Quick insight

While Acquia is built on Drupal’s open source platform, the truth is that many of the benefits of open source disappear with Acquia’s hybrid model: open proprietary.


Why choose Sitecore over Acquia?

Sitecore's connected platform manages the end-to-end content lifecycle, providing critical capabilities that Acquia simply can't. And on closer examination, Acquia's platform doesn't fulfill the promise of open source.

Key takeaway: Acquia’s business model erases many of the benefits of open source — including most of the cost savings. And its platform lacks critical functionality compared with Sitecores.

Keep reading to learn more.

Let’s face it: Web Content Management (WCM) is a mature technology and the amount of functional differentiation between vendors now exists in the margins. From templating and workflow for content creation to revisioning, publishing, editing, and delivering web content, Sitecore and Acquia both offer highly flexible web content management systems that will meet the vast majority of businesses’ needs.

There are, however, two critical differences:

  1. Do you prefer open source or proprietary software? This is essentially philosophical, but, even if you’re gravitating toward open source, Acquia’s “open proprietary” nature may mean it still isn’t the best option for you.
  2. Are your needs confined to a WCM product or do you really need a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)? WCM systems offer more capability than ever, but a WCM is not a DXP and Acquia is missing some critical capabilities.

Chapter 2

Proprietary versus open source — which is right for you?

Pitting proprietary software against open source systems is a decades-old pastime and, by now, most organizations have determined which model they’re comfortable with for different parts of their technology stack. If you value or require software that is governed by clear development principles and best practices — providing consistency, clarity, and predictability for development, implementation, and deployment — then chances are that you predominantly use proprietary software systems like Sitecore.

On the other hand, as a “Future of Open Source” survey reveals, organizations tend to choose open source software for four top reasons: Cost, Security, Vendor “lock-in,” and Quality. These are perceived benefits of open source software – and they don’t often hold up under scrutiny. And what about for Acquia? Here’s the reality compared to proprietary software:


Perceived benefits Open source Acquia (open proprietary)
1. Lower licensing cost Yes Yes
2. Lower implementation and maintenance cost  No  No
3. Security ? ?
4. No vendor "lock-in" Yes No
5. Better quality ? No

While Acquia is built on Drupal’s open source platform, the truth is that many of the benefits of open source disappear with Acquia’s hybrid model: open proprietary.

Takeaway: Acquia’s business model erases many of the benefits of open source software.

Lower cost?

While there isn’t a license fee to use Drupal or Acquia’s Drupal distribution, Lightning, that hardly means that either is low cost – much less free. Particularly in enterprise environments, implementation represents the highest cost associated with getting any software package up and running.

Acquia Lightning compounds these costs because it has abandoned many of the open source principles of the Drupal platform. Pre-packaged solutions (modules and bundles of modules), access to Acquia Cloud hosting, maintenance, and support — all in addition to outside implementation and consulting costs — contribute to a far more expensive price tag than many organizations anticipated at the outset.

Takeaway: The total cost of open source software, and Acquia in particular, is much higher and more complex than proponents would like to admit.


Open source software proponents like to argue that the combined efforts of their communities mean that open source software is inherently more secure. But is it?

The Equifax breach, one of the largest and most intrusive cyberattacks in US history, was due to a vulnerability in the open source Apache Struts software. According to Sonatype’s global DevSecOps Community Survey, breaches linked to open source software components have risen by 71% between 2014 and 2019. And where Drupal is concerned, you can explore Drupalgeddon and Drupalgeddon II for yourself.

Let’s be fair: configuration, proper maintenance and update policies, and training are important factors in the security profile of any software implementation. But a general statement like “open source software is more secure,” isn’t supported by either the propensity for vulnerabilities to be identified and exploited, or the reality that security involves more than just the technical security of a given piece of software.

Vendor lock-in?

Unlike Drupal Core (the standard release of Drupal), Acquia Lightning — like all Drupal distributions — is a curated package of Drupal Core along with contributed and custom software modules such as themes, modules, libraries, and installation profiles. What that really means is you’re essentially acquiring a piece of software that attaches you to a specific vendor, just like proprietary software. A Drupal distribution may give you modules you don’t want but which will be forced to keep and cannot be updated independently – meaning you will have to wait for the distribution vendor to provide a new version. And if the distribution doesn’t include all the modules you want out-of-the-box, you’ll have to add them.

This is where Acquia’s status as an “open proprietary” vendor really shines through. Lightning may not be pre-loaded with as many modules as some other distributions, but Acquia stands ready to fill those gaps with their own add-on modules for search, personalization, multi-site management, and more. These applications aren’t like standard Drupal modules — in most cases, you can only use them with Acquia’s distribution of Drupal — further binding you to Acquia.

The point is: vendor lock-in is a risk regardless of which WCM platform you choose. Even though you don’t pay a licensing fee for Acquia Lightning, you’re still pretty well tied to it. As one developer noted when they encountered a project that didn’t really make full use of what Lightning provides, “Lightning is an installation profile, so there's no ‘official’ way to remove it.” Moreover, you can’t just use any module you want or simply stop paying Acquia for cloud hosting, and migrating from Acquia to another platform would entail significant cost and resources.

