The City of LA Migrates to Drupal: A Digital Transformation Story

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Digital transformation is sweeping across every industry. Take the City of Los Angeles, for example.

As the second largest city in the United States, the City provides almost 4 million citizens with access to important services and information. But a legacy web platform made for a clunky, disjointed, and ineffective user experience. The City of LA wanted to seize a golden opportunity to obtain a platform that was cost-effective, easy to use, feature-friendly, and supported a federated organization. This led the the City of LA to Drupal and Acquia.

Mint.com’s Incredible 6 Week Rebrand & Replatform

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Mint.com recently went through a major rebrand. Along with a new look and logo, the personal finance site also got a new content management system (CMS). As an Alexa top 250 site that gets hundreds of millions of page views monthly, Mint had outgrown its legacy platform. Acquia and our Partner Third and Grove worked closely with the Mint.com development team to implement a solution that would scale the site’s growing body of content and deliver engaging, personalized experiences to each and every user.

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Hannah: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining the webinar today. Today’s webinar Is It Time to Consider Using Open Source Web Content Management for Digital Experiences with Stephen Powers who is the vice president and research director at Forrester Research. Also, joining us is Anjali Yakkundi who is an analyst at Forrester Research, and to finish up the presentation who have John Carione is a senior director here at Acquia. We are very excited to have Stephen and Anjali speaking for us today and we hope you enjoy the presentation.

Stephen: Great, thank you. My name is Stephen Powers. I’m a vice president and principal research director with Forrester. I’m joined by my colleague, Anjali Yakkundi, who is an analyst with Forrester. Today, we’re going to talk to you on our portion of the presentation about whether or not it’s time to consider open source web content management for digital experience initiatives. Anjali and I have been working on some joint research with Acquia over the past few months researching organizations that are using open source web content management. This actually really has been a fun project for me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do in my six years at Forrester. I actually did a project about four years ago, a paper, on open source WCM. One of the challenges back then was that it was very different to find examples of large enterprises, enterprises with a billion dollars a year or more revenue who were using open source WCM as their primary WCM for customer face experiences. That’s not to say that we couldn’t find plenty of people using open source WCM, but often it is was for part of their websites or Internets or for purely informal websites, some of the easier use cases.

That’s really changed over the past few years. As part of this study, we did find some great examples of organizations, large organizations, using open source as their primarily WCM. Those we did speak to within the course of this study were very careful to emphasize that there were some situational factors at play with their open source WCM success. The results of that is what we wanted to talk with you about today.

The agenda for our portion of today’s presentation is a fairly straightforward one. Number one, we’re going to talk a little bit about the state of the market. This has a been a rapidly changing market ever since I started here at Forrester six years ago, so it’s always been fun to cover. Anjali and I are going to talk to you a little bit about some of the trends in the market to give you some context of what’s going on overall. Next, we’re going to talk specifically about some of the results of what we found during our study about organizations who are exploring open source web content management for digital experiences or DX as we have it abbreviated in the agenda slide. Next, we’re going to talk about some specific things you should be thinking about in terms of evaluating open source WCM because there are some differences between that and proprietary WCM. We’re going to talk about that and what we saw from our observations during this project. Then, we’ll wrap up with some recommendations.

To start, basically, the WCM market returned to the wild, wild west. It is kind of a crazy time. Why? Organizations that we speak to as well as that we survey continued to have some problems with their existing web content management implementations. Only about 20% of those we surveyed really claimed to be very satisfied. Honestly, it’s not that surprising for a number of reasons. Number one, the use cases are getting a lot more difficult, aren’t they? They’re looking to use WCM solutions to support increasingly complex initiatives that rapidly change. We’re not just publishing informational websites right now. We’re not just publishing Internets. We’re publishing things like highly personalized websites that are also repurposed onto the mobile platform, and they may have a lot more rich media. They have may be connected to campaigns. The use cases are a lot more complex. Let’s face it, complexity brings more risks for dissatisfaction. Also, as I mentioned, there’s a lot more functionality that’s in play. There’re a lot of other technologies that go into digital experience. WCM is a big portion of it. Five years ago, when I started at Forrester, people were talking about web content management as part of web content manager and strategies. The difference now is when they ask us about web content management. It’s really within the context of a customer experience or a digital experience strategy.

What does that mean? That means that people are interested in how WCM is going to work with other components of the DX ecosystem such as search, such as e-commerce, marketing enablement technologies, digital asset management, CRM, commerce, testing and optimization, analytics. The list goes on and on and on. The integration issues are also adding to the complexity. Then, finally, there’re a lot of organizational issues. Those have been out there regardless of technology. There’s always misalignment between different groups. There’s that classic IT business/marketing conflict. Those are all adding to the complexity and frankly the dissatisfaction here. Definitely, a lot of factors going on, it is a wild west atmosphere right now.

Anjali: As Stephen said it, it is a complicated and it’s an evolving space. In order to make a little bit of sense about this we, Stephen and I, along with Acquia we conducted an online survey of 160 WCM decision makers. We interviewed about seven of those to get even deeper insights and a little bit more qualitative data. This was really the cornerstone of our research. This is going to be the cornerstone of all of the data and the findings that we’ll show you throughout the next 30 or 40 minutes.

A little bit about the survey. We surveyed organizations that were mostly medium to large sized businesses, all had about 1,000 or more employees. They came from a variety of different verticals, government, high tech, financial services, publishing, CPG, manufacturing, media and entertainment, a whole hosts of different verticals. What I found most interesting is these WCMs decision makers weren’t just from IT. Certainly, many of them were from central or distributed IT groups. We had almost 15% from line of business or corporate or online marketing groups. I think that’s definitely a trend that Stephen and I have seen as we do this research. WCM is going to be more of a joint decision between IT and marketing. We’re seeing marketing and these corporate and online marketing groups take more and more of a seat at the table in making these technology decisions. They might not be the only making the decisions, but they’re certainly taking a seat at the table.

