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Announcing Acquia Cloud Free

I'm excited to announce that Acquia is launching Acquia Cloud Free, a no-cost development sandbox for Drupal development. While Acquia has always had a freemium offer for development purposes, it had an expiration date, and it required a credit card. We've changed that with Acquia Cloud Free. Acquia Cloud Free comes packed with great tools including, but not limited to:

  1. A free development sandbox on Acquia Cloud with development and staging environments, Drush integration, Git repository and more. (The sandbox can't be used to run production sites.)
  2. Drupal development workflow tools that allow you to deploy code between dev and staging environments, replicate files, make backups and more.
  3. Acquia Insight which will scan your site for security problems, performance improvements and general Drupal best practices. Every day, we run thousands of tests on your site. Our team keeps adding new tests based on what they learn every day.
  4. Acquia Search which supercharges your site's search capabilities with more accurate search results, faceted navigation, search analytics and more.

We've put a lot of thought and effort into creating the Acquia Cloud platform and continue to invest it in heavily. As a result, we have seen tremendous adoption. I believe that giving everyone access to a free Acquia Cloud development sandbox is one way we can give back and help grow Drupal. Give it a try if you want!

Acquia Cloud Site Factory

Many organizations have long had the need to maintain multiple websites as part of their digital marketing and enablement efforts. But when the number of sites tallied across different products and services, geographic regions, departments, and clients for just a single organization grows into the hundreds or thousands, it's easy to see why managing all of these sites with agility, velocity and freedom has long been elusive.

Last week, Acquia announced the availability of the "Acquia Cloud Site Factory". I wanted to give a bit more background on this new product and possibly discuss it in the comments.

The Acquia Cloud Site Factory is a platform that provides users with a feature rich Drupal site-building environment and powerful multisite management tools on top of the Acquia Cloud platform. It was built to help corporations, agencies, educational institutions and government agencies to build, deploy and manage hundreds or thousands of Drupal websites at scale.

Acquia Cloud Site Factory is the result what we learned from delivering Drupal Gardens as a solution to large enterprises. Many of our customers benefit from Drupal Gardens as a multisite management platform. However, other customers ran into limitations with Drupal Gardens, namely the inability for developers to add modules, and could not experience the full freedom of Drupal. Based on our customers’ guidance and our own experiences, we built the new Acquia Cloud Site Factory to give organizations access to the full capabilities of Drupal, including custom modules.

Cloud Site Factory is available in three flavors so customers can choose the level of service that best meets their needs:

  • Pure Software as a Service (SaaS): This is an out-of-the-box Drupal experience for customers who don’t want to manage anything other than their site content. Acquia manages and maintains the Drupal and Site Factory tools, and guarantees the service level agreement, or SLA, for all sites delivered through the platform.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): With the Platform-as-a-Service tier, customers gain the ability to customize the Site Factory Drupal codebase with any contrib or custom module and manage the deployment of their codebase through a multisite oriented continuous integration workflow. This approach is perfect for those users needing the flexibility and freedom to truly customize their Drupal experience through self-service tools. Acquia maintains the starting codebase, the Site Factory tools and the Acquia Cloud hosting platform so customers can focus on building their code and their sites.
  • SaaS+: For customers seeking the best of both worlds, we offer a hybrid service tier allowing Acquia Professional Services to certify contrib or custom modules on your behalf for deployment to your Site Factory codebase. Once modules are certified, they are available to you through the SaaS experience.

Acquia Cloud Site Factory has been architected to manage tens, hundreds, and even thousands of sites. For example, it currently is managing updates for tens of thousands of sites on DrupalGardens.com.

Growth of Acquia Cloud

It's been a while since I wrote about Acquia Cloud so I wanted to give you a quick update. Acquia Cloud has experienced incredible growth so far in 2013. We recently crossed a milestone that I'm proud to share; we’re now running over 6,000 cloud instances on behalf of our customers in six Amazon regions stretching across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. These instances are used to run a wide variety of Drupal sites; from e-commerce to collaboration to marketing sites, and more.

All that capacity served over 18 billion requests in May, with many more requests served via our CDN partnerships. Compared to last year, Acquia Cloud's traffic is up 200%. We also served over 232 terabytes of data in May. This astounding growth solidifies the scalability of Acquia Cloud. And it's only going to grow faster as Acquia is signing up larger websites.

Acquia cloud may

Using the Akiban database with Drupal

For four years now I've been an advisor for Akiban, a Boston start-up building a new class of NewSQL/NoSQL database. I'm excited that after 4 years of hard work, Akiban launched their first Drupal customer solution in the Acquia Cloud. A great opportunity to talk a bit more about what Akiban is doing, and why I'm excited to help their team.

The early phase strategy for Akiban is to augment existing deployments (for example MySQL) to enhance query performance among other capabilities. Our mutual customer was facing performance, concurrency and availability challenges with some custom Drupal report code. The report was built in Drupal as a module, and involved a series of complex joins making performance unpredictable, frequently resulting in slow query performance and periodically crashing the whole site. Using Akiban's database, the customer is realizing 66x performance improvement over their existing implementation, without any significant change to the Drupal application.

