Our Thoughts
Sanjana Melody
Digital Researcher
21 November, 2022 9 MIN READ

Drupal vs. AEM: Settling the debate once and for all

21 November, 2022 9 MIN READ
Sanjana Melody
Digital Researcher

Digital content—love it or hate it, you can’t deny its importance in the current market. A study by Hubspot states that 66% of marketers and organizations plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2022 compared to 2021.

The reason? Content lets your customers know who you are and what your company stands for. More importantly, it allows you to build and deliver a curated consumer experience. 

And, unsurprisingly, technology has evolved to help you do that. You already know where this is going. Yes, this is about Digital Experience Platforms (DXP).

Currently, there are two prominent options when it comes to DXPs: Drupal and Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). Understandably, choosing between the two can be a little challenging. Still, if you take a structured approach to it, that decision is simple enough.

Essentially, there’s a clear winner in this case.

Let’s go through it all, shall we?

A glance at Drupal’s current state

An open-source solution, Drupal enables organizations to build web-based apps, publish and optimize digital content and create enriching web experiences. In addition, the inclusion of robust third-party extension frameworks and built-in APIs, alongside its comprehensive developer ecosystem, make the platform a seamless system for designing web content.

Now, Gartner has already published a report that explicitly namedrops Drupal as a composable DXP due to how it offers:

  • Context awareness and user personalization
  • Seamless management of customer data
  • Streamlined platform design and architecture

These benefits, coupled with the ease of development, make Drupal an appealing option to some of the most prominent global organizations. For example, the Stanford Graduate School of Business partnered with QED42 and leveraged the platform to redefine the digital experience for its faculty, students, and alums.

As such, consistent improvements are being made to Drupal with every major and minor release. In fact, the upcoming release of Drupal 10 will probably see more features being integrated into the customer mapping journey.

Where does AEM stand today?

As a proprietary tool, AEM offers some advanced website and mobile app development capabilities, in addition to several other tasks.

Similar to Drupal, AEM has built-in integrations with other tools. The only issue is that they are all affiliated with Adobe. In short, you can't leverage any external or third-party extensions you can leverage while developing a site.

That's not to say that these third-party systems are not helpful. Indeed, they are, with the list including online channels and software suites such as YouTube, Facebook, BrightEdge, and Salesforce.

The one case where AEM has a relative appeal is in deploying large-scale campaigns. But considering the discrepancy between brand and product marketing, there may be better alternatives to convoluted digital efforts.

Besides, this focus on building broader customer journey maps also translates to losing out on finer details when addressing audience pain points, the site's user-friendliness, and page customization.

So, the fact remains that AEM is a closed-source system, meaning if you adopt it as your foundation, you will miss out on community resources.

Still, none of these disadvantages have stopped some of the most recognized companies from relying on the platform. As such, LinkedIn, Nvidia, and JPMorgan Chase are some of the prominent names in its portfolio. 

Drupal vs. AEM: Which one wins?

Let's lay it down at the very beginning: Drupal is the clear winner, taking 4 out of the 5 mentioned cases and only tying in performance and optimization with AEM.

Having said that, it's essential to examine how substantial the margin between the two platforms is. So, here’s how Drupal and AEM compare to each other:

Licensing fees & cost of implementation

There was once a raging debate about the cost-effectiveness of Drupal projects over AEM variants. Acquia has set the record straight in this instance.

According to the article, the average license cost for AEM is around $450,000. Yet, that number doesn't account for the additional expenses of project development and the services and features used. Altogether, this could add up to over $2 million. That’s a far cry from the initial $450,000, isn’t it?

Conversely, Drupal discards licensing fees and offers a range of free modules, making it a significantly cheaper option. Even better, project development expenses are vastly lower when compared to AEM. In short, a more appealing cost of implementation with the added benefit of better margins and ROI.

Developer experience & access to third-party integrations

With AEM, your engineers get access to Java. And the stability that the enterprise-grade script brings could translate to an exceptional developer experience.

However, as mentioned earlier, the platform only offers integration with a few specific tools. So, if your team is looking to scale the site, that could lead to undesirable technical debt. This restriction on third-party applications makes AEM feel outdated in this collaborative digital era.

Meanwhile, Drupal runs on PHP, which has exceptional synergy with HTML, is an inexpensive script for site hosting, and is compatible with a wide range of open-source extensions. The platform adds to all these benefits by providing access to a vast pool of developer resources and solutions. That means your team can resolve any issues by tapping into their peers’ expertise.

Platform security & support

AEM comes with pre-determined measures for you to secure your site management. As such, there is a designated security console for ensuring individual recognition and role-based authentication alongside consolidated third-party data storage and access.

The only issue? AEM is managed by a single team that provides support only when necessary.

Now, Drupal has similar dedicated access-based controls in addition to role recognition and authentication. But here's where it differs from AEM: The platform's security is managed through numerous touchpoints.

