Open-source Drupal turns pro

Acquia's strengthened and supported distribution of the popular CMS smooths the path to a trouble-free Drupal site

Another big timesaver is Acquia's set of pre-integrated add-on modules. Acquia looked at some 1,800 modules available for Drupal -- then selected, fully tested, and integrated the essential ones you'd need for building a modern Web site.

Without detailing every add-in, I think Acquia made very good choices. For example, Content Construction Kit (CCK) lets me create custom content types using a simple wizard. Image creates picture galleries for your sites. Mollom protects sites from spam. And the VotingAPI gives developers a standard way to let users vote for and rate Drupal content. To add any of these modules to your site, you simply select them from Acquia Drupal's administration menu, which renders drop-down choices at the top of the browser for controlling the site.

So without having to play around installing and configuring any extra modules, I went right to the content section of Acquia Drupal's admin menu. After part of another day, I came away with a polished site that had a custom look, populated articles, a blog, video, discussion forums, and a tag cloud. Based on my earlier test of the community Drupal download, Acquia saved me at least a day of work integrating and preconfiguring the various components.

Taking the long view

While deploying a major site quickly is a big accomplishment, keeping the site running, day in and day out, is much more important. The standard Drupal core already has decent management, accessed from a page available to administrators. But several Acquia network modules, installed during setup, take administration a few steps further. These enable your Acquia Drupal installation to communicate securely with the Acquia Network and exchange configuration, operation, and profile information.

In particular, Acquia Heartbeat monitors your site's uptime and sends an alert when unexpected outages occur. Other network services promise to be just as valuable, though I didn't have Acquia Drupal running long enough to fully test them. Code Modification Detection, for instance, automatically senses if you change code that would make future updates difficult or that introduce security holes.

Status of all network services is available from the Acquia Drupal portal, which I found easy to navigate and to use. As an example, the main page alerted me to software updates based on my system profile. I also got a lot of mileage out of Site Usage Statistics, which provides an at-a-glance view of user activity, including newly created content and comments; this is updated daily.

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