Our Thoughts
Piyuesh Kumar
Drupal Practice Lead - Backend
04 March, 2022 8 MIN READ

Multisite Platforms – Why, When, and Where?

A large organization, Fannie Mae, also known as FNMA (Federal National Mortgage Association), manages multiple sites to meet its business goals. How? The answer is 'multisite.'

This reputed public traded company and government-sponsored enterprise has consolidated all its non-integrated sites and content into one unified platform for efficient management. The multisite platform enables Fannie Mae to communicate better with lenders and borrowers and meet all demands for its services.

That’s the power of multisite. It’s a systemic feature available in most content management systems (CMS), allowing organizations to operate multiple websites on the same codebase. Enterprises may need to maintain a host of different websites for products, extranet, community platforms, forums, blogs, and more. Attempts at managing countless websites simultaneously can often have inefficient and redundant outcomes. Multisite mitigates such inadequacies by fostering editorial efficiency, flexibility, ease of use, and security of content management across numerous sites by bringing all sites under a single platform.

Given its tremendous importance let’s delve into these multisite platforms- learning their application and how large organizations are successfully reaping their benefits today. 

 

Understanding Multisite Platforms – A Fundamental Overview

Let’s understand how multisite platforms work with the help of an example. Centara Hotels & Resorts, a leading hotel operator in Thailand, provides Thai-based hospitality services across 81 deluxe properties in Thailand and 34 hotels and resorts across various locations in Asia. Consistent services and content management were essential to maintain brand reputation across all branches.

However, Centara was using a custom CMS created in 2005. Though the platform was updated over the years, content management was difficult making decentralization impossible and was the biggest roadblock to the corporate. The loyalty program journey and booking engine were not easy and user-friendly.

With a multisite platform, Centara was able to manage content efficiently. The group now easily manages multiple customized sites with decentralized content management. As a result, Centara has seen a 100% increase in conversion rates and overall bookings in a year. 

 

Types of Multisite Platforms

Constructing a multisite platform is easy given that the organization is aware of the required content framework and model.

1. Same Codebase with a Shared Database

This is the simplest approach, where platforms include a central system hosting multiple websites with the same functionality and visual elements. Here, a single authoritative structure is responsible for the content.

2. Same Codebase with Multiple Databases

This approach is similar to the first, such that it involves one codebase with multiple websites sharing similar functionalities. However, its configuration and content exist in varying databases, allowing the authoritative body to change the functionality and looks of one website without disturbing the other.

3. Same Codebase with Clusters of Instances and Different Databases

This technique goes a notch higher in terms of flexibility and scalability. With this, the system can use the most efficient database according to the requirements.

4. Installation Profile for Distribution

Along with the features of the option mentioned above, this approach allows websites to install individual instances without coordination with the central authority. It lets organizations set up multiple installations for distributions.

 

Industries That Use Multisite Platforms

Let’s look at how multisite platforms allow organizations from different industries to create a multitude of sites under a single CMS, enabling agility and flexibility of editing, content migration, collaboration among teams, and above all, aids brand consistency across multiple sites.


Corporate Sites

Most giant corporations have multiple facets. It may comprise a parent company managing different sub-brands or just a single company with more than one website for blogs, products, and community updates. Since visitors prefer a tailor-made solution, multiple websites make more sense.

Multisite platforms enable corporate sites to deliver a seamless user experience to all stakeholders. They also ensure that each of these websites aligns with the core brand guidelines and design standardization.

One unique example is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston (RCAB). Identified as a church more than a corporate, the RCAB oversees 288 parishes and 116 schools with independent websites. With a multisite platform, RCAB has migrated 288 parish sites into 157 parish-collaborative sites, with a single template also adopted for the Catholic Schools Office website, www.csoboston.org, and the Central Ministries website, www.bostoncatholic.org. Currently, the RCAB runs 22 live parish-collaborative sites and 14 more to go live with the end goal of running all 157 sites seamlessly within 2-4 years.


Educational Institutes

Educational institutes have a large community of educators, students, and contributors, and it only escalates with the standard of the universities. These establishments use multisite platforms to create custom websites so that the staff, administrators, and other members can effortlessly share information.

Multisite platforms prove ideal for educational institutes, and The George Washington University is an excellent example. The university can curate personalized experiences for students, staff, alumni, applicants, and visitors through a multisite platform. Relying on one fully-managed cloud, the university can unify platform updates, security, and compliance across its entire site network. GW can seamlessly provision hundreds of sites supporting the university's various colleges and departments.


Media and Entertainment Industry

Mediacorp, the largest content creator and national media network in Singapore is an ideal example of how the media industry thrives on multisite platforms. Running 11 radio stations, six TV channels, multiple websites, and a digital news site on a multisite platform, the network offers engaging content to 98% of Singaporeans in four languages every week and reaches 81+ million households in 29 territories across Asia, Australia, and the Middle East.

