Higher Ed is moving to Drupal in a big way! Many universities are even standardizing on Drupal, and using it build all their new sites.

It's a great fit, solving many of the common problems that universities and colleges have worldwide, including: easy access control, editorial workflows, accessibility, brand consistency and lower costs compared to non-Open Source platforms.

Using a single platform for multiple sites, whatever it is, allows you to gain a number of efficiencies:

  • Standard tools, techniques, and configurations
  • Shared knowledge in the organization (training creating content on one site will transfer to another site)

But if you're using Drupal for more than a couple sites at your organization, and you don't have a custom Drupal distribution, then YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

Creating a Drupal distribution will allow you to:

  • Launch a new site in seconds (instead of minutes or hours), with your standard branding and the all the base functionality you want on every site
  • Reduce the cost of maintaining shared functionality on many sites, by allowing you to update the distribution and quickly deploy the same changes to all your sites
  • Easily apply security updates
  • Share the cost of developing new features that will benefit many campus sites

Read more to learn how many institutions of higher education are creating Drupal distributions to increase efficiency and reduce costs when maintaining lots and lots of Drupal sites!

What is a "Drupal distribution"?

A Drupal distribution is a combination of Drupal core, some contrib modules and themes, plus default configuration that can be installed as a whole.

There are several distributions that you can download off Drupal.org - these tend to be "products" that target a specific use case, like building restaurant websites. So, immediately after installing the Restaurant distribution, you have a site with a menu, online reservations, and a map out-of-the-box — without having to start from vanilla Drupal 7 and build all those things from scratch.

However, today we're talking about creating custom internal distributions (rather than generic products), where the use case is "a new site for my university/college."

Several Drupal-optimized hosting companies (like Pantheon, Platform.shOmega8.cc and others) will allow you to upload your own distribution, and then launch a new site on that distribution with a click of a button!

Unlike maintaining a "golden site" which you clone to create new sites, you can update all the sites on the distribution by updating the distribution itself and deploying those changes to all existing sites. Whereas with cloned sites, you're stuck updating each site individually after launching it.

Who has created their own distribution already?

Many universities and colleges have already created their own Drupal distributions! But in this article, we're going to talk about two: UC Berkeley and Arizona State University.

Open Berkeley

Video created by the Open Berkeley team to promote it internally.


UC Berkeley has hundreds of campus websites, including sites for its departments and their initiatives. All sites need to have consist branding and (like all Drupal sites) need to be updated for bug fixes and security advisories. But budgets are tight and not all departments have staff with technical skills!

That’s why the Central IT department created Open Berkeley, a Drupal distribution that any campus department can choose to use for their new site.

Users get a site that follows brand guidelines out-of-the-box, meets accessibility requirements and has the basic functionality that most UC Berkeley sites need. And this allows Central IT to continue to develop the distribution and regularly release new versions to their users with new features, bug fixes and security updates.

And since all sites get to benefit from the work that Central IT is doing, the cost is shared across the whole university, rather than requiring the departments that own the site bare the full cost!

Open Berkeley is built on the Panopoly "base distribution" and hosted on Pantheon.

(Related: Read about how we helped take Open Berkeley to the next level!)

ASU Webspark

For similar reasons, Arizona State University built ASU Webspark. It's also based on Panopoly and hosted on Pantheon.

Pantheon recently released a great report which discusses ASU Webspark:

“You go on to Pantheon, you click on a button, you get an ASU branded website, and you choose a bunch of options in terms of what you want the site to look like. Within minutes you’re building a site really easily, instead of having to spend a lot of time setting it up or hiring someone to set it up for you.”

Today, with ASU Webspark, any ASU affiliate (anyone with an ASU.edu email) can spin up a development site in less than 15 minutes. At the same time, it is easy to customize an ASU Webspark site with different layouts and built-in features.

Read the report from Pantheon to learn more!

How can we get started creating our own distribution?

If you want to start building your distribution, I recommend taking a look at the Panopoly "base distribution." You can use it to build your own distribution, while taking advantage of our work and focusing only on the unique value proposition of their new distribution.

Or if you already have a "golden site" which has all the functionality you want, you can hire us to convert it to a Drupal distribution based on Panopoly.