It seems like these days if your organization only has one website you're about 5 short of the norm. So, a very common question I get is how organizations can benefit from a common CMS environment. It's easy to argue that standardizing an organization on a single platform definitely has its benefits. Drupal, in particular, is a good choice for such an environment. There are multiple architectures to choose from, depending on your needs. Here is a quick summary of the types of mult-site architectures that can be implemented. I'm sure there are others, but these are environments I have personally implemented and have had proven success with.
Level 1: Common Drupal Environments
Multiple sites in an organization are deployed using Drupal in the same or similar production environments.
Sites are separate, but benefit from common components, best practices, and organizational familiarity. Perfect
for organizations looking to deploy multiple unique systems, but are looking for a common technical platform.
- Utilizes a common development staff
- Less organizational training is needed between systems
- Organizations benefit from functional similarity Cons
- Minimal economies of scale are gained
- Each site is a separate development and deployment effort
Level 2: Multi-Site Installation
Multiple sites in an organization are deployed in a Drupal environment that allows sharing of components, but
also maintains site individuality. Perfect for organizations with a couple sites that have unique content, but are
similar or even identical in functionality.
- Some code components are shared
- Designs can be completely unique
- Content is unique to each site
- Overall development time can be decreased by implementing in series
- Each site is deployed by development team, but economies of scale are acquired on subsequent deploys
- If too many sites are deployed in this environment, virtual site option should be considered
Level 3: Virtual Site Platform
Multiple sites in an organization are deployed in a single Drupal installation. Each site is part of the same CMS,
which allows for extensive sharing of components and content. Platform allows for high degrees of scalability
by allowing quick and easy launching of many similar virtual websites.
- Deployable by non-technical staff
- Each site can have a unique design, as long as layout is similar
- Each site can have unique URL
- Very high economies of scale can be reached
- Not appropriate if significant amount of content is not being shared
- Not appropriate if future plans could require functional diversion from the platform
- Requires more development time for setup and more testing
For further reading, see the Attached file for a presentation that my colleagues, Frank and Irakli, gave at the NOVA Drupal Meetup back in October 2008. It discusses Level 2 and 3 above in more detail. Note, the presentation has undergone a few minor updates since its original presentation.