Rebuilding the Trustnet intranet in Drupal 10
We've been working with the Wellcome Trust, one of the world's leaders in the funding of scientific research, for over a decade. As well as hosting and supporting their main website, we have worked on a plethora of projects, including their intranet which they call Trustnet.
We first worked on Trustnet back in 2014, when we migrated the Trust from SharePoint on to Drupal 7. The Drupal 7 version of Trustnet proved to be so successful, cost-effective and versatile that the decision was made to stick with Drupal and migrate to the latest version, well before the official Drupal 7 end of life on 5th January 2025.
Working as One Team
Because we often operate in the capacity of providing specific expertise or augmenting an existing internal team, we are very well placed to drop in and out of projects as organisations need. This project was no exception, led by the Wellcome Trust team comprising of a project manager, lead developer and designer, we joined with them to provide specialist knowledge and add velocity to the project.
What we did
Integrations. A lot of integrations. Because the Drupal 7 site was nearly 10 years old, many of the ways content was still being ingested were obsolete and in need of re-architecting. Some examples:
We replaced Apache Solr with OpenSearch. Don't mistake us, Apache Solr is still an excellent search technology and, in some cases, superior: However, because we are also the hosting support company for Wellcome's Drupal infrastructure we know OpenSearch is available as a versatile Software-as-a-Service solution from AWS, which would significantly simplify the set-up. Instead of costly management of EC2 instances running Solr, we could provide management-free search endpoints, ready to use and scaleable and highly available right out of the box. Thanks to Drupal's Search API, end users see no difference in experience, even though the underlying technology has been completely changed. This means an enhanced experience for everyone and a cost saving of at least £4,000 a year for Wellcome Trust.
We also replaced the Kerberos ticket-based single sign-on system, that more or less tied us to using Apache as a web server, with modern SAML 2.0 integration using composer-installed SimpleSAMLphp. This allows us to easily integrate with Microsoft SSO services from Active Directory or Office 365. In turn this makes networking simpler and more straightforward to manage because it removes the need to manage a secure connection to an internal Active Directory server. It also enhances performance, as it allows us to move to faster web server technology without the need to compile special binaries to support Kerberos. (We used to have a very popular blog about this for Drupal 7, we will release an updated version in due course.)
Further changes included a complete overhaul of the staff directory and how the data is ingested, better integration with a number of internal systems that now provide modern web-based APIs and did not back in 2014, along with all the content management goodness you'd expect from Drupal, the shiny new Drupal 10 interface being the icing on the cake for the staff who use the system.
As you can imagine, because most complex Drupal 7 sites cannot simply be upgraded to Drupal 8 and above but actually need to be rebuilt, there was a lot of content to move from the old site to the new one. A large part of the heavy lifting undertaken by Code Enigma was the writing of migration scripts to automate the movement of large libraries of information from A to B. Fortunately Drupal has an excellent built in migration API and we are very well versed in using it to shift large amounts of data between Drupal sites.
Brand new look
We didn't just do the plumbing and the wiring though. We worked closely with Wellcome's designer throughout, who carried out an almost total overhaul of the UX and design of Trustnet. We have a multi-discipline team, so while some were working in the guts of Drupal, others were working with the new designs and applying them to Drupal 10's theming system. Being able to run parallel tracks like this is useful, not least because the visual elements represent visible progress to stakeholders. While migration might be absolutely necessary, and take many weeks to do well, it doesn't make for good sprint demos! By having Code Enigma on board the Wellcome team was able to demonstrate consistent progress across all areas of the project from sprint to sprint.
Enhanced SysOps and DevOps
Although this is a development case study, it would be remiss of us not to mention that our systems team also took this opportunity to modernise the underlying infrastructure. Trustnet is now sitting on state of the art EC2 autoscaling, launch templates, target groups, an application load balancer and other supporting technology such as the OpenSearch cluster we mentioned above. As AWS Select Partners we are able to bring together our Drupal knowledge with our AWS knowledge and provide cost-effective Enterprise infrastructure architecture tailored to Drupal.
We also upgraded all the deployment tools, moving Wellcome to our new model of deployment with GitLab Community Edition for continuous integration unified with the code, and Ansible for automation. The new ce-deploy tools, open source of course, allow Wellcome developers to have utmost flexibility as well as a modern and future-proof base for future enhancements.
The brand new Trustnet was launched in September 2023 and it continues to be a very effective tool for Wellcome Trust. The launch was smooth, as we are the hosting company and the development company so we were able to coordinate internally. The new SysOps and DevOps models offer more flexibility to the developers and the Wellcome sysadmins than ever, and the unified toolset means an easier learning curve.
On the Drupal side Trustnet is now on the very latest version and will be able to stay that way, thanks to Drupal's incremental release programme since Drupal 8. They will be able to move forwards with the platform and will not have another huge lift and shift to do in the future. Indeed, with their Code Enigma support contract they can ask us to assist with code updates, advise their internal team, or take on anything else we can help with.
And for the Wellcome Trust staff they have a new UX and design, a better search experience and a better information architecture, not to mention the countless little improvements "under the hood" that make lives easier without people even realising.
Trustnet is in the safest hands for the next 10 years.