For instance, programmers can create and maintain code modules through security documentation. Meanwhile, the Open Web Protection Task sets broader standards for the platform and the community, ensuring uniformity in configuration tasks, module creation, and core updates. This is incredibly helpful, considering Drupal's large community.

There's also the fact that Drupal has a built-in reporting feature that allows programmers to raise concerns within the development community. 

Ease of migration & upgrades

Drupal 9 has already been released, and the switch from the previous version to its current iteration serves as an example of how accessible future migrations will be.

For example, the transition from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 could be done through a simple 4-step process using the platform’s Upgrade Status. Even so, the shift from the 7th to the 9th model was never as convoluted as AEM’s 6.0 to 6.5 conversion.

Granted, Adobe’s 6.3 to 6.5 migration was much more straightforward. Yet, that only came with the adoption of SegmentNodeStore.

Consolidating it all, it's apparent that Drupal recognized the advantages of making transitions simpler for its community earlier than AEM did.

The best part? Drupal 10 will follow a similar trajectory and will be built in Drupal 9 instead of being a complete overhaul of the current codebase. In short, each minor release up to 9.4 will be backward-compatible, giving developers more than enough time to keep up with API changes.

After all, the title ‘easiest upgrade of the decade’ wasn’t for nothing, was it?

Performance & site optimization

Contrary to popular perception around open-source DXPs, Drupal excels in handling massive traffic spikes without inhibiting site performance. But there’s more. It also offers a range of tools to optimize and scale your content.

For instance, the Blazy module aids in uploading multi-serve images while the Content Delivery Network (CDN) ensures comprehensive site reach to edge caches. Then, there are modules, including Nagios, Raven: Sentry, Error Log, and Production Check & Production Monitor, which enable you to assess your page performance consistently.

Now, AEM’s standard configuration works similarly in this case. It also automatically tunes your system over time, regardless of the performance changes. Simply put, your site's analysis, including metrics, validation, and optimization, is handled without requiring constant oversight.

There is a caveat here, though. In short, expanding your site’s features requires you to perform additional stress tests every single time. That, by itself, takes away from the mentioned benefits.

A consolidated overview of Drupal and AEM

Cost of implementation, development ecosystem, security, ease of migration, and performance have already been covered. Here’s a consolidated overview of everything related to Drupal and AEM.




Cost of Implementation vs. ROI

No licensing cost coupled with lower project development expenses leads to a marginally better ROI

High licensing fees, in addition to exorbitant project costs, only make it appealing to larger corporations

Development Ecosystem

Works on PHP and has several free modules, third-party extensions, and access to community resources

Runs on JavaScript, providing a stable developer experience but has limited integrations

Platform Security & Support

Has a comprehensive range of touchpoints for platform security

Decent security but with access to a single support team


Simple, seamless, streamlined

Relatively straightforward but pales in comparison to Drupal

Performance & Scalability

Exceptional performance with scope for expansion without significant effort

Similarly optimized but requires additional stress and performance tests

SEO Optimization

Packs a range of SEO-friendly modules

Has a substantial number of SEO-optimized modules but lower than that of Drupal

Campaign Management

Excellent for facilitating a complex customer journey, with Acquia’s Journey Builder enhancing the support even further

Built for catering to large-scale campaigns and, thus, misses out on some of the finer details

Customer Support

Online channels alongside a knowledge repository

Phone, online channels, knowledge repository & video tutorials

As evident from the table above, Drupal wins in all the cases; save one. SEO optimization? Drupal takes the cake. What about migration and platform security? Well, Drupal beats out AEM again. More importantly, your developers get access to a range of free modules, extensions, and community resources when working with Drupal.

If that's not enough, consider this: Is there an argument against a DXP with no licensing cost and lower project development expenses? Add better margins and ROI due to Drupal's low implementation cost, and you have something that no other DXP, let alone AEM, can compete with.

Of course, there’s the matter of customer support. Note that AEM has only two additional channels here, primarily telephonic support and video tutorials. Yet, the fact remains that Drupal is an open-source platform. Essentially, you don’t just have a single team guiding you on your projects—you have the entire community.

Scale your brand’s digital experience with QED42

Brand loyalty in this digital age is a curious thing. Over the years, the concept has seeped into every aspect of the consumer’s mindset. Think about it. What do people see when they first visit your page? They aren’t reading through program descriptions or glancing at product images. They are looking at you. Your organization’s identity. Your brand.

So, making that first point of contact memorable is the only way you bring attention to what you offer. Essentially, curating an exceptional digital experience takes care of everything related to succeeding in this competitive age. More importantly, it will work in your favor from start to finish.

And, incidentally, this article just gave you the solution to making that happen: Drupal. Scalable, cost-effective, secure, and with seamless migration, the composable DXP offers it all

Of course, you’d need a partner to help build your Drupal project. And that’s where QED42 steps in. Consistently ranked among the top 10 Drupal web-service providers, we specialize in delivering feature-rich and scalable projects that offer tangible business growth. If you are planning to build your brand with Drupal, chat with our DXP experts to craft an ideal strategy for your organization.


Sanjana Melody