State of Georgia
Using Federated Search make it easier for constituents to find what they need
- Implemented a unified search solution for a large network of sites running multiple versions of Drupal
- Coordinated closely with other vendors and partners to reduce deployment risks
- Contributed improvements back to the open source community
The State of Georgia’s Digital Services team (DSGa) supports a network of over 100 websites running on Drupal. Georgia was the first state to adopt open source at an enterprise level, implementing the first version of its Drupal platform in 2011. Originally built in Drupal 7, DSGa began transitioning to a new Drupal 8 platform in 2019. Georgia’s new platform has been developed to provide consistent, modern, and compliant websites that focus on the needs of Georgia’s citizens.
Sites in the network need the capacity to search content from both their own site and other sites, regardless of the version of Drupal being used. While both platforms are hosted on Acquia and use Acquia Search, their Drupal 7 search solution could not incorporate content from the new Drupal 8 sites. This left the DSGa team in an awkward position: either lose functionality while they waited for sites to transition to Drupal 8 or delay the launch of the new platform until all sites were ready.
Fortunately, there was another option.
Back in 2016, with the announcement that Google Search Appliance was being discontinued, many government entities and universities started looking around for replacement options. At Palantir, we wanted to provide an open source option that could solve the following needs:
- A simple way to store, retrieve, and parse content
- A cross-platform search application
- A speedy, usable, responsive front-end
- A flexible, extensible, reusable model
What we built is called Federated Search. With Drupal, Solr, and React working together, Federated Search is able to index data from completely arbitrary sources, standardize it, and then output it in an easily consumable way. This approach means more flexibility for site administrators and a cleaner experience for users.
Using Federated Search, Palantir collaborated with DSGa and their development partners to re-launch network-wide search with added functionality in both Drupal 8 and Drupal 7 without any service interruption for site visitors. The scope of this project affected five separate technology organizations in addition to the more than 80 internal clients supported by the Drupal platform:
- Acquia, the hosting and search provider
- Digital Services of Georgia (DSGa), the internal product and support team
- Lullabot, the architects and implementers of the Drupal 8 platform
- Mediacurrent, the support vendor for existing Drupal 7 sites
- Palantir.net, the creators of Federated Search and the search architects and implementation partners for Georgia.gov
Implementation required a clear communication of existing functionality, division of technical responsibilities, and coordination of testing and release schedules across both Drupal platforms. It also meant adapting the current search experience to new features available in Federated Search (most notably the built-in filtering capacity), and integrating the current predictive search feature into the Federated Search product.
Our approach was to adapt to the existing project tools used by both Lullabot and Mediacurrent, and to use scrums to keep everyone informed of progress and blockers. We also had to consult with the Acquia Search team to ensure that the required configuration (which uses private key files to point each site to a single Solr index) was compatible with the architecture of Acquia Cloud.
The new search feature launched without a service interruption for site visitors while adding accessible search filters for site, content type, and date range. These features of Federated Search make it easier for constituents to find what they need, adding value to the existing service while making it sustainable as the platform shifts to Drupal 8. For both internal clients and development partners, the implementation bridging Drupal 7 with Drupal 8 lowered the risk involved in the upgraded platform rollout.
Version 2.0 of Federated Search, which includes feature enhancements from this and other projects, adds improved search results, autocomplete, wildcard searching, default facet control, enhanced query parameters, and improved Drupal theming. We were also able to use the work for Georgia.gov to improve the product for use by anyone on the Acquia Cloud or Acquia Cloud Site Factory platforms.