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Party with Varnish

Anyone who runs a high-availability Drupal site knows about Varnish, the open-source HTTP reverse-proxy server. Varnish intercepts requests before they hit the web server and delivers relevant information that it finds in its cache, resulting in lower loads and radically faster pages.

We love Varnish at Acquia. It's one of the ingredients that makes Acquia Dev Cloud and Acquia Managed Cloud so fast.

This Thursday, the Varnish team will celebrate the release of Varnish 3.0 with parties around the world, much as the Drupal community celebrated the release of Drupal 7.

Because we love Varnish, Acquia is organizing and sponsoring two Varnish release parties. One is in Boston, at the Cambridge Brewing Company from 6:30 to 8:30pm; a second is in Portland at the Lucky Labrador Brewing Company starting at 6:00pm. Both are on Thursday, June 16th. See the Varnish 3.0 party page for parties at locations near you.

It's a great opportunity to meet fellow web geeks and have some good (free!) beer. I'll be at the Boston party, and look forward to seeing the local Varnish users!

Further details are on Varnish's web site. See you this Thursday!

Puerto Rico

Last week, we flew everyone at Acquia that joined before 2011, as well as their significant others (or someone of their choice) to the Caribbean to celebrate an incredible year. I wrote about the trip in my blog post titled "Acquia goes to the Caribbean". Now we're back from this amazing trip, I've uploaded my pictures to my Puerto Rico 2011 album and included some below. Work hard, live hard!

Beach on private island
Acquia catamaran
El Conquistador pools by night

Announcing the Office of the CTO at Acquia

There are two things that I need most; (a) a hair cut and (b) more time. A hair cut I just got last weekend so that leaves me with finding more time.

I need more time because things continue to grow: Acquia now has more than 100 people and a product portfolio with multiple product lines; we're growing the Drupal Association so we can organize more and bigger events and keep improving our website and infrastructure; I'm bootstrapping Drupal 8 development; and more.

While I have many people helping me, I need to continue to scale myself as things grow. There are things I want to do that I'm not currently doing, and there are things I need to do more of. Thus, as a next step in scaling my Acquia and Drupal related work, I'm establishing an "Office of the CTO" at Acquia.

My plan is to hire a select number of people into the Office of the CTO to help me with the many things I do; from working with the Drupal community, to helping with Acquia's product strategy, to researching Drupal competition, business development, and building proof-of-concepts and incubating new ideas. I'm looking for people that want to live part of my life, who can represent me and work directly with me on a day-to-day basis.

The past years I've focused a lot on Acquia's products and product strategy, as well as getting Drupal 7 released. Right now, I feel I need to focus on kicking off Drupal 8 development, streamlining the Drupal Association, and looking for new product ideas for Acquia. If I hire well, I expect to be able to develop both these interests and also develop the people in the office of the CTO. More details to follow.

Acquia goes to the Caribbean

This week many of us at Acquia will be on an epic trip to the Caribbean.

Venture backed start-ups set aggressive goals. At Acquia, our goal for 2010 was to increase 2009 revenue by 250%. No small goal, no small feat. In the beginning of 2010, most people in the company were skeptical that we would make the goal. Jokingly, we set a "stretch goal": if we increased revenues by more than 450%, we'd do something crazy. We decided that we would fly the entire staff and their significant others to some place warm.

The passion, drive and energy on the team was unprecedented. People worked weekends and nights to beat our wildest dreams. Twelve months later, we not only beat our realistic goal, we beat the stretch goal!

This week we'll be flying everyone in the whole company who were with us in 2010, as well as their significant others (or someone of their choice) to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. We'll be there from Thursday to Sunday this week to celebrate an incredible year. It is going to be an epic trip. Oh, how dizzying is the start-up life. Stay tuned for pictures!

Hopes and beliefs for Open Source web projects

Open source is the best way to build and distribute software. There are few things about which I'm more convinced. In some, but not all cases, Open Source also offers a viable business model. When it does, it's great because it allows you to do well and do good at the same time. I'm convinced that Open Source is the future for all software needs, but niche applications. I believe in this so sincerely that I've spent over ten years of my life building Open Source software, and I haven't once faltered on my resolve. In fact, I've become more convinced over the years.

The second factor about which I'm convinced is that traditional hosting as we know it today will be for bespoke applications. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will become the de-facto standard for building and hosting web applications, especially in combination with Open Source web applications. I believe in this so much that I've been betting Acquia on it since its inception three and a half years ago. Now it seems the markets are aligning with that vision: the hosting industry, after years of being dormant, is going through a new innovation cycle driven by "cloud computing".

With both Open Source, PaaS and SaaS, the question is not if it will happen, but when. The transition is inevitable; it might take ten, twenty or thirty years, but it's just a matter of time. The terms PaaS and SaaS might die along the way, but their concepts will certainly remain and change the hosting industry.

I'm willing to bet that in the future, every Open Source web project that wants to reach a certain level of adoption, will have to provide a PaaS and SaaS offering in order to be truly relevant. I think that's exciting because it creates new business models for Open Source projects which will help fuel the Open Source movement. In fact, I hope that Acquia can become a role model for other Open Source projects and Open Source companies. It's going the take plenty of hard work, but the passion and the conviction is certainly there.

Acquia Network 2.0

We just re-launched the Acquia Network with a new look and feel, powerful new services and a new developer-focused subscription. Peter Guagenti, who has championed the effort within Acquia, has all the details in his announcement blog post. The Acquia Network is near and dear to my heart as it has been the core of our offerings since the founding of the company and is a key element for Acquia's product vision.

We're living in an interesting time; the web is becoming more and more complex, and on top of that, people's expectations of your website are also increasing. Think about it. Five years ago, it was as simple as adding a blog feature to your site to leap-frog your competition, but today that is just not good enough. You likely need a mobile version of your site, blazing fast response times, carefully tuned content, and much more. It is more subtle, more difficult and more work than it ever was before. Going at it alone can be tough.

The idea behind the Acquia Network has always been to give developers and site owners the best possible tools to help them keep up with the growing complexity of building a great web experience. The new and rebooted Acquia Network makes that promise even stronger as we added three new tools to help build better web experiences: New Relic (performance monitoring), Mobify (mobile) and Visual Website Optimizer (A/B testing). There is more that can be done, so expect the Acquia Network to evolve and grow quite a bit in the weeks ahead. More details in Peter's announcement blog post.

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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