The Agile Guide to Migrating out of Drupal 7

Drupal support ends in:

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What You Need to Know About Drupal 7 End of Life (EoL)

5 Things you need to know:

  1. D7 goes away in 2022, D8 goes away in Nov 2021. D7 and D8 sites must move to D9 if they want to stay with Drupal
  2. But moving to D9 is not the only (or best) alternative
  3. Migrating out of D7 could be expensive and time-consuming
  4. Organizations running D7 need to take action NOW
  5. The closer we get to the end, the more problems D7 sites will have

D7 Doomsday

As you probably know, Drupal is a website content management system, sometimes thought of as a web operating system. Drupal powers hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of websites around the world.

Drupal is a favorite among academic institutions, museums, scientists, government agencies, member associations and other organizations that deliver complex, structured data and information to the public.

Drupal is very powerful, technically capable, fully featured, scalable, and secure. It’s been around for 20 years.

The most widely used version of Drupal, Drupal 7, has been around for over 10 years and has had an amazing run, powering websites such as WhiteHouse.gov, (though, that site recently migrated to WordPress).

Dries Buytaert, (Founder of Drupal, President of the Drupal Association, CTO of Acquia, and Project Lead on Drupal) has stated clearly in his blog that Drupal 7 AND Drupal 8 will BOTH lose their support soon.

Ironically, Drupal 7 will outlive its predecessor, Drupal 8, by a year. Drupal 7, which came out in 2011 will retire in 2022. Drupal 8, which came out in 2015, will retire in November 2021. Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 sites will need to migrate to Drupal 9 if they want to stay with the content management system. Episode 2 of The Agile Podcast talks specifically about Drupal 7’s end of life.

One of the major changes between Drupal 6/7 versus Drupal 8/9/10 is that Drupal version 8 and beyond are built on top of Symfony.

Drupal 8 was built in Symfony 3.x, Drupal 9 was built in Symfony 4.x, Drupal 10 is being built in Symfony 5.x. And when a version of Symfony reaches its end of life, so does the dependent version of Drupal.

VersionReleaseRetirementLifespan
Drupal 6Feb 2008Feb 20168 years
Drupal 7Jan 2011Nov 202211+ years
Drupal 8Nov 2015Nov 20216 years
Drupal 9Jun 2020Nov 20233 years
Drupal 10June 2022TBDTBD

Drupal 7 Migration: Estimating cost, time and money

Setting aside the technical details

These are the most important take-aways from professionals who have been living and breathing Drupal 7 migration for the past few years:

  • Moving to Drupal 8/9 is a complete rewrite of all the code
  • It takes longer to rebuild in D8/9 than it took to build in D7
  • Almost everything is taking longer than expected
  • Many Drupal 7 migrations take at least a year to perform
  • Many Drupal 7 migrations exceed $1M USD in cost
  • Many organizations simply did not plan or budget for this

Given that there is less than 2 years before Drupal 7 retires, organizations still running Drupal 7 need to plan and act now. Start the conversations now. Start the budgeting and procurement process now. Start developing and documenting requirements now. Do not delay or else you could find yourself running a Drupal 7 site after November of 2022, which means limited and perhaps expensive support.

Benefits of Drupal 9

Despite the dire, end-of-life warning in the previous section (and corresponding blog post), there is some good news about migrating to D9.

Unlike D7, which was more of an update to Drupal 6, which was an update to Drupal 5, which was an update to Drupal 4 … Drupal 8 was a complete rewrite of the core software that makes future upgrades easier. D8 and D9 use a modern technology stack to ensure forward compatibility for subsequent versions. Once a site moves into D9, the move to D10 should be quicker and less expensive than the initial move from D7.

9 upsides of D9

  1. It’s faster – D9 is designed to load faster than D7
  2. It’s fluent – D9 has multi-lingual language support
  3. It’s responsive – D9 is built using mobile-first methodology
  4. It’s easier – D9’s layout builder features drag-and-drop functionality
  5. It’s decoupled – D9’s API-first (JSON) approach eases app development
  6. It’s (more) secure – enhanced security, especially on the front end
  7. It’s streamlined – improved DevOps and content authoring workflow
  8. It’s multimedia – easier to upload, embed, and reuse media types
  9. It’s future proof – D8.9.x should be very similar to D9

That last point is an important benefit of Drupal 9; migrating to future versions of Drupal will be the last time organizations need to think about undertaking a major Drupal upgrade. Migrating from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 isn’t a herculean effort like it was to migrate from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 or from D7 to D8.

Drupal is not your ONLY alternative

It may not make sense (or cents) to migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 (D9). It could be that, depending on your requirements, other options or alternatives would better suit your needs. There are other web operating systems (WOS) or content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress (WP). Maybe a custom web framework such as React, Django, Symfony, or Laravel is best suited for your needs.