The closer you get to Acquia's custom applications, the farther you get from the community goodness of Drupal. In fact, when you buy application services from Acquia, you are joining a closed ecosystem.

Tony Byrne

Real Story Group

Better quality?

The support and speed of a large and open developer community are two benefits that add to the perceived better quality of open source. Unfortunately, Acquia’s business model again undermines these associated benefits. As Acquia has driven Drupal to support more enterprise-level requirements, Drupal has started to lose much of its developer appeal as a nimble and fast tool.

Further, the supposed speed of development afforded by an open-source community didn’t allow Acquia to move quickly in bringing Drupal 8 to market. It took 5 years and, in the process, broke backward compatibility with prior versions.

But maybe the biggest area of quality is functionality — what a software system enables its users to do. This brings us to the second critical difference you should consider when comparing Sitecore and Acquia.

Chapter 3

WCM versus DXP

While WCM is still the core technology for businesses’ digital needs, it is no longer enough. The market has moved beyond managing content only for the web channel to managing the digital experiences that are delivered across channels, throughout the customer journey.

Sitecore realized this in 2006. We launched the first version of our digital experience platform in 2008 and, since then, we’ve built the market’s only complete and unified platform to create, manage, deliver, and measure personalized digital experiences — including commerce experiences — throughout the customer journey. But perhaps you already have some of the application capabilities of a DXP. Again, Sitecore has you covered. The flexible Sitecore platform allows you to choose the capabilities you need and integrate them easily into the rest of your martech stack.

In comparison, you can build a solution that approaches DXP functionality with Acquia — a WCM+. But doing so requires either proprietary modules and products OEM’d from other providers or finding, validating, and implementing modules from the Drupal community. Depending on the modules you choose, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of an array of different maintenance, security, and compatibility issues, as well as inextricably tied to Acquia.

Speaking of the number of modules and other products you’ll need to fill the gaps in Acquia’s DXP capabilities, three are worth highlighting:

  1. End-to-end content management
  2. Intelligent hybrid headless
  3. Powerful personalization

End-to-end content management

Fully integrated with our CMS, DXP, and commerce solution, Sitecore Content Hub makes us the only platform able to manage the entire content lifecycle. Sitecore Content Hub includes digital asset management (DAM), content marketing platform (CMP), product content management (PCM), and marketing resource management (MRM) capabilities, giving your entire marketing organization the ability to seamlessly and efficiently plan, create, collaborate, manage, and publish the content that underpins personalized digital experiences.

Acquia does offer digital asset management, which is a white-labeled product from another vendor. And while Acquia claims to offer many of the other functionalities of Sitecore Content Hub, their “solution” is a complex array of third-party modules (23,000+ and counting), produced by various developers, that bring their own maintenance, security, and compatibility issues. And having even one poorly built module can create problems for your entire site.

Takeaway: With Acquia, you get a patchwork solution with less capability and security than Sitecore.

With Sitecore, you get an integrated and intuitive platform to support your entire customer lifecycle.


Like Sitecore, Acquia offers headless (decoupled) scenarios. But the similarities end there.

At Sitecore, we’ve always believed content should be stored at a central location in the system and be reusable anywhere without being limited to only being presented on a single page. This philosophy is exactly why we have always had a decoupled presentation layer that can deliver a personalized digital experience.

Comparatively, headless scenarios are a new and still-developing capability for Drupal, and even Acquia itself states that decoupling Drupal “comes with concerning tradeoffs” and “fully decoupling Drupal introduces considerable problems that should give pause to any stakeholder and demand frank assessment.” Trying to overcome these challenges involves significant development work that often includes unpredictable costs.

But even a successfully decoupled Drupal architecture still falls short compared to Sitecore. One of the issues with headless deployments – not just with Drupal and Acquia – is once content and delivery are separated, marketers lose the ability to receive data about how users are interacting with content. Goodbye personalization. Except with Sitecore.

With Sitecore JavaScript Services, Sitecore’s ability to personalize content and respond to a visitor’s behavior is seamlessly extended to the headless realm. In fact, personalization with JSS works exactly how it does in a non-headless Sitecore site, meaning that personalization rules, multivariate tests, and more are all respected. And as a developer, there's nothing you have to do. 

Takeaway: With Acquia, headless architectures present substantial technical challenges and, even if you overcome them, you still lose the ability to personalize the customer’s experience.


Pre-defined personalization rules, segment- and behavior-based targeting, integrated data from various sources and vendors for a global view of your customers, machine learning-generated insight, strategic guidance, and more — we’ve been refining personalization for over a decade.

Our personalization is omnichannel, native to our platform, and capable of supporting everyone from beginners to the most sophisticated enterprise teams.

We’ve already mentioned how Acquia loses personalization in headless scenarios but, even in traditional architectures, Acquia’s personalization capabilities through the Acquia Lift add-on leave customers wanting. While Lift is capable of anonymous-behavioral targeting, for example, it performs poorly for segment-based profile targeting. And Acquia cannot provide a global view of your customers. Which is likely part of why analysts say Acquia’s personalization capabilities are limited compared with other solutions.

Takeaway: With Acquia, you pay an additional cost for limited personalization.

With Sitecore, you get robust personalization native to our solution.