Stephen: Anjali, that’s a great point. I think that it’s important to emphasize that this is going to be joint decision. When we talked to some of the larger enterprises, particularly with the ones who have had the most success, it is a joint decision. It’s not one or the other. I think there are some myth perceptions in the industry that everything is swinging away from IT and marketing in the business will make all the decisions here. That maybe the case in certain instances, especially with smaller initiatives, but the fact of the matter is if you truly want to have this universal multichannel experience WCM has to be plugged in to all of those other technologies, some of which I mentioned earlier, that contribute to supporting the digital experiences. Honestly, you can only do that with pretty heavy support from your technologist within your organization. I do think it’s going to be a joint decision. Frankly, within the context of this particular research, we found that to be true again. Those companies which had the most success really did take joint ownership of these projects.

What are some of the greater barriers here to WCM success in general? I think the ones that are most interesting here are probably the ones where we’re in the 20% or above and people were allowed to select more than one response. Corporate politics and culture at 43%, and lack of a company-wide online strategy 33% those are pretty closely related. It’s not unusual for us to talk with clients where they don’t have any kind of online strategy still. It’s still too much from the bottom up, still too much grass roots instead of top down, or they may have very much siloed digital experience initiative. Line of business number one may be trying to do one thing, line of business number two may be trying to do another thing, and line of business number three is trying to a third thing. There’s not a lot of agreement over what should be the priority. When that happens you can understand it’s very difficult to have successful technology when your customer experience needs aren’t prioritized.

Poor budget and resource allocation. That’s a huge problem here. I think that we can all agree that online experiences are getting more complex not less complex. With greater complexity comes, frankly, a greater need to devote resources to it. Sometimes we’ll talk to clients and they’re still thinking they’re going to be able to get away with the same amount of resources that they had when they were publishing pure informational websites. That’s a problem. As these experiences become hyper personalized and much more contextual, you do need some more resources to maintain that.

Next, difficulty integrating the product with other applications. We already spoke to this. WCM is an important part of the digital experience ecosystem, but it’s just one part of it. It has to integrate with all of these other applications like search and commerce and testing and analytics and things like that. When you have difficulty integrating with a product with other applications that’s going to contribute to your dissatisfaction and be a barrier to your success.

Limited flexibility of the product. This can a problem particularly with people who are on older WCM products and haven’t updated them in a while. They’re still feeling constrained by using out-of-the box functionality and they’re not feeling that the products are as flexible as they need them to be. Finally, 21%, it’s that old chestnut, lack of IT business alignment. I have to say, since I started this one, we solved some of the problems, the companies that we speak with they have solved some of those problems. It’s still a problem in some cases.

Anjali: We also asked these same decision makers to rate their satisfaction. I think if you see the data that’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Only 3% said they were very dissatisfied, 9% say they’re somewhat dissatisfied, a fair amount say they’re neutral, about one in five, and many are saying they are somewhat satisfied, and only one in five were very satisfied. I think, Stephen and I, when we talk we really see that very satisfied as what organizations should aspire to, the goal of what you want your WCM solution to be. We see only one in five have made that, actually believe that their solution is very satisfactory.

Another thing I find interesting about this data is when we cut this by the WCM decision makers who are from marketing or from the line of business versus WCM decision makers who are from IT, we see a big difference there. IT is much more likely to be satisfied by WCM solutions. I believe only 8% say they were very dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied. When we compare that to marketing or line of business decision makers, almost 30% say they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. There’s a little bit of a gap in perception and gap in satisfaction As we see marketing becoming more involved with the WCM decision making, I think we’ll see this satisfaction become a little bit more neutral or maybe even a little bit more satisfied.

I think it’s also interesting we cut the same data by solution type. Which of these 160 decision makers were using open source, proprietary, or home grown solutions? I think this one’s interesting. In a lot of places they’re very similar, but when we look at proprietary they hit a lot of highs. They’re very high in the somewhat satisfied, but there’s a huge drop off in the very satisfied. Only 8% of WCM decision makers who have a proprietary solution said that they were very satisfied. It’s a little different, though, when we look at open source. We see they are a little bit steadier. There’s 37% who say they are somewhat satisfied and there’s no drop off, about 37% also said that they were very satisfied. Home grown again is a little steady too.

Stephen: Great. Thanks, Anjali. I think we agree here that, number one, we have rapidly changing needs that need to be supported by WCM. Number two, there are a lot of issues contributing to WCM dissatisfaction that go beyond just plain technology. There’re a lot of people process issues that are going on as well, governance issues. I think it’s very interesting to see the fact that the open source respondants don’t have the same type of lows that the proprietary respondants do. I think that’s quite interesting. Then, finally, I think the other important point from that section is that there really is a need for integration. It’s a much biggest ecosystem that we’re dealing with than before.

Next, let’s talk about some specific examples of why organizations are exploring open source web content management for digital experiences. That’s what the DX stands for. Open source WCM is gaining traction as a viable enterprise option across verticals. This is something that even outside of this study we started to see a little bit. At Forrester, we talked to our clients, there’s bit more interest over the past 12 months in open source, a little bit more serious interest I guess I’d say. There’s a more serious interest in SAAS, another alternative delivery model, a SAAS WCM.

