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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.
It has been only 18 months since we launched Acquia Hosting. Today, Acquia Hosting is serving 2.2 billion page views a month for several hundred customers and growing rapidly. In those 18 months, we also built a lot of tools to help organizations manage their entire Drupal workflow process from development to staging and production. The combined result is that we've built one of the world's best managed cloud environments for Drupal, and have proven that we can scale any Drupal site to meet the needs of the largest enterprises.
During this time, we received a lot of demand for a lower-priced single-server version of Acquia Hosting that developers could use to build sites that didn’t require multi-server high-availability. We held off offering a single-server version of our offering so we could focus on solving the largest Drupal scalability issues for the most demanding enterprises. We're proud to announce that we're ready, and that we will offer a developer-focused solution in the next few weeks. We're ready to show you at DrupalCon Chicago and will launch it shortly thereafter.
Like Acquia Hosting, the new single-server offering will come with an optimized stack for Drupal, including Varnish, Nginx, APC and Memcache, as well as all the tools to manage the lifecycle of your website. This new hosting offering will be called Acquia Dev Cloud. It will be great for people that want to build Drupal sites without the need for high-availability or help from Acquia to help scale and maintain their site. In many ways, Dev Cloud is the logical next step for Acquia Hosting, and helps us close the chasm between Drupal Gardens and Acquia Hosting.
One of the key features of Dev Cloud is the ability to run multiple separate sites on a single server. This has been the most common request from our partners since we launched Acquia Hosting. Because many of the sites our partners build are small, it’s more cost effective to run multiple sites on a single server and partners wanted this option on our hosting platform.
It was also clear that 'Acquia Hosting' was no longer the best name -- or maybe it never was. The more features we added, the more we grew to dislike it as the less it reflected what we had build. The amount of developer tools and the level of service and support we provide to help customers scale their Drupal sites is unheard of. None of that is reflected in the name 'Acquia Hosting'. Too many people had preconceived notions of what 'hosting' meant, and what we offer goes well beyond traditional hosting. It is really Platform-as-a-Service (or PaaS). Hence, we decided to rename 'Acquia Hosting' to 'Acquia Managed Cloud' to better reflect that fact.
Acquia Managed Cloud is for business-critical sites that require a fully redundant, highly available environment that is managed 24x7 by Acquia staff. Acquia Dev Cloud is for developers that want all the great features of Acquia Managed Cloud, without the support and guarantees provided by our team of Drupal experts.
We're very excited about these changes as they get us a step closer to completing our vision for Acquia. It will be easy to migrate from Drupal Gardens to Dev Cloud, or from Dev Cloud to Managed Cloud.
Dev Cloud will be available for purchase as part of an Acquia Network subscription. We are introducing a new Developer Subscription package that includes access to Dev Cloud, self-service support tools, our new Acquia Library knowledge base and Acquia Network services including Acquia Search, Mobify, and New Relic. This will start at a developer friendly price of less than $200 / month including a Dev Cloud server. If you are looking for support ticket access to Acquia’s support team, you can also use Dev Cloud with our Professional Subscription.
A small teaser of the new user interface we're launching for Acquia Dev Cloud and Acquia Managed Cloud.
I'm happy to share another gigantic win for Drupal; the World Economic Forum (the Forum) has launched their internal collaboration platform on Drupal. The Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders. It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos. Their World Economic Leaders Community (WELCOM) is where they will engage online to address the most pressing business and global challenges.
This means that the world's leaders are now using Drupal! They have just met at Davos where they first took their new collaboration platform to the test.
The Forum turned to Drupal since their existing closed-source solution, developed on top of last generation technologies, was not flexible enough. They wanted to add new features quickly, and their previous system just was not able to do so at their pace. Additionally The Forum's previous platform was a collection of different technologies, while good on their own, resulted in very poor performance for their site. So they turned to the advantages of open source technology, and Drupal, for solutions.
They decided to use Drupal Commons, a pre-configured Drupal distribution for social websites, as the technology platform for their community. Drupal Commons is social business software similar to Jive Software, that integrates groups, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and events into a single pre-packaged solution. This allowed the Forum to quickly spin up a social collaboration community based off Drupal with the features they needed.
Their previous solution took several years to build, while the Drupal Commons solution was deployed in just several months.
Many organizations, including Nvidia, Symantec, Turner Broadcasting, and many others already use Drupal to power their community sites. Drupal Commons makes this process easier by packaging together key modules, content types and theme snippets into an installation profile that is ready to go out of the box. Because it's Drupal, organizations still have the flexibility to modify Commons to extend its capabilities, to turn features on/off and tap into the wealth of Drupal community resources.
So this is just the first step for the World Economic Forum – and we look forward to seeing what our world leaders will do next with Drupal.
Tesla Motors is using Drupal for their website: http://www.teslamotors.com. Really beautiful design.
