Drupal 8 is almost here. This means that Drupal 6 will soon be out of support. Have you upgraded your site to Drupal 7, or will you be trying to upgrade to Drupal 8 directly, later? Here are some marketing value considerations for switching to Drupal 7 before Drupal 8 comes out.
Drupal 6 will soon be deprecated.
Every software release, and every Drupal release, has its expected lifespan. Drupal has a two releases lifespan, which means that the current and the previous versions are supported, and the older versions are dropped. As time goes onward, so does the technology and the market. As developers shift their attention to new horizons, older versions of software are dropped and are no longer supported. As the market, tools, and code develop, it becomes increasingly hard to find a developer willing or able to unravel the dust of an old Drupal website. With Drupal 8’s coming, the Drupal industry will be shifting to a new horizon, and Drupal 6 sites will be increasingly expensive and hard to maintain. Retro cars can cost a small fortune. Retro sites can cost a large one.
Catching the optimal upgrade time.
When is the optimal time to upgrade to a newer version of Drupal? There are two factors there: finance and technology.
- The technological factor, basically, is the readiness of the newer Drupal version for upgrade.
- Financially, the cost of upgrade changes in time as well - the more the newer version is ready for upgrade, the cheaper and painless it will be.
Every new release initially has a higher cost of migration and maintenance. As existing modules are adjusted for a new release, new modules are being written, and bugs are being squashed, a release becomes cheaper and easier to migrate to and support. Then, when a new version is released, an older version continues to enjoy it’s “plateau of comfort” for some time. Then, as the time approaches the deprecation period, the “comfort plateau” ends, and maintenance prices begin to grow again. An ideal time to migrate would be in the end of the “comfort plateau” and before it becomes increasingly expensive to maintain, and late to upgrade. This is an adjusted picture that I initially saw in Vesa Palmu’s post, explaining why the end of 2010 was right time to upgrade to Drupal 7. As you can see, it’s a burning issue now in 2014.
This is a crude scheme, but it gives you a general understanding of how each release plateaus down to a minimal support cost, but then goes up again, as it closes deprecation. As you can see, if you have not upgraded yet, then you are already slightly late. As time goes on, maintenance costs will grow.
Timely upgrades introduce consistency, both technical and experiential. Each new version of Drupal brings new technology and interactive patterns to site maintainers, writers, bloggers, and all admin users, even if the facade remains absolutely the same. Drupal 7 has introduced entities, better and easier content creation, fields in core, and made Drupal 6 look obsolete technologically and experientially. It is more prudent technologically and psychologically to make a timely transition. Technologically, most of the web sites running on Drupal 6 are upgradeable to Drupal 7. The core and most of the contrib modules are easily upgradeable.
On the other hand, waiting until Drupal 8 and then upgrading to it is likely to require a much harder migration, or, in the worst cases, rebuilding of the site, and salvaging the content. It is also easier to identify with the logical next step product psychologically and get to know how it works, rather than appear in a situation when your site has skipped over a couple of releases, and you have to learn everything anew. Of course, for many people this may not be as important for as the financial factor is. The decision of whether to follow consistent migrations softly, or undergo a drastic costly revamp in migration over multiple versions much later is a decision that also has its financial bearing. For example, have you ever met a kid you knew a long time ago, only to discover that he’s grown up and you can no longer recognize him? That’s experiential consistency.
But can you upgrade to Drupal 8 directly?
This has to deal with the previous point. You may be thinking, what if I own a Drupal 6 website, but I don’t want to upgrade to Drupal 7. If instead, I wait for a few more years, and then upgrade to Drupal 8 at once, what will happen? Technologically, that should be feasible – at least for the core. In December 2013, Moshe Weitzman, one of the maintainers of the Migration module, wrote that Drupal 8 is planned to have upgrade paths from both Drupal 7 and Drupal 6. It should be noted though, that this bounty does not extend to writing upgrade paths for Drupal 6 contrib modules, but for the core only. If you really don’t want to upgrade now, and would rather abide your time in hopes of a smooth upgrade to Drupal 8 much later, you should still know a few facts. First, Drupal 6 is outdated already, and it will become even more deprecated when Drupal 8 is released.
However, at that time, Drupal 8 will not be a comfortable candidate for upgrade. It will be a few years, likely, before all modules pull up, and the upgrade and maintenance price reaches its “plateau of comfort”. Which means that it will be quite a while before you’re able to upgrade – so you’ll be stuck with an outdated and deprecated Drupal 6 site for years. Second, unless your Drupal 6 is running on core only, without any contrib modules, there will still be an issue with upgrade of those. Some will be deprecated. Some will have been moved to core of Drupal 8. Yet some will need to have upgrade paths written, and may only have Drupal 7 paths. At that point, it’s likely, that your site will need to either undergo an intermediate Drupal 7 upgrade, or be migrated the hard way. So, by delaying the upgrade till Drupal 8 is published and then reaches its “comfort plateau”, you are not only dooming yourself to working with an outdated and unsupported website for a few years, but also playing a very risky game of possible complications at upgrade over major versions. Probably, a serious website should not be put at a point of risk.
You are still in the comfort zone, for upgrading your site to Drupal 7. This way, you will have 3 to 4 years of comfort with Drupal 7. Additionally, by upgrading to Drupal 7 now, you get the benefits of the Drupal 7 core, experiential and technological ones, and become ready for the time when Drupal 8 is released. Once it ripens, you can upgrade again. If you choose to not upgrade to Drupal 7 in the near future, you are playing a risky game. You are coming into a zone when you may find yourself stuck with a deprecated and unsupported site, and find yourself gambling that an upgrade from Drupal 6 to 8 directly wouldn’t break the bank. Though there’s always a seemingly valid reason not to upgrade – not very active sites, tight budgets, and what not – if you are using your site actively, and it’s an important part of your business, then plan wisely and upgrade soon.