There is also a fork (clone) of Drupal 7 called Backdrop CMS that has taken a life of it’s own. So, if you love Drupal 7 and don’t want to leave it, Backdrop CMS allows you to stay with a supported version of Drupal 7.

Migration Process

One of my favorite movies, which has also contributed to Agileana’s company culture, is the movie: 300. In that movie, there is a great line that also describes the D7 to D8 migration process, “This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this.” Bottom line is that Drupal migration is not easy. You can’t just push an upgrade button.

How to estimate the cost of Drupal migration >>

The entire website (front-end and back-end) needs to be rebuilt completely. This is a long, lengthy, risky, and error-prone process. Errors, omissions, and mistakes can happen at every corner. So, organizations need to pay special attention to quality assurance and testing. Even migrating the users and content, which might seem to be the simplest part of the process, can consume quite a bit more time and resources than expected.

Learn more about the Drupal Migration process >>

The Agile Approach

Agile means a lot of things to a lot of people. In some cases, people and organizations are agile in name only. We have built our company on a foundation of agile software development. So, what does that really mean? From our perspective, agile means the following:

  • Be open to change. You might think that if a Drupal 7 website already exists and all you need to do is convert it to Drupal 8, then that would be an easy task. Just swap out this for that, feature by feature, page by page. But, it isn’t that simple. First of all, it could be that a lot of features built into the existing website are obsolete and should not be in the next version. Moreover, it could be that some things, especially with the user experience (UX), need improvement. So it would be wasteful to clone bad behavior. Jonathan Rasmusson states in his brilliant book, “The Agile Samurai,” that whatever requirements you gathered in the beginning are guaranteed to change. So, it is important to be open to change if you want to deliver a usable product.
  • Iterative approach. Also in “The Agile Samurai,” Rasmusson explains that if you accept the fact that it is impossible to gather all requirements at the beginning of the project then you are not afraid to begin your journey without knowing everything up front. So, it is important to just get started. But, we are not going to disappear into a lab to spend months consuming requirements, followed by months designing a UI, followed by months developing the backend, followed by months of testing and then reappear a year or two later to debut the new version. Instead, we are going to rapidly stand up a prototype and then iteratively design, develop, test, present, obtain feedback from users, and repeat. The iterative approach ensures that the final product is on target because it was based on user centered design (UCD).
  • Prioritize. Rasmusson has a third simple truth of software development and that is, “there will always be more to do than time and money will allow.” So, we should not get stressed when our to-do list exceeds our time and resources to deliver. Knowing that we could run out of time and money at any time, we want to focus on the most important features, elements, and priorities at any given time so when time or money does run out, we will have assured ourselves that we got the most important things done with the time and money we had.
  • Lean. We want to focus on the minimum viable product (MVP) and avoid gold-plating the project. We don’t want to throw on more people than necessary because our efficiency and velocity drops every time we add a layer of communication to our hierarchy. We prefer a flat, lean, non-hierarchical scrum team facilitated by servant leaders.

Our Qualifications

As of this writing, there are more D7 websites in need of migration than qualified Drupal development teams available to migrate these websites. The world would have to migrate 25,000 Drupal websites every month until Drupal 7 and 8 scheduled end of life (EOL) to get through all of them. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough Drupal shops or Acquia Certified Drupal developers available to jump on an intensive, 3-6 month project.

At a minimum, for a Drupal website of moderate complexity that serves as a mission-critical, enterprise-level system of an organization, the level of effort would require a team of 5 people including:

  • Team leader (PMP, CSM, CSPO)
  • Front-end Drupal developer (Acquia Certified)
  • Back-end Drupal developer (Acquia Certified)
  • Full-stack Drupal developer (Acquia Certified Grand Master)
  • Business analyst and quality assurance professional

Fortunately, Agileana has this team of professionals. We hold the following certifications and credentials:

Getting Started

Few organizations have a sense of urgency to migrate now when they can migrate later. Problem:

Supply and Demand. There is significantly more DEMAND for migrating out of Drupal 7 than the available SUPPLY of qualified Drupal teams capable of navigating the Drupal migration process. There simply are not enough people or teams with the skills and experience required to get organizations out of Drupal 7 before Drupal 7 expires. There is a scarcity, a shortage, of qualified, experienced, capable, professionals.

Most organizations, when they realize how much it costs to migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 figure they don’t have it in their budget this year to start a migration. So, more than half of all organizations running D7 will wait until mid- to late-2020 before they even start this migration process. This will result in a rush, or perhaps stampede, to find Drupal shops and developers available for these projects.

Demand for qualified Drupal developers and Drupal shops will increase dramatically as we get close to Drupal 7 end of life
Demand for qualified Drupal developers and Drupal shops will increase dramatically as we get close to Drupal 7 end of life

The final take-way is:

Please, give us a call at 202.660.2940, or email us at [email protected]. Let’s talk about your organization, your website, your goals and objectives, your budget, your timeline, and how we can help you.

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