Besides, the cut-throat competition in the entertainment industry compels companies to ensure attention-grabbing, enticing content on time for the viewers. The Emmys, one of the four major entertainment awards in the US, uses a multisite platform to provide up-to-date content to hundreds of thousands of visitors on its website during the awards season.


Government and NGOs

Modern governments require multisite platforms to handle dedicated websites for different wings and subject matters without hassles. Besides, the central governments of each country need to manage a separate website for each state/district. Here’s an example of Bhutan, the South-Asian state with 20 districts and 4 municipal corporations that is interesting. Using different servers for each website was costly, time-consuming, and vulnerable to malware attacks, but by adopting a multisite platform the IT team was able to manage the intricate functionalities and updates with ease while also getting the freedom to maintain distinct colors, layouts, and structures.

Large-scale NGOs like Doctors Without Borders operating at a high-level need to maintain multiple websites dedicated to different states and countries. Each of these sites usually has a massive traffic load, requiring separate servers for each site. 

 

Benefits of Multisite Platforms

Organizations need reliable platforms to ensure the security of sensitive data and manage multiple websites with minimal errors. Leveraging the incredible benefits of multisite platforms allows enterprises to invest more time in crucial decision-making.

  • Single CMS Installation: One installation for multiple websites means ease of deployment. The bug fixes and features installed at the platform level can be used by all the sites, facilitating high hosting efficiency. Developers can create a single-parent theme and develop unique child themes for each website. Additionally, maintaining a single platform ensures greater security.
  • Cost-effective solution: Keeping the multisite network up-to-date is highly cost-efficient as the concerned personnel need to update the themes only once. Regardless of the active number of sites, the settings will automatically be implemented to all of them without any errors.
  • Flexibility: With the different types of multisite platforms available, enterprises can opt for flexible options allowing them to configure varying settings for individual websites present on the same server.
  • Scalability: With multisite platforms in place, companies looking forward to expanding need not invest in a new server if they want to introduce an additional wing or a department. Thus, multisite platforms enable enterprises to scale efficiently with minimum setup work required.
  • Ease in integration with other systems: Enterprises can easily integrate different systems like CRM, cloud, and more with a single or multiple websites within a few clicks. It facilitates easy migration of content, web applications, and other crucial information within the network.
  • Single dashboard: A single dashboard expedites the administration of multiple websites. Organizations can manage controls, create clone sites for various regions, and generate templates for ease of use.
  • Faster time-to-market: With multisite hosting, business establishments can introduce new websites to the public quickly. That is because the newer sites will share the same codebase, design language, and components, ensuring a lower time-to-market.

In a nutshell, multisite platforms foster growth and management of company websites with efficiency, simplicity, and speed.

 

The Why, When, and Where?

With the need to host multiple websites to sky-rocket businesses, leveraging platforming can prove to be downright beneficial. Therefore, we must highlight the why, when, and where of adopting a multisite system for small, medium, and large organizations.

  • Why: To manage and expand websites, operating smoothly from a single source.
  • When: Organizations need to provide a host of services for a broad range of audiences with varying tastes and preferences.
  • Where: Any industry – private or governmental, and all types of web elements including forums, eCommerce sites, blogs, educational sites, portfolios, non-profit, multi-service businesses, and more.

 

Drupal - The All-Inclusive Multisite Platform

​​Drupal is a comprehensive multisite platform, helping businesses create multiple websites with a single codebase. It allows organizations with a large number of different websites to host all of them on the same platform in a hassle-free manner.

For example, universities have a multitude of departments and councils but operate as a single unit. While every department may have a separate website, it has the same branding, theme, and content model, i.e., the same core, making a multisite platform like Drupal a perfect hosting and management solution.

Drupal is loved by organizations from almost every industry including agriculture, eCommerce, healthcare, blogging, entertainment, and even retail. Besides, government and non-profit organizations also use this exceptional multisite platform to manage their websites. Some of the most prominent clients of this industry giant include Tesla, UNICEF Innovation Fund, The City of London, City of Boston, Syfy.com, Warner Records, and Visit the USA.

 

Final Words

When an enterprise understands how to utilize a multisite, it becomes a potent tool. Many global companies leverage multisite platforms to manage massive amounts of data and configurations.

LUSH, a British cosmetics company uses Drupal to run its multisite e-commerce platform that supports 17 different countries and local sub-sites for 100 different markets. The establishment optimizes its processes for a seamless operation.

Once organizations have a tech partner with the complete know-how of utilizing a multisite architecture, implementation is painless. Businesses can enjoy all-inclusive control over content distribution, ensure brand consistency, and knock off the additional costs.

 

Piyuesh Kumar