As I mentioned, five years ago it was difficult to find those larger organizations that had deployed open source web content management as their primary WCM solution. There were always plenty people who had deployed open source WCM, but they were supporting smaller microsites or smaller scale initiatives. For this particular research, pardon me, we spoke with several organizations, large scale organizations, that are using open source WCM for their customer experience. I think one of notable ones was a large supermarket chain here in North America. Another one was an international pharmaceutical company. Another one was an international electronics manufacturer. There were really fascinating examples here. The real question is what are these organizations with successful large scale WCMs what are they doing differently now? After speaking with those organizations we’ve boiled down the keys to their success to a couple of factors or a few factors. That’s what we’re going to speak to you about in this particular section.

Anjali: I think our data really proves the point that Stephen was just making, that here we asked what type of solution are you using for your primary web content management solutions. This is primary. We used to see open source WCM really being used as maybe a secondary solution or a microsite, as Stephen mentioned. Here in this question in our survey we asked what is your primary WCM solution. You can see about 27% say they’re using open source, 28% say they’re using home grown. I think this is a little bit of an anomaly. Like I mentioned earlier, we surveyed medium and larger sized businesses. I think many of the people who are using custom coded are home grown are much more of the medium sized businesses. The larger enterprises tend to go with proprietary or open source. You can see proprietary has about 45%. I think it’s also interesting to think about because even those who didn’t choose open source as their primary WCM, almost 60% did consider an open source solution. Even if they didn’t choose it, open source still had a seat at the table. They’re still under consideration. I think that’s an important point. As we see open source gaining more and more traction in the WCM market we can see this interest increasing.

Ant point I find interesting about this slide is when we asked all of these respondants why are they choosing an open source solution, it was interesting because more open source users chose open source WCM for a web redesign or web replatform effort more so than the proprietary or custom coded users. They had some other important point. We can see that open source is really gaining some traction in the market.
Stephen: I think the interesting thing there, though, I want to reiterate, I also felt that the home grown solution bucket was a little bit larger than I would’ve expected and certainly larger than I’ve seen through our customer inquiries I would say part of it might also be explained that it’s possible that some of those who are citing custom coded or home grown are using open source as a base. It’s definitely an interesting slide.

In a lot of ways the whole open source debate it’s kind of like Coke versus Pepsi. I’m probably dating myself, Anjali. I don’t know if you remember those. How many people remember the Pepsi Challenge back in the 80’s where they had people blind taste test the two colas. Frankly, if Coke versus Pepsi has always been one of those things were people are very religious and they’re calcified in their opinions. I am a Coke person The Pepsi Challenge showed a lot of people who claimed to be Coke people, but yet when they were blindfolded and they tasted the cola they actually preferred Pepsi.

In some ways, the open source debate is a bit like that in that proponents of either choice are often hardwired to believe what they believe. They like what they like often for valid and defensible reasons. Some organizations gravitate towards open source WCM based on factors side like in a corporate culture, they kind of like that exploratory type of project. Some of them have budgetary limitations and they’ve been mandated to look at open source because with the belief that it perhaps is going to save them money. There’re some organizations that simply have a greater comfort factor with open source due to previous experience with other open source applications such as operating systems as well as their familiarity with the community principles that underpin these solutions.

For other organizations, the opposite is true. They often lean towards proprietary solutions because they believe sometimes justified, sometimes not, that it’s the best way to mitigate risk, that they believe that they code is tested. It’s more secure. It’s more off-the-shelf. They’re not going to have to do as much customization. They’re used to dealing with the vendors. Some of the organizations we speak to they’ve dealt with some of these larger vendors for years. There’s a comfort level there and there it’s more off-the shelf. Again, its’ this whole idea of getting out of those calcified positions and really thinking about what the best product, what the best fit is, what the best product is for your particular needs. That’s where we found more satisfaction.

Organizations are definitely expressing interest in open source WCM for digital experience as we found in the survey. We asked them some of these responses why did you consider an open source WCM solution. I think the answers here is really interesting. Sixty-nine percent chose it because they believed that there was a lower cost. I’m not necessarily saying that’s true. In fact, when we did some of the qualitative interviews, our interviewees really encouraged people to look at more than just lower cost. I think we can probably all agree that there’s often a lower upfront cost because you’re not necessarily making a big license purchase. However, it’s really important to look at total cost of ownership. You may have a lower upfront cost, but depending on what your cost of customize and implement you could end up with higher costs at the end. I’m not necessarily saying you will it all depends on what product you select and how well it’s aligned with your needs. I think lower costs is one of those things that is more than just upfront license fees, and I encourage people who are thinking about this in terms of lower costs to really look at the bigger picture of total costs of ownership.

Another one here, easier to customize. That’s something that we definitely heard through our qualitative interviews. A lot of the companies that we spoke to were very happy. They had needs where they had to do a lot more customization. They felt that their web presence was really one of their main differentiators and they weren’t going to necessarily be satisfied with out-of-the box functionality from their WCM. They felt that they needed to customize in order to support some of the more differentiating functionality. People were definitely talking about that.

Reduced dependency on software vendors. What some of the respondees meant here was that they didn’t necessarily want it to be dependent on the software vendor for new features, didn’t want to be dependent on them for their release cycle, even bug fixes, and they were happy to do it themselves. Scalability of the solution. There were some of them who felt that they were going to have a better luck with scalability for their particular needs. Availability and viability of the developer community. That’s a huge one. That’s something we heard again and again in our interviews. One of the reasons why people chose open source WCM. Those were some of the interesting responses within why people were choosing the open source WCM solutions.

Organizations are definitely exploring. They’ve definitely had some success. What we did after this was we wanted to point out, we wanted to gain some insights from those we spoke to, those we interviewed on what they looked for, what helped them, what were the evaluation criteria they looked at that helped them have some open source WCM success.

