Tips for talking to institutional IT staff about Drupal

IT infrastructure varies widely between, and even within, institutions. If the central IT organization can’t provide you with what you need, you might be able to find it elsewhere on campus, perhaps through the library, a digital humanities center, or even through a department that runs its own server. In most cases, it’s better to arrange hosting through central IT or the library if possible. Central organizations are more likely to have dedicated system administrator staff and follow best practices for updates, backups, etc. At the same time, central organizations are also more likely to have fixed, rigidly defined service offerings and if Drupal hosting (or web hosting compatible with Drupal) is not among them, they’re unlikely to bend their rules to help you make it work.

Here’s a few tips for when you’re inquiring about Drupal hosting at your institution:

  • Make sure that the hosting provider is willing and able to host an arbitrary Drupal 7 site. Sometimes if you ask for Drupal, a campus organization might try to steer you towards a locked-down, restricted campus-supported platform that’s built using Drupal, which won’t give you the flexibility to install new modules or configure content types in the ways described in Drupal for Humanists. It’s not a workable substitute. Alternately, they might try to point you towards another platform, like WordPress or Omeka. Neither of those options allow you the flexibility you need to configure a project as described in Drupal for Humanists (see the comparison with Omeka and with WordPress.
  • Pass along the system requirements for installing Drupal. The system requirements for Drupal 7 are quite modest by modern standards and should not be difficult to support. (In contrast, Drupal 8 requires quite a bit of memory to run at a reasonable speed.) You may want to inquire about what the default PHP memory limit is (for Drupal 7, it needs to be at least 32 MB, but 128 MB or 256 MB are commonly used in live hosting environments where fast, reliable performance is important). You might also ask about whether it’s possible to increase the default PHP memory limit. Extremely complex Views, for instance, may require more memory to work well. (See chapters 12 and 13 for more about Views.)
  • Ask about whether you will need to install Drupal yourself (i.e. that they’ll give you access to the server and PHPMyAdmin or some other way to create and manage databases, but the rest is up to you) or whether they’ll install Drupal for you, and give you the username and password for an account with full admin privileges.
  • Inquire about Drupal core and module updates. Will you be expected to do those, or will the sysadmin take care of them? (See chapter 20 for more on updates and site maintenance.)
  • Ask about whether you’ll have direct (S)FTP access to your site. You can do a lot of things without having to access your site that way, but you need that kind of access to install libraries (see section, upload files in bulk (e.g. to use when importing data, see chapter 14), or update Drupal core. If you won’t have (S)FTP access to the site, ask about the preferred way to file requests for the sysadmin to do things requiring (S)FTP access, and expected turnaround time for those kinds of requests. (If it can take several days for the sysadmin to install a library for you, you should keep that in mind as you’re building your site.)
  • Ask about how often your site’s code, files, and database will be backed up. If scheduled backups aren’t available, you can configure them yourself using the Backup and Migrate module (see chapter 20).
  • For better security, you may want to look into integrating your institutional identity and access management system (i.e. the system that lets you log into things using your campus username and password) with Drupal. Some institutions have instructions for how to do it, and others may have a pre-configured module that you can download and install. Depending on how the module or configuration is set up, using the campus identity and access management system may or may not restrict people from outside campus from logging into Drupal. If you have a collaborator on your project who isn’t at your institution, make sure there’s a way for them to log in before you set this up.