Tesla went public last year; it is the first American automaker to go public since Ford Motor's IPO more than 50 years ago.
Last month, Acquia employees (including myself) got to ride a Tesla Roadster Sport. It is a 100% electric sports car that boasts 288 horse power. The car goes from 0 to 60 mph (100 km/h) in 3.7 seconds. Not bad for a battery-powered car.
Impressive car, impressive company and impressive website. :)
As some of you may know from my recent tweets and blog posts, I'm currently on a tour down under in Australia. After attending Drupal Downunder in Brisbane, I spent two days in Melbourne. Although my schedule was packed, I was able to meet with several Acquia partners based in Melbourne. I also met with various Drupal users such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (AFC), Monash University, Lonely Planet, Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), Victoria University, Red Cross, State Library of Victoria and others. In the evenings, we organized a Drupal meet-up at the Belgian Beer Cafe in which I met about forty Drupal developers. Good times!
In talking to these people, I noticed a common pattern, other than the fact that everyone was excited about Drupal 7. In Australia, Drupal had a reputation of being a system for those who couldn't afford a "real CMS". Over the past year, though, that has changed. And now Drupal is considered in competitive evaluations and often wins. Interest in Drupal is growing rapidly and, like everywhere else in the world, the big challenge is to find enough Drupal talent, both for the Drupal shops as well as the large organizations that are looking to build internal teams.
We need to train more good Drupal people. We can do this through more and better documentation, mentoring, evangelizing, organizing code sprints, meet-ups and conferences. Whatever it takes, we have to figure out how to keep up with the demand -- not just in Australia, but everywhere in the world. If only PHP were more sexy, it would be much easier to attract more talent. Most good engineers don't realize how much better Drupal is compared to raw PHP, and that building a big, scalable Drupal site involves much more than PHP.
The next 36 hours I'm in Sydney to meet with more partners, users and developers. Should be fun and productive.
In my Acquia 2010 retrospective, I promised to write a bit more about Acquia's product strategy. This blog post provides a high level view of the vision that we've been working towards for the last 3 years, and explains how Acquia can help simplify your web strategy.
The web: it's currently a mess
Ten years ago, the average organization had one website. Since then, doing business through the web has become more complex and have introduced a diverse set of needs. If you're like most organizations the number of sites you have is large and continues to grow at a rapid clip.
For most organizations, one tool could not historically get the job done, so they kept multiple tools in their toolbox – whether they intended to or not. The situation can be quite a mess, and is unfortunately a common scenario in many enterprises.
Each site has unique needs
Most of these sites are vastly different in terms of scale, functionality, complexity and longevity. Some sites are under continuous development while other sites are only around for a couple of weeks or months. Some of the websites are owned by the company's IT department and hosted internally, while other websites may be owned by their marketing department and hosted externally. As a result, the level of investment and the time to market requirements are usually very different.
Standardize on Drupal to save costs
CIOs – facing cost-cutting pressures and the need to streamline their resources – are now addressing the reality of running twenty different content management systems on twenty different stack configurations as an expensive, unnecessary burden for the organization. They have always known that there were cost savings to be made if they standardize on a single platform, but have never felt the confidence in a single platform to suit all of their needs across their organization.
Drupal has the required features to accomplish this today. This is more than a vision – it is reality. Every day, more organizations are standardizing on Drupal.
By standardizing on Drupal, organizations can reduce training costs, reduce maintenance costs, streamline security, and optimize internal resources – all without sacrificing quality or requirements. Standardizing on Drupal certainly doesn't mean every single system needs to be Drupal. Even going from 20 different systems to 10 or to 5 different systems still translates to dramatic cost savings. It goes without saying that you need to be smart about what makes sense to standardize on Drupal, and what not to standardize on Drupal. With our vast community of contributors, Drupal continues to become better and better and the feasibility for an organization to standardize on Drupal continues to improve over time.
Drupal distributions help adoption
Drupal Commons is a Drupal distribution for social business software; it provides organizations a complete solution for forming collaborative communities. Similarly, Open Publish is a Drupal distribution optimized for news publishing. Acquia sees expansion of distributions as critically important to the future growth of Drupal. With that, we are acting as a software publishers for these and other distributions developed by partners within the Drupal community; supporting the marketing, promotion, support, and ongoing development of distributions to extend the capability of the companies who have incubated these incredible products.
Add the Acquia Network for support and cloud services
To help organizations adopt and standardize on Drupal, we created the Acquia Network to provide a suite of Drupal support, knowledge, and web development and maintenance tools to help build, manage and extend Drupal websites.
The Acquia Network is your connection to a team of Drupal experts, available 24x7, and backed by Acquia's engineering and professional services team. As an Acquia Network subscriber, you can submit help tickets, search our knowledge base and contribute in our subscriber forums.