Anjali: We started first by asking who didn’t consider, who didn’t buy open source what was the stumbling block, why didn’t they choose or consider an open source WCM solution. We though this could help frame the rest of our presentation about we need to think about some of these stumbling blocks and how to think about the myths a realities of some of these concerns.

You can see at 55% many people, we heard this often throughout our interviews, that in the beginning security of the software was a concern with open source. We’ll talk about a little later about some of the myths and realities and how organizations we’ve talked to who have had success have worked around that. Lack of ability for enterprise service and support. I think that’s at 31%, it’s the second most cited reason. That’s another issue that we heard come up again and again because open source is different. You don’t have the vendors you just call up. It’s more about coming up with a comprehensive plan for service and support and how are you going to work with open source in that way. It’s a little different that what many of you who have been using proprietary solutions. It might just be a little different than what you’re used to. We’ll talk a little bit about that later.

We have some other issues here like legal issues or inexperience with open source in general were stumbling blocks for some people. Lack of skilled resources. We’ll talk about that too later, about how people are coming up with support plans and coming up with a plan to actually support their open source solution. Product immaturity at 16% is another one that some people were concerned about, and overall complexity and difficulty of adoption.

We’ll start with security. What I thinks interesting is that was the number one cited stumbling block for people who didn’t choose or consider an open source solution. When we actually talked and surveyed people who are using open source they didn’t see to express that same sentiment. About 50% of organizations with open source actually said that open source had neither improved nor decreased their level of security. They said it was pretty much the same. One theme we heard over and over again as we actually did the qualitative interviews was that security concerns weren’t that different from those they’re faced when they’re implementing previous proprietary solutions. I think that’s an important point to consider. Security is going to be a problem or an issue no matter what type of solution you have. They might just have slightly different issues, but it’s still always going to be a concern.

I think the main thing that when we talk to organizations who had success with open source is that they came up with a plan for their security. They had a plan for perhaps one of the large supermarket chains we spoke to had a third party hosting their solution. That eased their fears a little bit about going with an open source WCM solution. Others we talked to thought that the security patches that were being released more quickly by the vibrant developer community they felt like that mitigated a lot of their concerns. Other organizations we talked to had independent security audits because, let’s face it, with an open source solution you have access to the entire code base. You don’t necessarily have that with a proprietary solution where you only have access to some but more likely you don’t have access of this any of this code base. They were able to mitigate their concerns by actually examining the code base and they felt that that mitigated a lot of their security concerns.

Stephen: The interesting thing there, Anjali, is that they didn’t dismiss the security issue just out of hand. They actually dug in and did some homework and did some comparisons on open source versus proprietary. Actually, we’re seeing this within SAAS as well. SAAS we always used to hear about I’m afraid about the security with SAAS, and people are now starting to think, “Why don’t I at least dig in to the model and see how it compares, and then I’ll make a more informed decision.”

Some of the other points to consider here, level of functionality. I think that when you compare some of the open source products to some of the higher end proprietary products you are going to see a different level of functionality. You’re not going to see that huge array of functionality with some of the really high end proprietary products who are, let’s face it, are in a functionality war. I think the real thing you want to question is how much of that are you going to use? For example, the proprietary vendors are really starting to focus on marketing enablement type technologies that allow you to multichannel campaigns and run really contextual websites and have a lot of personalization and things like that. You’re going to have to ask yourself are you going to use all that functionality if you’re considering open source product versus a proprietary one? Frankly, you could even use this argument if you’re comparing two different levels of proprietary products or two different levels of open source products. How are you really going to use? What you really want to do here is have somewhat of a five-year plan, one that’s a little bit solidified in the coming year and one that may be a little bit more vague as time goes on. You need to really understand what you’re really going to be using over that five-year period because five years is roughly the average lifespan of a WCM implementation.

If you are buying a product based on functionality that you say that’s really cool functionality, but you really don’t know when you’re going to use it that could be a warning sign that you may not ever use it. I think this is one of the big problems with enterprise software all the time is you’re buying functionality that you don’t need. Another one of our interviewees, one of the pieces of functionality that we’re looking at were the user interfaces, and they felt that the user interfaces of the high end proprietary product they were looking at that they were more polished than their open source counterparts. The open source was enough of a fit that they decided that it was worth having to do the extra configuration and customization of the open source UIs because of all the other benefits they were going to gain.

Integration, another huge point here. As I mentioned earlier, you’re going to be integrating WCM with all kinds of other products. What you really want to do is figure out what types of integrations you need, come up with a reference architecture and figure out where those dependencies are. Then, understand where there is integration functionality that you can buy off the market through prepackaged connectors and where you’re going to have to code by hand. That’s going to inform you whether or not you should go with an open source or a closed source product. If you can’t buy much of the integration off the shelf and you’re going to have to do some pretty complex implementations, pardon me, that’s an indication you may want to look closer at open source WCM.

Finally, then customization piece. That’s something that we talked about. It ties very closely in with level of functionality. You may get a little bit lower level of functionality and you may have to do more customization. On the other hand, you may require a lot of customization no matter what. This is the media entertainment story. For years, media and entertainment has used open source more heavily than some of the other industries that’s because they have some very specific use cases and they found open source was easier to customize than a proprietary product. You need to think about what level of customization you’re going to have. If you’re going to have to do a lot of customization no matter product you source, open source may be a better alternative for you.

