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Blog: AEM vs. Drupal for Government Sites



When governments are looking to provide a web presence, it’s no secret that Drupal is a popular choice. If you are considering Drupal and Adobe Experience Manager, you might be weighing these two platforms and wondering what differentiates each. Or, if you are already on Drupal (especially facing a painful upgrade from Drupal 7), you may be considering AEM as an alternative. The decision between Drupal and AEM often seems like one of price.  After all Drupal is open source, and by definition “free”, compared to AEM which carries a software license fee.  But a true comparison will show that not only does AEM provide a superior user experience, it does so at a very competitive cost compared even to Drupal.

Choosing AEM over Drupal comes down to four key areas of focus from a business perspective: Content management capabilities, performance and security, flexibility and total cost of ownership.


Open Source

Before we get into these factors, I want to address the value of open source software.  Opening up the source of software is a great way to extend and purify the source code, sharpening it over time. In no way do I mean for this comparison to be between Adobe and open source. In fact, over 65% of AEM’s own technology stack is built on open source foundations.  Open source projects like Apache Sling, Apache Felix OSGi and Jackrabbit are key foundational elements of AEM that Adobe both contributes to and benefits from.  The difference is the proprietary layer that Adobe provides on top of these open source elements, that provide a cohesive operability and crucial security component.  So really with AEM you are getting the best of both worlds: the robust, tried-and-true legacy of open source combined with the hardened, tested and consistent proprietary.


Best-in-class CMS

There is a reason Adobe Experience Manager is consistently a Leader, year after year, in the major analyst evaluations of enterprise content management systems. AEM provides a complete end-to-end content management solution across all channels without needing to piece together solutions from multiple developer sources.  Open Source CMSs like Drupal are often stripped to basic functionality and enhanced with add-ons custom-made by developers or harvested from open source repositories. The problem with this approach is you have a mix of development sources using different standards to produce a final result that you hope holds together through upgrades.  With AEM, all of the functionality needed to create, manage and distribute omni-channel content is developed, tested and maintained by Adobe and included.


Performance and Security

AEM as a Cloud Service is completely rewritten as a cloud-native evolution of the time-tested legacy AEM.  With Cloud Service, you get such performance features as auto-scaling, built-in CDN, and micro-services-based asset ingestion. Running software in a cloud-hosted infrastructure cannot compare to truly cloud-native architecture that leverages containers to ensure stability and scale up when traffic demands more.  Drupal is not cloud-native and cannot be run in this way. Security is crucial for government sites and Drupal is increasingly a target of hackers, who have full access to all source code. Knowing how to properly secure Drupal requires deep security expertise, and even when new security vulnerabilities are found upgrades and patches are on you to perform as quickly as possible. With AEM as a Cloud Service, Adobe is constantly monitoring your site for hacking attempts.  Unlike Drupal users who rely on community reporting of vulnerabilities, Adobe owns all code development in AEM and can catch issues before they go live. Additionally, Adobe has visibility across all of its customer sites, so action can be taken quickly to secure all sites in the event a vulnerability is discovered. And Adobe handles the upgrade for you so your site is secured as quickly as possible.



As the number of digital channels increases, getting consistent and accurate information to people who need it becomes more complicated.  Managing your site in a CMS is only part of the picture. With AEM’s content as a service approach, managing content across all channels becomes easy.  AEM allows business users to build experiences with a drag and drop interface that is familiar and powerful. But it also has a robust API with features like GraphQL to deliver the same content headlessly to other channels like mobile apps, digital signage and more.  That means content usability for technical teams, while business teams enjoy less redundant work and more consistent messaging to the public. Drupal does not give you this type of flexible, hybrid content management capability out of the box. Add to this the AI-powered functionality that AEM brings with Adobe Sensei that simplifies complex, repetitive tasks and you will see why the flexibility and ease-of-use AEM offers is superior to Drupal.


Total Cost of Ownership

It’s easy to overlook hidden costs that come with leveraging Open Source software.  It’s far more complex than just downloading and installing Drupal.  In order to just set up and configure Drupal for use as well as hosting, protecting and monitoring it for ongoing security, many full-time resources are required that come standard with an AEM license. Many teams think that by leveraging an open source CMS, they are somehow ensuring that its maintenance is easier. But the reality is that because Drupal has to be augmented with add-ons from other sources, you end up with a platform that is fully custom and stitched together.  With AEM, most of the tools you will use to build experiences are created and maintained by Adobe and include detailed documentation.  Since all of Adobe’s code goes through the same rigorous testing process, that saves valuable time and resources over piecing together open source widgets for Drupal. And if something isn’t working, you have the support of Adobe behind you, rather than having to scour open source communities for help.



As you are planning the future of your web presence, don’t overlook the fact that citizen engagement with government websites is soaring. So are expectations that the websites perform at the same level as all of the commercial sites they interact with on a daily basis.  It’s easy to think products like Drupal are cheaper and easier to maintain because they are open. But don’t make the mistake of ignoring the hidden costs and security risks that come with managing open source.  Adobe Experience Manager gives you the best of both, with a technology stack built on open source, but a codebase that is managed by the world’s leader in digital experience.


If you or your organization would like to learn more about any of the capabilities here or learn more about how Adobe Experience Manager can help provide equitable access for residents in other ways, please contact us at Government@Adobe.com.

2 Replies


Level 1

Thanks for this Jeff!  I have a PS customer who uses Drupal but is considering a move away from it.  They utilize AEM Assets and Analytics currently.  I'm going to leverage your blog with the AD and see if it will help make the case.


Level 3

Thanks for this nice article Jeff.