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Enterprise Website Architecture

Thu, 18/07/2013 - 11:11

If you plan on building a skyscraper, you do not start by building a 2-bedroom house. You have an engineer design your structure. You dig deep and reinforce the foundations. A massive amount of cost and effort go into the unseen parts of the building. The same principle holds for an enterprise architecture, whether it be your technology infrastructure, accounting package, or your website.

For single office businesses it makes sense to have one website, but when you have multiple offices, a presence in multiple countries, or multiple distinct target customer segments, you need to make sure your web presence is a true representation of your business.

It’s all about choice

There are a number of implementations and flavors for you to choose from, but the major groupings are:

  • Multiple websites sites
  • Multi-Site Technology
  • Multi-Domain Technology

So which one do you choose?

All the Multi’s are equal, some are just more equal than others. Let’s take a quick look at them to help you decide.

Multiple unique sites

Multiple unique sites

For the ultimate in customisability and independence, nothing will outpace a set of independent sites. Each of these sites is an entity in and of itself, without any interaction between them. Every business unit has the freedom to manage their site as they see fit. Moving any one of these sites outside of the current hardware architecture is as simple as transferring the code- and databases.

While freedom and customisability are a big benefits, they do come at the expense of control and one has to maintain multiple codebases. Sharing content is a laborious process, and changes in content do not propagate instantaneously.

Multi-site technology

Multi-site technology

The multi-site technology allows you to set up and maintain a single codebase, without losing the customisability of a series of independent sites. All the sites share a set of core functions, but each site can have customised site specific components. Each of the sites has its own database.

Moving a site out of this architecture is hard work, and the process is error prone. You still do not have the ability to easily push content to affiliate sites, or to share pieces between sites. In this architecture a single codebase need to be maintained for all core functionality. This significantly reduces the effort needed to keep sites up to date and secure, but code updates may or may not affect custom functions in different ways. Since an update to the core affects all sites, these updates need to be managed very carefully.

Multi-domain technology

Multi-domain technology

If you need to have control over the content published throughout your organization, periodically push content to all affiliate sites, and maintain a single code- and database, you need a multi-domain setup. In this architecture a single Drupal site serves sections of the site under different domain names. You are able to customise these instances of the site in terms of look and feel, as well as the layouts. From the user perspective all these domains will look like separate sites. From a management perspective the load is not different from managing a single large website.

As in life there is a compromise, but what you lose in customisability you more than make up for in ease of management, maintenance, and real-time sharing of content. Implementing workflow and role technologies can even allow different domains to be maintained as if they were independent sites, while maintaining the overarching control structures.

Creating a new sub-site is where the benefits of a multi-domain become even more apparent. You can add a new site with the click of a button, and have the site prepopulated with content from the parent site, or even sibling sites if you prefer, instantly. Your site starts out as a content rich entity, giving it authority from the get go.

State of the art theme tools also allow you to customise a standard layout to match the character of the sub-site without additional development.

Of all three this is the truly enterprise level solution.

Conclusion

Your needs will dictate the solution. That is why you need to speak to the right people to make sure the architecture you choose matches your business goals because if you built the house, you will need to demolish it before you can start construction on your skyscraper.

The question you need to ask yourself is where do you see your business in 5 years?

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