Running your own hosting from on-premise infrastructure or a major cloud provider is a common option for colleges and universities. But it's not a great one. Nearly every college and university web team I have talked to feels like they are understaffed for the work on their plate. Often, a too-small team needs to drive conversions on the site while keeping content accurate, updating CMS code, and applying server updates. It's a lot to worry about.
As we’ve met higher ed developers at conferences like HighEdWeb, AMA, and Cornell DrupalCamp over the last few months, we’ve seen and heard about ambitions to deliver great experiences to the communities they serve. But the nuts and bolts of running Drupal and WordPress sites performantly at scale can bog down any results-focused team. That's where a specialized website management platform like Pantheon comes in. And more and more universities are choosing to partner with Pantheon.
1. Drupal and WordPress Together
Explaining Pantheon's growth in higher ed is relatively easy. We think we're the best place for professional developers to build and run Drupal and WordPress sites. Higher education institutions have a lot of Drupal and WordPress sites maintained by professional developers. By covering both CMSs, we can simplify the work of many teams who would otherwise use separate platforms for Drupal and WordPress or stay on-premise.
2. Faster Teams, Faster Sites
By moving to a specialized platform overtaxed web teams have more time to focus on higher value items in their hierarchy of needs. For large institutions, like Arizona State, the move to Pantheon can free up the equivalent of multiple full time employees.
In addition to speeding up the people building the sites, Pantheon does a lot to speed up the sites themselves. Pantheon co-founder Josh Koenig recently published an analysis of HTTP Archive and Chrome User Experience (CrUX) dataset showing that most any specialized platform beats DIY infrastructure.
3. Managing a Portfolio of Sites With a Team
One of the ways we speed up teams is by making the concept of an organization of developers a first class citizen in the Pantheon product. Developers do not need to track lots of passwords to sign in and out of multiple Pantheon accounts to manage code for multiple sites.
All of the sites for a university call roll up in one dashboard view:
And user roles restrict who is allowed to do what within your organization:
4. Custom Upstreams: A More Flexible Multisite Alternative
Another way we ease managing a large number of sites is with Custom Upstreams. When a university is running a large number of sites there is a good chance those sites share a lot of code and functionality. Custom Upstreams use the magic of git to allow administrators to update shared code in one repository on GitHub (or Bitbucket or Gitlab) and then bring those updates into every site using the upstream.
Custom upstreams work great for separately managing student group or department websites. Gone are the days of building Drupal multisites that feel like Jenga towers. We think you are much better off running lots of simple sites than one massively complex site. We make following that recommendation possible by offering a scalable, containerized platform that makes creating and updating sites easy.
5. We Get It
Finally, Pantheon works well for higher ed because we've been there. All of the Pantheon co-founders and much of Pantheon's staff have spent years of their careers building sites for colleges and universities. One of the reasons I recommend custom upstreams is because I have built or worked on .edu sites that use nearly every other strategy available in Drupal (Multisite, Domain Access, Organic Groups) and I have seen the downsides of those models. We hope our experience shines through in the guidance we give through our open source docs site, our community Slack channel, and the office hours and trainings my team offers every week. Reach out to me any time if you have questions about whether Pantheon can help your college or university.
The Higher Ed IT Playbook
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