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New CEO, New Drupal CMS Offerings for Acquia

Drupal, the popular, open source, content management system (CMS) so far has grown mostly by way of its community roots.

But Tom Erickson, the newly appointed CEO at Drupal's lead commercial sponsor, Acquia, believes that the commercial enterprise can grow the community, too.

That could further compound the success that Drupal has already seen, having been tapped by NASA, Sony, MTV, Mozilla and others, as well as a number of community Web sites.

Erickson, who has also held the position of chairman since October, previously served as CEO at Systinet, a player in service-oriented architecture software that Mercury Interactive acquired in 2006. He replaces co-founder Jay Batson, who will stay with the firm in another management role, the company said.

In addition, Erickson's appointment as Acquia's new CEO isn't the only major development for Drupal this week. Acquia also rolled out a new search service for Drupal Web sites, cloud-based hosting, and new Drupal application stacks.

The plan is that new releases will give Acquia a greater competitive edge against commercial competitors while providing additional support for its open source code base.

"Up until now, much of the focus around Acquia has been on serving the existing, large Drupal community," Erickson told InternetNews.com. "We believe ... we can now make the community larger and do more outreach to people that are non-Drupal users today. "

Acquia launched a year ago with $7 million in venture capital with the aim of providing a commercially supported version of Drupal. Since then, Acquia's release of Drupal includes the core CMS components while adding in additional modules and testing.

Acquia is now going a few steps further with its Drupal Stack Installers, which aim to make it easier for enterprises to deploy Drupal.

The installers provide what Erickson referred to as the complete "DAMP" stack -- referring to Drupal, the Apache Web server, the MySQL database and the PHP dynamic language. Previously, users had to have each stack component installed on their own.

Initially, Acquia is only providing the stack for Mac and Windows users, though a Linux version is targeted for release by the end of the year. Erickson said Acquia could afford to delay a Linux version because it said Linux users are often more sophisticated, and typically already have what they need to run Drupal.

CMS in the cloud

New cloud-based services are also key to Acquia's growth plans for Drupal. The company this week unveiled Hosted Drupal, delivered through Amazon's EC2 cloud service.

The offering is targeted at the largest Drupal users, and isn't intended to compete against the broader Drupal ecosystem of hosting providers that tend to deal with small and midsized sites, Erickson said. He was unable to provide specific pricing for the hosted services.

Acquia will also be turning to Amazon's EC2 cloud service to handle its new cloud-based search service for Drupal sites as well.

Existing Drupal installations already have a myriad of search option available by way of add-ons. But Erickson argued that Acquia Search will be doing something different, and more potent.

At the heart of Acquia's hosted search is the Apache Solr search platform, which will give users a facetted search that includes a sidebar menu for filtering and narrowing down results quickly.

Initially, he said Acquia will be making the service available for free as it tries to figure out what it's worth. But it won't be tapping at least one way to make money from the service: Erickson said Acquia isn't considering exploring contextual search advertising as part of the offering.

Drupal's next steps

In addition to a future Linux version of the Drupal Stack, Erickson said Acquia and Drupal have plenty in store in the near future.

For one thing, a virtualization-ready version is in the works -- as an appliance.

"We are going to target virtualization, but we will target it together with hardware manufacturers," Erickson said.

But continuing to press ahead with Acquia's strategy costs money. And while Erickson claimed that year-old Acquia is already seeing revenues, but it's not yet cash-flow positive -- and likely won't be until 2010.

To get there, he said Acquia will be targeting a number of different avenues, including customers migrating from proprietary players and enterprises using home-grown content management systems. He also said that having commercial support and services for Drupal would continue to make it more attractive to those that might not otherwise consider an open source solution.

"Some have a false notion of what open source is," he said. "They have a view that open source is not an organized group with proven solutions that are tested. Now, with an enterprise like Acquia, we're helping to make sure that there is testing. "