Ultimately, integration is very important here. Just a little bit of data to emphasize that. We asked the respondees in the survey which of the following would you like to see included in the same stack as WCM. I think we all have seen some of the higher proprietary vendors are really building their digital experience and customer experience portfolios to not only include WCM but some of the adjacent technologies that we were talking about earlier. Ultimately, interesting result of this survey is that 35% said we’re not interested in having a whole lot of technology bundled with our WCM. We prefer best of breed. Why do they say that? Because of the fact of the matter is none of the people that we talked to or that I talked to as clients can really afford to do a complete rip and replace and replace all of their digital experience technologies with technologies from a single vendor. The fact is they already own some of these technologies, so they want to be able to do integration and they want to be able to integrate WCM with CRM and search and email campaign software and social network and platforms and web or social analytics. This digital experience story is going to be an integration play for the short term. It’s the short to medium term, frankly. When you think about it way it’s not too surprising that a lot of our respondees wanted a best of breed approach.

Anjali: It think the last point to consider is resource availability. I touched on that earlier, Stephen has mentioned it too. Working with open source is different. If you’re an organization who’s used to working with proprietary vendors, somebody you can up in the middle of the night, it’s not like that with open source. The organizations we’ve talked to who’ve had the most success with open source the first and foremost start it out with a plan of how they’re going to support their open source WCM solution.

One of the biggest workarounds that we’ve seen with the organizations who have had success is using a third party for-profit business who’s dedicated to providing open source support, whether it’s for implementation, hosting, or troubleshooting. That’s helped mitigate a lot of those concerns. That’s something that we heard over and over from interviewees. They were nervous about open source because there’s no enterprise support, but then the third party has helped them fill that gap and that’s how they’ve worked around those issues.

Lot of our other interviewees and things we’ve heard through inquiry and other things have really been positive about open source support because of the vibrant community. Of course, this depends on which open source solution you provide. Some have more vibrant communities than others. If you have the right community you can use them for not us trouble shooting or Q&A, but you can also use them for their community authored modules. That might be a really great way to add functionality very easily onto your platform without having to do too much work. I think these are some of the ways we’ve seen organizations work around their concerns over enterprises level support.

Stephen: Great, and a very important I think. It’s actually one of the most important ones of the factors that you should consider is that support issue. Let’s wrap up with some recommendations, wrap up our portion of today’s presentation.

Number one, definitely evaluate open source. I think it’s gotten to the point in its maturity where it’s worth looking at. I think one of the things you don’t want to get into is that calcified mentality of, my gosh, we’re not going to do open source. Frankly, the other way we are going to do open source. One of the interesting things that came out of this survey, one of the interesting observations that came out of the study was people said, “Don’t just evaluate something because it’s not open source.” Evaluate the products and evaluate them on their own merits and based on things like functionality as well as support and resource availability and make your decision that way. It’s must better than falling back into that religious mindset.

Number two, one of the really nice benefits of open source is that you can get it a community version of the product and that leaves you free to pilot it. You can actually pilot it and see who well it works. There’s also organizations we’ve spoken to who have installed open source alongside proprietary and they decided to see how it would go that way and they gradually expanded their use of open source after they found some success.
Third, engage with the community for information and validation. Any product that you are evaluating you should be able to see how active the community is, how responsive are they, are they willing to answer your questions, are they contributing a lot of community authored code, are there interesting references, are there people who like your company who are using it? Definitely engage with the community. I think the vibrancy of the community is a huge factor that you should be taking into account when you evaluate open source.

Fourth, explore those open source options carefully like Anjali said, particularly if you’re used to dealing with some of the commercial vendors. The support options is one of the big differences here, so you want to see that if you are planning to move away from the proprietary vendor support model you’re going to want to be very sure in how you’re going to replace that with some open source options.

Then finally, focus on more than just cost reduction. Open source is not necessarily free I think of the interviewees that we spoke with the ones who had the most success here looked at open source as more than just something that they could get for free. Of course, they looked at costs, but it was more within the scope of total cost of ownership rather than just that very narrow slice of upfront license fees. They looked at things like integration and maintenance costs and support and culture and some of the other factors that we spoke about today. If you keep those factors in mind rather than just very narrow slice of upfront costs, I think you’re going to be at a much better position to evaluate whether or not open source WCM is the right choice to support your publicly facing and digital experiences. That concludes our portion of the presentation. Now I’m going to turn things over to John.

John: Appreciate it. Fun to work on this solution and work on the survey with you guys. With that, I’d like to take some time to highlight a few more interesting points from the survey that we collected from our side and also talk a bit about our announcement last week around OpenWEM and finish off with a couple of case studies.

You’re probably wondering to yourself for those that chose to participate in the survey what were the list of platforms that we were talking about here. Here’s the full list and what’s interesting is that Drupal is highlighted in the top five and represents the majority of the respondants for those that offered this information up for open source. It’s important to understand that although it’s really talking about all the different technologies that are available from an open source perspective that Drupal came out on top and is in the top five of all platforms that are represented in the survey.

Other interesting statistic was the business drivers for new WCM solutions. Regardless of what you’re using there the top five for the main drivers for using a new WCM solution were limited flexibility, total cost of ownership, poor and inadequate functionality and the ability to quickly innovate. We found that was interesting because when we talked to customers those are most often cited for the reason they switched to open source. I think some of the top challenges folks and business drivers for folks moving are also reasons that folks are looking at Drupal specifically.

We also took a look at engagement by the solution type mapping proprietary and open source. One interesting point we found here is there have been some perceptions in the market that open source platforms like Drupal aren’t ready for the shift towards digital marketing. If you look at the data in the box below it’s actually statistically significant that it’s virtually no difference between folks that are using these platforms for interactive marketing on multichannels whether that’s proprietary or open source.

