to recognise that Acquia has something to offer over and above Drupal.

When it came to Darren's turn, the question was aimed, in my opinion, below the belt and was the sort of classic FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) attack that proprietary vendors have become masters at given the continuing rise of open source as a credible alternative. Darren chose to make reference to the publicly viewable 'bug list' associated with the new Drupal 7.0 release and appeared to be implying that the development community itself was concerned about the level of bugs.

Bryan defended this sneaky blow well in explaining how the Drupal development process was so much more transparent than typical proprietary product ones (just for the record, I couldn't find any public Sitecore issues lists only a bunch of comments from frustrated implementors renaming it  Shitcore ;) hey ho ) and that the Drupal community was very passionate about delivering a quality solution. I'm sure Sitecore's developers are equally passionate about what they do but as I felt this was a low punch I have penalised it in my scoring.

My scorecard - Drupal 1 - Sitecore (-3)

So, adding up my personal scorecard I found the battle pretty evenly matched across most of the rounds with both parties doing well to emphasise the pros and cons of open source and proprietary software developments. It is a shame that Darren chose to fight dirty with low aimed FUD in the last round when it was so unnecessary and therefore lose some of those hard-earned points. ;)

My final scores - Drupal 12 - Sitecore 9

Watch this space for the YouTube coverage of the above bout and also the next battle in the series between SDL Tridion and Adobe Day - should be a good one :)