Portrait of Romy Bolton, manager of the OneIT Web Hosting Project and a director in ITS Enterprise Services

Nearly all University of Iowa websites now use the same content-management system—Drupal—and using common technology yields a host of benefits, such as cost savings, greater expertise, and sharing custom modules.

The recently completed OneIT Website Hosting Project built on this success by consolidating the 650 UI Drupal sites onto a single, cloud-based hosting platform, called Acquia. The move allows the UI to shut down 80 servers, reducing hardware and energy expenses, and provides enhanced traffic management and security. Acquia also handles patching and server maintenance, saving IT professionals a lot of time.

“This project will allow Web and IT professionals to spend less time administering their website platforms,” says Graduate College IT Director Andy Jenkins, who co-led the project with Mark Ahrens, a senior application developer in Information Technology Services (ITS) Enterprise Services. “We can reinvest that time in other priority projects that might have otherwise been delayed.”

Many high-profile organizations, such as the federal government and Al Jazeera, have websites that are hosted by Acquia, which can instantly add hardware to avoid overwhelming websites at peak traffic times. All UI Drupal sites now use digital certificates to help with encryption, and with a team of experts dedicated to infrastructure behind the sites, Acquia is well equipped to prevent, detect, and combat cyber attacks.

The migration required significant coordination and intense effort in summer 2016.

“Dozens of IT professionals and website owners worked together to accomplish a large number of migrations in just a month’s time,” says Romy Bolton, manager of the OneIT Web Hosting Project and a director in ITS Enterprise Services. “We appreciate all of the cooperation and effort that went into this undertaking, and we’re excited about the many ways this change will benefit the campus.”

Adoption of Drupal grows

As the UI planned and executed its migration to Acquia for website hosting, adoption of the Drupal content-management system continued to grow.

Many campus units have used it for years, including the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, College of Dentistry, the Graduate College, and ITS. This year, the Tippie College of Business, College of Education, and UI Health Care transitioned from other systems. ITS partnered with each group to help with architecture and design, automated content migration, and development practices.

“One advantage of a consistent platform is increased depth and breadth of knowledge with regard to best practices in development and maintenance,” Bolton says. “Another, arguably more valuable, benefit: the potential for us to share custom UI modules to add functionality.”

A good example of a Drupal module developed locally and made available for wider use across campus is an integration with the campus maps. This module allows the customized UI campus maps used at maps.uiowa.edu to be included on websites to show building locations.

Expansion of Drupal reduced software licensing costs because the system is open-source (developed by a community of contributors). Drupal also improved the accessibility of UI websites for individuals with disabilities, because certain accessibility properties and characteristics are built into the system.

Some UI units using Drupal have web professionals on staff, while others utilize the SiteNow service, which offers custom development on a for-hire basis or free templates through the standard service.

Web hosting marks fourth completed OneIT project

In addition to migrating Drupal sites to Acquia, the Web Hosting Project expanded use of Drupal to offer a campus-wide digital signage service, and deployed compute sticks as a better way to power the signs. 

Four of the 16 TIER efficiency initiatives in information technology are now complete: Web Hosting, Application Portfolio Management, Electronic File Storage, and Business Intelligence. Achievements of the projects are detailed in the OneIT Year in Review.

Visit the TIER website for updates on TIER initiatives and success stories.

Have questions? Want to get involved? Get in touch with the TIER leadership team.