One of the core benefits of Akiban is query acceleration. The Akiban database can run along side of MySQL server in "augmentation mode" comparable to master-slave configuration. Akiban implemented a simple Drupal patch which allows the reporting queries to be redirected to the Akiban server. While Akiban’s solution requires data duplication, it also means that there is virtually no intrusion on the day-to-day running of the site.

The report module remains as originally designed but now the problem queries are redirected to the Akiban server. Akiban’s core technology is called Table Grouping. Table Grouping enables for the physical grouping of tables while preserving a logical layer allowing developers to continue to use SQL. This grouping eliminates complex traditional joins while preserving the use of ANSI SQL. In addition, Akiban can create cross-table indexes thus accelerating formerly slow queries. As a result, with the reporting queries now directed to Akiban server, the report performs 66x faster.

The Akiban team refers to Akiban server as a new class of database that accelerates SQL and NoSQL data by 10-100x, while allowing developers to access data in both traditional SQL and RESTful environments (SOAs). Compared to other database technologies, Table Grouping provides an innovative way to store and query structured and semi-structured data.

Akiban's Padraig O'Sullivan is working on a module for Drupal 7, and while there is still some work to be done to test and optimize it, he has already enabled Akiban to run as the source database for Drupal 8 in development. Something to keep an eye on. If you want to test out Akiban yourself, head over to akiban.com and download it.

How Al Jazeera successfully managed through the turmoil

The following blog post was published as a guest blog post on Forbes.com. I wrote it after Al Jazeera successfully moved some of their Drupal sites from their traditional hosting company to Acquia Hosting (now called Acquia Managed Cloud) to help them survive a 2,000% traffic increase as a result of the crises in the Middle East. The blog post provides real proof of how the Cloud helped one of the largest news organizations in the world survive one of the largest political events in the world. A fascinating story for Drupal!

Over the past decade, the Web has completely transformed how people create and consume information. We have all witnessed firsthand how the free flow of information is impacting the way individuals and companies communicate and how the rules of governance are changing for entire nations. Now, we’re all participating and reporting on events as they happen, and from where they happen.

There is no better example of that than the most recent events in the Middle East. And one organization, Al Jazeera, the world’s largest news organization solely focused on the Middle East, was right in the middle of the incredible broadcast and social media storm that instantly developed. Throughout the ordeal, Al Jazeera effectively leveraged the power of the cloud to stay on the air and scale its reach and performance. If events of the past few months are any indication, there are lessons here for other content-driven companies to consider for their own online operations.

Al Jazeera’s English operations broadcasts news and current affairs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with more than 1,000 staff members from more than 50 nations. Quite literally, Al Jazeera provides the world with a front seat on the Middle East stage. It broadcasts from centers in Doha, the capital city of the state of Qatar, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington.

Al Jazeera’s live blog site is powered by Drupal, a free, open source social publishing platform that enables content-driven organizations to publish content and build communities quickly and easily. Drupal is used by many of the world’s most prominent organizations including the White House, the World Economic Forum, Intel, The Economist and Turner Broadcasting.

Al Jazeera’s English live blog site was a vital source for breaking news in Egypt. Bloggers were posting updates from the epicenter of the crisis and social media was often the only means of communication both inside and outside of the country. During the crisis, traffic to the Al Jazeera web site increased 1,000% and traffic to the live blog spiked 2,000%. This dilemma, normally a good one for news organizations, caused unpredictable performance and excessive page load times for site visitors.

From an infrastructure standpoint, Al Jazeera had historically hosted its blog with a traditional provider but had increasingly suffered a variety of scalability issues brought on by surging demand – unacceptable for Al Jazeera or any similar content business. What might have been just a typical technical nuisance on a mundane news day quickly became unsustainable when Egypt erupted.

Al Jazeera faced a mission-critical problem that needed a real-time solution. Where could it find performance hosting and support immediately and within a reasonable cost? Would it be secure and private? What about reliable? The answer: The cloud, the various data access, storage and hosting services available remotely over the Internet. Much discussed but often not fully appreciated by the business community, cloud services enable custom sites to perform well under varying, and sometimes severe, traffic conditions. Moving to a Drupal-supported cloud option allowed Al Jazeera to scale up quickly, dynamically render their content faster, and achieve a higher level of site reliability – issues that previously overwhelmed its physical hardware environments.

By leveraging Drupal and turning to the cloud, the Al Jazeera technical team demonstrated how to rapidly turn a seemingly disastrous situation into a net positive business decision going forward. Fast forward a few weeks, and the demands on Al Jazeera’s Web infrastructure have only increased with new crises across the region. The difference is the organization is now able to better handle these unforeseen demands and focus on the core business, reporting the news as it happens.

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