Is it Safe to Stay on Drupal 7?
If your organization is currently running Drupal 7, you’re faced with a decision on whether to upgrade to Drupal 9 or not.
Crafting a business case can help with your decision because it contains projections for initial costs and ongoing costs for making the upgrade investment vs. maintaining the status quo, as well as projections for revenue and savings. The business case exercise can further forecast the break-even point for your upgrade investment. However, in the case of future security threats, we can’t be confident of what the future ongoing costs will be, because we can’t predict when such security threats will arise, nor will we know the severity of them.
What we can do, however, is make organizations that use Drupal aware of the risks of not upgrading. There are three general areas of risk: security, integrations, and functionality.
After Drupal 7 reaches the end of life, whenever security issues are identified in core or contributed modules, there won’t be very much support to fix them. Site maintainers could find themselves in the position of having to spend a lot of time searching for security holes and fixing them. This risk gets compounded if there are a lot of contributed modules in your Drupal configuration.
There will be a few agencies that will offer the service of maintaining your Drupal 7 platform post end-of-life. This will help greatly to secure your site if you’re willing to invest in hiring such an agency. One of their main tasks is to backport fixes for core and contrib issues. These fixes will of course not be included in the D7 upgrade path because there won’t be an upgrade path at all. As a point of reference, after Drupal 6 had reached its end of life, there weren’t a disproportionate amount of security fixes needed for its core nor contributed modules. Still, the risk is not zero. Every aspect of a Drupal application must be considered to ensure there are no security gaps.
Another aspect of taking this path is that much of the time maintaining a site like this is spent managing and mitigating security risks rather than making improvements or implementing new features. For a good many developers, this is not rewarding work.
In the history of previous Drupal security fixes, some have been pretty small — one-line changes that take an hour to review and fix — while others have taken days or even weeks of development time to analyze and produce a solution for.
An advantage of choosing to upgrade a Drupal 7 site to Drupal 9 is that you gain all of the advantages of security improvements that were included in Drupal 8 and each subsequent feature upgrade. In this blog post, Peter Wolanin of Acquia details some significant security improvements included in the initial Drupal 8 release. Drupal 9 has additional advantages such as support for PHP 8.0.
Certainly, security risks will come along, but another risk area in maintaining the status quo is that key integrations will eventually start to fail. For example, your Drupal environment may be integrated with another platform, and a key API on that platform is getting deprecated. Because the Drupal module that connects to it is no longer being actively maintained, you (or an agency you hire) will have to update the module or write a new custom module to keep integration working.
As the Drupal community continues to diminish the amount of activity on Drupal 7 core and contributed modules, especially after end-of-life, you basically lose those “free” updates. This is especially so with bug fixes. This forces you to either live with them or to fix them, or again, hire an agency to do it. If you do hire someone, that person won’t be as familiar with the project as one of the maintainers would be, so you’d have to factor in that additional investment. Indeed, some of these risks can be so critical that you end up rewriting large chunks of code to deal with them.
Not only do you miss out on the security improvements of Drupal 8/9 discussed above, not upgrading means you’re missing out on many other improvements. Drupal 8 and 9 are built around a modern PHP stack including features such as Composer compatibility, Symfony components, modern OOP coding techniques, and more. While Drupal 7 has served our community well, it is not built upon the latest PHP libraries and development workflows that developers expect. This allows Drupal 8/9+ site owners the advantage of further enhancing their security posture by adding the Guardr security distro or module. While Drupal 8 and 9 have good security features, Guardr adds additional community vetted modules and settings which meet industry security requirements.
Talk To Us
As already mentioned, there are too many future unknowns to create a blanket business case for an upgrade investment. However, we can craft a business case specific to you based on the complexity of your existing Drupal 7 solution. We will factor in the number of modules you’re using, their complexity, the nature of your integrations with external systems, and more. We at Mediacurrent have performed this type of analysis for some of our clients to help them with their technology investment decisions and can do the same for you. Please contact us to learn more!
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