Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acquia - Lock-in Risk?

Just received an email from the Real Story Group warning followers about the risk of being locked into Acquia's web hosting services.  Here's a link to their web page containing similar content:

Here's the text I'd like to discuss:
Today, Acquia offers hosted products for:
  • Search
  • Behavioral personalization
  • Multi-site management
  • CDN
  • And more on the way...
Note that unlike a standard Drupal module you could swap in or out, these products bind you to Acquia. There is no formal community around them, save your fellow customers.  With some exceptions you can only use them in conjunction with Acquia's own cloud service, based on its own distribution of Drupal.  In short, these products mimic offerings from a commercial software vendor.
Taking each one of these products individually:

Search - Acquia uses Apache Solr, a free, open-source product.  There's nothing keeping you from implementing Solr yourself.  No lock-in.

Behavioral personalization.  I believe Acquia provides this service separate from its hosting service.  So even if you moved your Drupal site to a new IaaS provider (or your own data center), you can continue using this service.  No lock-in.

Multi-site management.  This is a core Drupal capability.  If you take your Drupal implementation elsewhere, you can still implement multi-site management.  No lock-in.

CDN.  CDN services are incredibly easy to implement - and replace.  I see no lock-in here.

Maybe Acquia provides some service/services that actually do increase your risk of lock-in, but nothing on RSG's list seems to have any relevance here.


pradeep said...

Can't speak for Tony Byrne obviously but my 2c on what he is referring to are the specific "Acquia-branded products" that you can purchase when you sign up with Acquia - Acquia Search, Acquia Lift, Acquia Cloud Site Factory, and Acquia Cloud Edge. These are not Drupal community modules but specific products with value-added features that are available ONLY for Acquia users.

a) Search - Acquia Search has more features than the open source version of Solr such as geospatial search, targeted search page creation etc. -
So if you do use Acquia Search's features, then you can't really switch out to plain Solr without having to custom build those features yourselves. Acquia doesn't make these features available to the Drupal or Solr communities. In that sense you are certainly getting locked in...

b) Behavioral personalization - In this case, the lock-in happens through data. As you mention, Acquia Lift is indeed a hosted service and can work with your site wherever it is hosted but the user activity data stream is collected and stored within Lift. I don't believe there is an option to store your data elsewhere and let Lift still do the personalization. Trying to move to another personalization vendor would mean migrating your customer data out of Lift into whatever store that your new personalization vendor demands. ...high switching costs=lock-in

c) MultiSite Management - Acquia Cloud Site Factory has a lot of features over and above Multi-site manager. As an example if you use their REST API to build utilities, you can't port those utilities over if you decide to just use the plain vanilla Multi-Site Manager.

d) CDN - Acquia Cloud Flare offers certain security features which are not provided by all CDNs.

Leveraging these products certainly locks you in with Acquia as you cannot switch vendors without losing functionality or incurring high switching costs. Not a bad thing per se. but the point the article is trying to make is that these products are not to be confused with regular Drupal modules as they are available ONLY to Acquia subscribers.


Bill Winett said...

Hi Pradeep,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Let me respond to each of these:

Search: Solr actually does have geospatial search (see Secondly, there's nothing keeping you from creating your own targeted search pages using Solr. So I see no lock-in.

Behavioral personalization: Yes, there is some lock-in with regard to being difficult to move to another personalization vendor. But note that Acquia does provide a method to export your data (see But in addition, I would say that this is the same type of lock-in you'll find with any personalization vendor - I don't see this as unique to Acquia.

Multisite management: I believe Acquia's Cloud Site Factory is based on the Gardens distribution (please correct me if I'm wrong). If this is the case, then it is simply an implementation of Drupal with a lot of community modules added. And you could do that yourself. In fact, if you export your code and database from Acquia, you may be 95% of the way there.

CDN: So stick with Cloudflare! They offer their service to any paying customer. No lock-in.