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What are the disadvantages of a Multi-site/Multi-domain solution?

What are the disadvantages of a Multi-site/Multi-domain solution?

One Shoe | 11 jan 2016

This is the 4th article in a series about 'Multi-site/Multi-domain' solutions.

With a multi-site or multi-domain solution it is possible to create, manage and deploy multiple websites from one Drupal CMS installation without needing Drupal developers or IT support. We told you about what a multi-site/multi-domain solution exactly is, what the differences are and what the advantages are. But what are the disadvantages of a Multi-site/Multi-domain solution?

Disadvantages of a multi-site and multi-domain solution


For every advantage, there’s also disadvantages of course – and vice versa.

So, given that the main benefits of multisite and multi domain are derived from uniformity, any individual deviation from the norm – the norm being the standardized site format the CMS was developed for - causes headaches for the content managers and the developers developers. And any deviation from the norm is an exception that, after it’s been implemented, must be considered for every change that follows it, so exceptions are not only initial headaches to implement but also potential troubleshooting and maintenance nightmares.

So a disadvantage of multisite and multi-domain is that these solutions are best used ‘as-is’ and extentions, adaptations or exceptions to the standard should be avoided. We know however, that this works well in theory, but is hard to apply in practice.

Keep in mind...

You will benefit the most from a multisite or multi-domain CMS setup if you want to deploy many sites (say; more than 10) from a single installation, ánd if you can ensure those websites will work within the framework’s setup. Ideally, the framework will then change little to not at all over time. 

But for environments where the dynamics of each site vary a lot, those restrictions are of course less appealing and may be considered a disadvantage for achieving business goals. So in other words, to benefit from multisite or multi-domain, you almost have to be clairvoyant, to be sure the solution that’s perfect initially, will remain perfect in the long run. 

Hosting and performance

Another important factor to consider is hosting and performance. Any multisite or multi-domain setup has to be hosted from a single hosting “environment”, consisting of one or more servers and components.

The load of one website on the multisite or multi-domain setup can affect all other sites in the same hosting environment. Therefore it’s important to consider performance and hosting, before choosing a multisite or multi-domain solution. The predictability of site visitors, pageviews, data traffic, database queries and server load  is equally important to consider as the existence and control over optimization options such as caching mechanisms.

Websites that have a lot of dynamic information, for instance because each authenticated user sees his or her own unique information and views, can perhaps be excluded from entry into a multisite or multi-domain setup, based on only this simple aspect. In some cases for One Shoe, the server load alone has been a decisive factor for not choosing to apply multisite or multi-domain, despite several other benefits. 

Multi-site/multi-domain or an independent website

The fact that in a multisite or multi-domain setup all sites are linked may also be something to consider if at some point you may want to separate one website from the multisite or multi-domain platform.

Unless your developers have taken such a separation into consideration and accommodated for such a scenario it might not be easy to separate one site from the rest, because the website will not only share modules and features with other sites, but in some cases also content and users. Special configurations may also apply to allow the combination of DNS settings and the multisite or multi-domain setup to work properly. Such a specific multisite or multi-domain  architecture may not be transferrable to a single-site setup. 

Starting a new website on a multisite platform may look appealing initially, but you should also ask yourself if the website may go in a different direction over time and the dependencies that will be implemented with other websites on the platform. If it can be predicted that a website may grow or alter significantly over time, you could be looking at an expensive and complex migration of content, users and features – especially if you want to maintain features like a Single Sign On, that may have been simple or standard on the initial multisite or multi-domain platform.

<< 3rd article: What are the advantages of a Multi-site/Multi-domain solution and who's to benefit from it?

>> 5th article: When to choose multi-site, multi-domain or neither