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Are there alternative options to upgrading to Drupal 9? The end of life of Drupal 8 has been and gone, and while Drupal 7 will be pulled in November 2022 (due to COVID-19). As time is running out to upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9, now is the time to formulate a plan. Alternately, you can look into other options.

Alternative options to upgrading to Drupal 9 - The options

Abandon ship for another CMS

For sites wishing to migrate away from deprecated Drupal 7, Drupal 9 and Drupal 8 are not the only choices. It is also possible to switch to another CMS before Drupal 7 reaches the end-of-life date.

One option is to migrate to Backdrop CMS. Drupal 7 fork Backdrop CMS includes an upgrade path for Drupal 7 sites. This implies that it should be relatively easy to move from Drupal 7. Although Backdrop CMS has some new features, it should be familiar to Drupal 7 developers.

By concentrating on content delivery through various channels (e.g. mobile applications, marketing platforms, and decoupled backends), Drupal has made steady progress in the corporate sector, but Backdrop is designed for lower budget projects based on HTML.

Since Backdrop is meant to be a permanent replacement for Drupal, it may not be the best option for those who wish to bide their time before migrating to Drupal 9. Drupal 7 and Backdrop are quite similar, but there is currently no way to migrate from Backdrop to Drupal 9.

While there are alternative CMS options, only a few allow for automated or simple Drupal 7 migrations. It is possible to migrate Drupal sites to WordPress with migration plugins 7 easier, however, the mental models aren't the same, and WordPress development requires a learning curve for Drupal developers. If you want to switch from Drupal 7 to another CMS, the challenge will vary depending on the difficulty of the site and the solution you choose, but it will almost certainly take a considerable amount of time and effort.

Start with a clean slate

It is feasible in some cases to start a new version of the site from scratch when the site is heavily customised, the site is being redesigned, or the organisation is significantly changing its information architecture. Restarting is especially beneficial for organisations that wish to clean up, rework, or delete existing content.

It is possible to maintain some of the older site content as a static site for historical reasons, while new information is created in a fresh install if you wish to keep part of the older content.

Build your own CMS

Alternatively, a custom content management system can be created and implemented. We've seen sectors, such as the media industry, create customised content management systems (CMS) for their unique requirements.

Developing and maintaining a bespoke CMS is time-consuming and expensive: the development is slower, the costs are higher, and security is more at risk. Investing time and resources into a bespoke platform may lead to unwanted legacy paradigms and increased technological debt as time goes by. There is no direct path from Drupal 7 to a custom CMS, so migrations will need to be tailored. Due to the complexity of content migration, erasing old content and data may be necessary in some instances.

It will be interesting to observe whether companies maintain and grow these proprietary content management systems or whether they migrate to more popular platforms like Drupal 9. But the cost to develop and maintain a safe, scalable, and a strong bespoke solution will generally exceed the cost to develop and maintain a Drupal site, even a fully customised Drupal site.

Retire your Drupal 7 website

Alternatively, the Drupal 7 site could be converted into a static site in order to eliminate the ongoing maintenance. 

Information like event locations for past events may be suitable for retirement. Converting historical event information and session summaries to static web pages is a viable alternative for organisations that no longer want to maintain or update these sites.

Static sites can also be converted to retirement sites if they are seldom or never updated and whose upkeep costs exceed the value of the site. A section of a website that will no longer be maintained and/or may need to be archived.

Stay with Drupal 7 on an extended support contract

In the event organisations are not able to transition to Drupal 9 by the end of Drupal 7's lifespan, an Extended Support agreement can be sought. A Drupal Association-vetted vendor is required to coordinate the Drupal 7 ES programme, ensure that security vulnerabilities and solutions are disclosed responsibly, and ensure that progress toward fixing bugs is publicly reported. While Drupal 7 ES bug and security fixes are publicly available so that non-customers can use them, there are still some advantages. 

Although this is a good short-term solution - and it may well be the best choice for organisations without the resources to complete a major relocation project now - it is not a sustainable solution in the long run. The Drupal 7 ES programme is expected to last three years, at which point businesses must transition to another platform or migrate by November 2025.

For continued Drupal 7 life support, there is an ongoing maintenance cost, compared to ongoing development expenses for re-platforming. The expense is, however, essential in today's environment, when organisations cannot be without security updates, and when utilising a platform without support often violates corporate security policies.

Go it alone without support

Finally, organisations may potentially continue to use Drupal 7 after it has reached end-of-life without having to sign an ES agreement. When that terrible day in November 2022 comes, Drupal 7 will not immediately collapse. Drupal 7 is already lagging behind in comparison to Drupal 8 and Drupal 9 as focus shifts to those two platforms.  As a CMS created in 2011, it has not been optimised to handle the changes in site usage and the Internet in general that have occurred over the past decade. Ultimately, it is not a platform that will be used in the next decade.

However, lack of community security assistance represents a major deterrent for many organisations. It is illegal for people to use a platform that does not receive security upgrades because it violates security rules.

In addition to liability concerns and security rules, it is poor business to maintain websites that don't receive regular security updates. A company's reputation is damaged when personal information is compromised, which results in a substantial loss of revenue. Websites may also have security breaches, giving outsiders the ability to change or shut them down. The risks associated with these security concerns cannot be tolerated by businesses.

In conclusion, although you can use Drupal 7 without support when it reaches end-of-life, you shouldn't. So now is the time to decide whether to upgrade to Drupal 9 or go with a different solution for your Drupal 7 site.

Prepare your next move

When it comes to Alternative options to upgrading to Drupal 9, it's imperative that organisations that are not ready for Drupal 9 make a decision and commit to developing a route forward, regardless of their upgrade plans. In most cases, this will involve updating Drupal; in others, it will involve decommissioning an existing Drupal site. Since the official security assistance has come to an end, there is no other option.

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