The Acquia Network also provides you access to a number of cloud-based services. Services like heartbeat monitoring, software update management, and soon to be released integration with New Relic provide visibility into your site's performance and help with site management. Other services, like Acquia Search and Mollom, extend the functional capabilities of your sites.
We are in the middle of a massive redesign of the Acquia Network and many of the services you use through the Acquia Network today (including the Acquia Library, a broad collection of tips, tricks, how-to's, and resources for Drupal developers and site owners). Through the Acquia Network you will soon have the ability to easily access a growing list of third-party services, with many available at no additional charge. We already offer many third-party services (e.g. Mollom for spam filtering, New Relic for application profiling, etc), but we'll soon be opening up the Acquia Network as a ‘service delivery platform' and marketplace for additional services. In the works for release over the next few months are mobile design tools from Mobify, analytics, video services, marketing tools, and more.
Interested in adding your service to the Acquia Network? In the future, we will roll out APIs and infrastructure (e.g. billing) to enable other organizations to deliver their cloud-services to any Drupal site through the Acquia Network.
Add Acquia Hosting, a Drupal Platform-as-a-Service
For large websites that require custom code, high availability, on-demand elasticity or release management tools (i.e. staging and production workflows), we recommend Acquia Hosting, our Drupal-platform-as-a-service (Drupal PaaS).
Acquia Hosting is an extension of the Acquia Network, so if you need help scaling your site or debugging a problem, Acquia Client Advisors are always available to help. Through the Acquia Network, we also provide a number of Acquia Hosting specific e-services, including backups, database rollbacks, staging environments, version control for code management, and more.
Going forward you can expect even more developer tools and self-service tools to be added to Acquia Hosting, as well as more critical features for large scale sites, including improved security and code workflow options.
Add Drupal Gardens for rapid micro-site development
All sites are different. Not all your organization's website need the scale, functionality, complexity or longevity of your most important websites. A lot of times you have smaller sites that you may want to roll-out quickly, preferably without having to involve IT.
For that, we built Drupal Gardens, a Drupal-as-a-service platform that makes building Drupal websites as simple as point and click. Built on Drupal 7, Drupal Gardens brings the freedom and innovation you expect from open source without having to worry about installing, hosting or upgrading your Drupal site.
Our mission for Drupal Gardens is to allow site builders to go from design to online in minutes instead of days or weeks. To help, we provide an ever-growing library of site templates and themes to start from. We believe it will be the best platform for your smaller sites that complement your primary web properties.
For organizations that need to manage tens, if not hundreds, of small websites, we're building ‘Enterprise Drupal Gardens'. It provides site provisioning, site management, single sign-on, multi-site dashboards and organization wide templates and themes to maintain consistent branding.
Host your own sites, if you prefer
One of the biggest advantages of using Open Source software is that there are no limits to how you use the software. Some organizations prefer to host some of their own sites. The Acquia Network is able to plug in into your site, regardless of where it is hosted.
No lock in with "Open SaaS"
Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) providers employ a proprietary model – they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don't allow you to export the underlying code. Users of Drupal Gardens are able to export their Drupal Gardens site – the code, the theme and data – and move of the platform to any Drupal hosting environment. By doing so, we provide people an easy on-ramp but we allow them to grow beyond the capabilities of Drupal Gardens without locking them in.
We call this "Open SaaS" or Software as a Service done right based on Open Source principles – it offers a much more secure and low-cost alternative to proprietary counterparts.
I've highlighted some of our key products and services in this blog post and will bring you a more detailed white paper focusing on Acquia's vision. Stay tuned!
To celebrate Drupal's tenth anniversary and the release of Drupal 7, I have decided to go on a Drupal tour, to celebrate, educate and spread the word on all things Drupal. I'm kicking-off my Drupal tour with a trip to Australia.
It's important for me to meet with other community leaders around the globe and promote Drupal. While down under I will be meeting with Drupalistas and non-Drupalistas, Acquia customers and partners, press and analysts. My goal is three-fold: (1) to promote Drupal, (2) to gain insight from users and prospects on the choices they make when it comes to choosing a web platform and building websites, and (3) to figure out how to further improve Drupal.
If you would like to meet to discuss Drupal, community building, web platforms, photography or anything else please let me know! I am currently in Brisbane (a little tired from the flight), I look forward to meeting you Down Under.
Here is where I will be and when:
- 22-23 January – Brisbane: I'll be at Drupal Downunder.
- 24-25 January – Melbourne: there is a Drupal meet-up scheduled on January 24th at 6pm in the Belgian Beer Café Eureka.
- 26-27 January – Sydney: there is a Drupal meet-up scheduled on January 27th at 6pm in the The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.
For more details, keep an eye on the Drupal.org Australia group, my Twitter account and this blog. To schedule time with me please contact Laurie Vertuccio and Matt Ackley; they help manage my schedule while I am traveling. Looking forward to meet!