Barriers to success by solution types. If we split data again between proprietary and open source. I wanted to highlight a point at the bottom there in the orange box around limited flexibility of the product. What are the greatest barriers to success? For limited flexibilities, we think there’s extreme contrast there between the 30.6% around proprietary highlighting that versus only 9.3% for open source. Flexibility really leading the way with open source and Drupal.

A couple highlights around when we just took a look at the WCM decision makers who were using open source specifically with the majority being Drupal, we took a look at these how strongly you might agree with the following statements around open source. Ultimately, some of theses when we combined strongly agree and agree open source came on top for reduced dependency on software vendors at 77%, combined open source provided us more flexibility 73% combined, open source lowered our costs 70%, open source is easier to customized 70%, and open source scaled easily at 66% when you combined strong agree and agree. Then, a few others, open source made it easier to innovate quickly that came at 67% combined. Open sourced shortened our time to market 53% and viability of open source developer community was key to a successful implementation that was also at 53% combined. Some pretty strong statistics and a strong showing for those that chose open source platforms like Drupal.

I wanted to take another quick look at the state of the market, more specifically for the Drupal platform. We are seeing that inside many organizations the web is broken. There are lots of technologies out there that might be really strong in an Internet or an Extranet of if we’re doing wikis or doing your main corp.com site or an e-commerce site or a microsite. At the end of the day, these end up being stoked by technologies that really create islands of excellence, if you will, and it really costs a lot more to develop and create the extra piece needed to develop across these silos. They’re also disconnected from a reporting perspective if you think about a chief marketing officer that wants to know everything that’s happening in their hub of interaction on the web.

Where Drupal really shines is taking all these different siloed islands of excellence and really delivering integrated unified customer experiences out to your B to B to customers across web content management, social, business software, and e-commerce. Drupal really is a unified platform for content community and commerce which ultimately we think results in part of the reason you saw that open source gets the highest marks for folks that rated it very satisfied.

It also goes along quite nicely with some of the research that come out from Forrester this year. This is one of their recent reports which talks about defining your digital experience architecture, the need to manage, engage, and measure all of your customer interactions. If you look at engage I wanted to highlight three areas, content targeting, social, and transactions, we believe map fairly closely to content, community and commerce. If you are setting up a digital experience architecture for success we agree with Forrester that those capabilities need to be inside of a single platform to maximize those customer experiences.

Last week, we made an announcement around a new approach we’re calling OpenWEM. OpenWEM really is that ability to create these best of breed customer experiences with unlimited Internet freedom and flexibility across the full spectrum of the customer journey. As you can see here, we consider that customer journey from attracting and engaging folks on the web to associating and influencing them within communities, prospect to prospect, or prospect to company, and then the last mile of engagement in e-commerce being able to sell, retain, and resell to them online. Across these market segments Drupal is a unified platform for delivering that.

Again, some of the additional Forrester research from earlier this year that talks about the concept of the open web and the ties of the concepts of the open web to open source technologies. We fundamentally believe that to implement and take this OpenWEM approach that you really need to embrace the principles of the open web. Those are providing an open culture and community of thriving developers; Having open APIs to leading best of breed engagement tools so you can, as we saw in that statistic, offer up a best of breed solution; have accelerated innovation on the web that doesn’t rely on proprietary models for development and really relies on that open culture of contributing problem solving and code back to the community so it gets to customers faster for these experiences. Then, we fundamentally believe in responsive design mobile approaches and best practices as a very agile way to create those mobile experiences. Drupal really embraces the open web concept.

Overall, from an OpenWEM perspective of content community commerce, we believe it does it offer infinite freedom and flexibility to create these digital experiences online. There’s freedom to take your code, to take your content, and if you need to take it to another hosting provider if we’re not getting done. There’s no vendor lock in here with an open SAAS model. There is unmatched innovation to be able as new technology is brought to bear to be able to get that technology into your website as soon as you need it for content and campaigns. That’s through those 20,000 Drupal developers that are continually evolving the Drupal platform in real time.

We talked about the unified platform across the full customer journey. We think Drupal’s a great platform for best of breed experiences because it’s has a data driven modular architecture and content model that allows you really to very easily plug and play these best of breed marketing tools and input and export data as needed as Stephen talked about. Acquia in particular has been building a very mature cloud infrastructure and cloud business model over the last five years. As you’ll see, other proprietary vendors roll out B1 models this year and next year. We believe we’re absolutely ahead of the game for delivering digital experiences in the cloud if that’s your next route.

Then, everything we do is about simplifying digital experiences and simplification usually translates to a lower cost of ownership. We believe that developer community offers a better supply of highly skilled developers that are cheaper. When you think about the ability for them to ultimately develop across content, WCM, social, business software, and e-commerce on the same platform that that’s going to create better experiences. It’s also going to lower your total cost of ownership. This is where we think the Drupal platform really excels.

Ultimately, how is taking an OpenWEM approach different from proprietary approaches? Are you experiencing any of the symptoms such as limitations around road map or road map trade-offs by proprietary development teams? Do you issues around complex customizations even after you’ve already paid exorbitant license fees for the software? Do you have multiple platforms installed today for content community and commerce rather than building it on a unified platform? Do you consider your vendor lock in a problem from all-in-one solutions stacks that have control of that customer data and feel a bit trapped? Are you having issues around immature non-existent cloud business models or ongoing maintenance fees from perpetual license models that are your only option? Many of those issues if you are experiencing any of those issues this might be the platform and support model to consider.

Last week, in announcing the OpenWEM approaches and customer strategy we did talk about some tools and products that we launched in support of it. we have a new product called Acquia media cloud in the content or web content management market segment. That’s a new SAAS offering to manage rich media assets within the Drupal platform to do things like asset tagging and optimized transcoding for video across endpoints, even digital rights management.

