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The University of Southern Mississippi looked to Last Call Media to drive the migration of their aging Drupal 6 site to Drupal 8, as well as increase enrollment and retention and reaffirm their commitment to academic excellence with a focused digital media strategy.

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A Drupal 7 Multi-site Migration to Acquia

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership

LCM had the deep level of expertise needed to assist USM with a complex migration to Acquia

In preparation for an upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, USM was faced with the need to migrate four Drupal sites based on five codebases from an onsite installation to a hosted environment with Acquia. USM was seeking an experienced group of Drupal architects to work hand-in-hand with their iTech team to determine the necessary functional and configuration changes needed to accomplish the migration. USM had a particular interest in leveraging Acquia’s search capabilities.

The University reached out to Last Call Media to drive the high-level technical planning and heavy lifting of a migration to the Acquia Cloud. The University needed a team with platform migration experience to come in and bridge the gap between Acquia and the University’s internal iTech team to ensure that the launch went smoothly. 

Aside from our experience and planning skills, there were several mission critical pieces of the overall infrastructure that needed to be changed to fit within Acquia’s ecosystem. One of these was the site search. USM had previously used a combination of several open source tools to feed data from several different sources into the site’s search engine. While this solution worked well, it was being cut in favor of Acquia Search, powered by Apache Solr. The University brought us in to build a search platform that would be capable of indexing the content of all of the Drupal sites, and searching either independently (within each site’s own content silo), or across the board. Working closely with the iTech team, we planned and executed the search feature within the new infrastructure, including the configuration of environment specific search, so the University team could iterate and test the site search in the development and staging environments before rolling new features to production. 

The final piece of the puzzle was to bring the site’s performance and security up to Acquia’s standards. We worked hard to make the vast majority of the content cacheable by Acquia’s edge layer, and brought iTech and Acquia representatives together to find resolutions for all of the issues surfaced by Acquia’s Insight reporting. At the end of this process, we performed a successful load test across all 4 sites, effectively proving the sites were ready for launch.

As launch day grew closer, we began to focus on the final details. With iTech’s help, we formulated a simple and clear launch checklist that would keep everyone on the same page when it mattered the most. When the final cutover was finished, we had almost no post-launch issues to address.

The work was completed on a timeline that allowed USM to minimize risk by switching to the new site while the University was on break. USM achieved their goal of a smooth migration to Drupal 7 on the Acquia hosting platform with no down time. 

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Implementing A Digital Media Strategy With Measurable Results

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership

Challenged to increase enrollment and retention, the University of Southern Mississippi looked to their existing ongoing relationship with Last Call Media for ways to implement a digital media strategy with measurable results. Last Call Media focused on building a new digital platform for the University that focused on increasing engagement with the University’s primary audiences: prospective and current students by implementing fresh designs with improved pathways and navigation. 

We already knew that USM.edu was an aging Drupal 6 site that was slow and difficult to update under the hood, but furthermore, site admins had little to no visibility into the performance of the platform, coupled with limited functionality and almost no reporting tools. Beyond Drupal 6 quickly becoming end-of-life from a development standpoint, USM agreed that from the marketing ROI perspective, it was time to move to Drupal 8. 

Due to Last Call Media’s long-standing working relationship with the University of Southern Mississippi, we were able to break ground quickly. The marketing and IT teams on USM and LCM agreed to work iteratively by first focusing efforts on launching a pilot site on Drupal 8 and prioritizing additional departments and colleges after the initial launch. This allowed the LCM team to formulate a focused yet creative digital strategy that would get into the hands of the USM audiences faster and allow for user feedback to inform future, more complex, development and content needs. Additionally, USM was able to communicate directly with the Acquia Certified Drupal 8 developers and architecture consultants at LCM, to provide expertise on best practices and development techniques. This direct line of communication with our certified team gave USM confidence in their ability to develop the new Drupal 8 platform alongside us. Some Acquia technologies we used on USM.edu are Acquia Cloud, Acquia Cloud Shield, Acquia Cloud Edge, Acquia Search, and Acquia Ready. The Acquia platform allowed USM to maintain a homogenous interface to their new Drupal 8 product and the workflow tools have allowed internal and external developers to collaborate in building new features and has made the quality assurance and release process consistent and seamless.

Since the relaunch of USM.edu on Drupal 8, feedback on campus has been overwhelmingly positive. The community was engaged and involved along the way, so it was a huge moment on campus when the site went live. 

There have even been some tangible technical results that the school benefited from almost immediately. One of the key results the site achieved was a sub-second page load for the homepage, despite using a video in the hero region. To accomplish this, we worked with the USM development team to obsessively reduce and minify front end assets, prefer CSS over images for presentational styling, and to lazy-load large assets not required for the initial pageview. Throughout the process, we tested using a front-end performance benchmarking tool (Phantomas) to keep us on track and efficient.
 

Though the LCM and USM teams were optimistic and bases were seemingly covered, the immediate success or failure of the site, however, rested on its ability to stay up during the initial launch. The University expected up to 85,000 visitors in a day due to our marketing efforts. To meet this goal, we developed and executed a load testing plan, giving the University the confidence and success they expected on launch day. Since its launch, the new USM.edu has been a huge victory and the University continues to see benefits from more in-depth reporting via Acquia, to site admin efficiency, all on a stable and supported Drupal 8 platform.