On the community side, we announced a new version of Drupal Commons. Drupal Commons 3.0, very new with new responsive design templates for mobile collaboration, advanced content recommendations so folks in the community can get interesting content to themselves fast, and improved moderator productivity so that moderators can outsource SPAM blocking and community involvement to folks that they trust from an access control perspective. We continue to go build out ecosystem, so we announced Digitari as a new digital agency partner for us as well as Badgeville integration for doing gamification and reward systems within Drupal.

We think Drupal’s a great system for flexible agile marketing as well, like I talked about, the Pinterest example. In February, Pinterset hit 10 million unique users. As of March, folks believe that having Pinterest image pinning capabilities on their website was important for digital marketers, and by April 15 Drupal sites already went live with Pinterest integration, so that really is the definition of agile marketing on the web.

We also have integration with best of breed tools. Acquia is helping build out this ecosystem such that whether it’s CRM, analytics, marketing automation, campaigns and social, and whatever’s next, we’re going to offer APIs and continuous integration points to the latest versions of these technologies so you can use that Drupal module platform to plug these technologies in, and then Drupal if very powerful to be able to get that content out to your campaigns, out to your microsites, and across all the channels at the top here.

We have a very mature cloud model, as I mentioned, we’ve been building over the last five years. It’s based on Amazon web services. What I’m showing here is for developers there’s a whole host of developer tools to be able to create instances, develop them, and then publish, so take instances from development to staging to production and back and forth quickly and easily. We also have the Acquia network to be add additional technology such as Acquia search or SPAM blocking technologies, multibarrier testing, real time analytics. We have partnered with a lot of technologies to be able to get that quickly and easily from the Acquia network in a centralized location.

A couple quick examples across content, community, and commerce. I have the first example around content, specifically. Florida Hospital, one of the largest hospital chains in America, they were able to create mobile content experiences using responsive design techniques. In this case, what’s really interesting about their implementation was that they were able to allow their patients to understand exactly how far they were from a hospital or what the wait times were from their local hospital so they could pick the one that was most appropriate. They’re doing a lot of advanced use cases in health care along mobile.

For community, we have Daimler which set up a customer community to be able them build out their customer requirements for a particular model of their compact car line. They set up polls and interactive forums for prospects, to talk to prospects, prospects to talk to engineers inside of the company and really understand from the consumer themselves really a big data problem rather than doing focus groups to understand from thousands what they were looking in the next vehicle, so being able to set up those customer communities online and Drupal as well.

Cartier is using Drupal and the Drupal commerce distribution specifically for that to create these rich commerce and tranformative shopping experiences that embed content rich media, images, to really help folks in the last mile help them decide exactly what product is right for them. It’s a lot more engaging when you think about the high end customers that are shopping online for Cartier. It’s helped them increase their conversation rates by being able to use the rick content in Drupal.

I want to finish up right before we get to a few questions. We have some upcoming customer case study webinars. I went through those pretty quick. Customers that are initiating an OpenWEM approach for delivering digital experiences on the web. November 6th we have the Grammys, How Drupal Acts as a Media Hub for the Grammy Awards. November 25th, Humana, Fortune 200 company, How Haman is Using Drupal to Drive Repeat Visitors with Personalized, Multi-Channel Campaigns. You can go sign up for those now at the link. I think both of those will be very in depth reviews of customers embarking on an OpenWEM strategy.

Certainly, please download the full research paper. We went through a lot of it, but quite honestly, we probably only went through 50% or less of the research that’s in the paper that’s available today and that paper is titled Is It Time To Consider Open Source WCM For Digital Experience. You can go ahead to a microsite we created called OpenWEM.com and download that paper for free today. Please do that.
With that, I would like to open it up to some questions. I will who those questions are addressed to here. We have a few that have come in. For Stephen and Anjali, I’ll start off. This question says, “You mentioned some in person interviews around open source survey participants. Can you offer any specifics on the types of enterprise customers or verticals you spoke with and their specific reasons for choosing open source?”

Stephen: ... tended to be cite that reason. Traditionally, that’s been media entertainment. I think I mentioned that in the context of the presentation. We saw it in other areas as well. The supermarket chain, retail, they had some really specific needs around their UIs. They had a globalization, localization issue where they were going to have global content at the corporate level, but they wanted the local branches to be able to create their own content but also not override all of the global content. They did some customized user interfaces to take care of that. They also had to, I believe, had to integrate with some print-on-demand solutions in order to print out circulars. That is the type of integration they did. I think one of the other companies we spoke with they were in a regulated industry. They had the need for some fairly highly customized workflows. That was the type of thing that they were looking at. For some, they said they had a mandate. They were supposed to explore open source, and others they felt that they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth out of older proprietary platforms and they wanted to explore other options where the costs were done a little bit differently. As I mentioned earlier, I think the ones who were happiest didn’t necessarily choose open source or proprietary. They were open to both they just chose the best fit. They chose the product for the best fit.

John: Great. Another one came in. Cloud to planet models are growing in popularity for these types of solutions, but we didn’t have a lot of data or questions that focused on mature cloud models. Do you see that as a factor in some of the enterprise decisions?

Stephen: Eighteen months ago, I would’ve said no. Around that time we did a survey, an internal survey, of WCM decision makers. Most of them, honestly, didn’t care about cloud. They said we just want something that works. We’re interested in supposing our customer experience needs. That’s changed a bit over the last 18 months, John. Now people are starting to want to outsource some of this, but they’re still, I think, more concerned with getting it right and they’re also interested in the different flavors of the cloud, whether it’s a public cloud, a multitenant model, or whether it’s a private cloud. We’re getting more questions about it, but I still don’t think we’ve reached the level of maturity in WCM where they’re ready to wholesale outsource it. I also think that a lot of the organizations that we speak to understand that even if they should get a cloud WCM, it’s going to have to be integrated in with some of the enterprise applications that they have on prem.

John: Great. Here’s one. If I’m in the RFP stage for WCM and only have the resource to evaluate a couple solutions, what are the top three questions should I be able to answer to short list enterprise scale open source?

Stephen: That’s a good one. I’d say first of all it’s a functionality question. It always is. Is it going to meet my long-term functionality needs? As I mentioned in the presentation, answer that question less as does it have enough functionality to meet my needs, but also if you look at it does it have too much functionality to meet my needs. Do we really need all of this functionality? You may very well, but this is typical for enterprise software. Let’s face it, people tend to over buy functionality, so look at it from both angles. I’d say the second one for open source, we mentioned it in the presentation, it’s community. What is the vibrancy of the community? You don’t want to pick an open source product that the community isn’t helpful or there’s a smaller community and it’s not very vibrant and nobody’s creating community authored modules. Then, I’d say the final one is the support model. The support model is, let’s face it, it’s different from the typical support model when you’re getting support directly from the software vendor. Those are the three things that you should be asking yourself when you evaluate proprietary versus open source.

John: Great. One final question. I’ve seen some perceptions in the marketplace that open source WCM can’t scale. It’s not performance. Developers are needed inhouse or extensive customization is required. Would you say these blanket statements are accurate based on your research?

Stephen: No, I don’t think they are. This is the trouble with blanket statements. I don’t think you can generalize and say proprietary is more scalable than open source or vice versa. I think you have to look at the product itself. There are some high end proprietary products which have proven scalability. There are other proprietary products which have catered more to SMBs and they don’t have the necessarily proven scalability that their higher end counterparts have. It’s the same thing with open source. We talked to some companies or some organizations that had had a lot of success with certain open solutions, and then there are other source solutions which have more of a track record at the SMB level, again, the same thing with customization. As I mentioned when I was answering the first question, I encourage people not evaluate open source or proprietary as whole but instead evaluate the individual products.

John: Excellent. We’re a couple minutes over. I want to thank folks on the line for staying on and hope you enjoyed the presentation. Definitely, download the paper at OpenWEM.com. Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks to Forrester. It’s been fun working on this project, Stephen and Anjali. I think there’s some great work here and some great knowledge to be gained from the research and the reports. Thanks for joining us. With that, I’ll turn it back over Hannah.

Hannah: Thank you everyone for attending and thank you Stephen and Anjali for the great presentation and participating with us.

Click to see video transcript

Moderator: Today’s webinar is how New York’s MTA uses Drupal caching to get riders there on time. Our speakers today are Ray Saltini, the Drupal evangelist from Blink Reaction and Evgeniy Kashchenko, who’s a project manager of Blink Reaction. We’re really excited to have them on the call today and we hope you enjoy their presentation.

Ray Saltini: Great. I’d like to thank you all for coming today. We’re going to get started. I want you to know that we’re going to tell you briefly who we are at Blink and what we do. I’m going to talk a little bit more than we specifically do at these sort of presentations about the significance and contents of this project. Then let’s jump right into it and do an overview. From the important PM considerations, we’ll talk about the technology needs and how that fit into architecture and implementation of the project, and of course, we’ll give you a couple of different resources. First of all, Blink Reaction is privileged to be providing services for some Fortune 500 organizations and large government non-for-profits. We’re particularly proud of our efforts to train in the Drupal stage. We see that really is our biggest contribution to the Drupal community that started to help level the playing field and also advanced innovation and integration with Drupal. We are active in the community; enjoy our support of it and hope to see you all, one way or another, at an upcoming event. So first and foremost, let’s talk a little bit about - where did we go about the Ocean Railway, as we talked about it. We had an opportunity to work on a transportation project in New York City. Obviously, the technology component, as opposed to the bricks and mortar infrastructure of it, but the transportation is a critical issue in the cities, in the US in particular. One of the things that we were just very aware of is how important this was to the MTA. If you’re a student of New York, you can understand that the health of the city - the transit system is often used as a barometer of the health of the city. So we took this project very seriously. Back in the day where that analogy was made for packet service, there are a whole lot of ships and boats on Long Island. The first efforts at transportation solutions are on the ground or above the ground - as the case may be - solutions were just being dreamt of. The subway - planning it out and developing it is not unlike the process that many of us go through when we plan and build interactive web applications. Once the prototypes got a little bit more reasonable, we both understood that they would actually start having to build underground. Of course, remnants of the above ground systems still exist all over the place in the boroughs. You can see just from these old shots, just what a tremendous major initiative it was in New York City - for nearly 100 years at building and maintaining the system. Eventually, they got three different companies to service their link. So, we took this challenge very seriously because it was part of an effort to really create a solution around the inevitable problem of delays and service interruptions and the like of which you can see that this old cartoon demonstrates, that the MTA as well as other urban locations throughout the globe have dealt with for a long time. It really was an attempt to bring us back to the future. So, this was a problem in the service which first opened a challenge to inform riders. We have a lot of folks looking over the platform. That was the highest technological solution at the time. Things weren’t much different in the ‘70’s, then they got a little bit weirder and in the ‘80’s, they got downright scary. Now, in the ‘90’s and the new millennium, we can see that as much as things change, things often remain the same. So it’s this historical sense of gravitas that everyone, from a large project staff, went into working on this project, dealing with legacy systems, analog systems, but really trying to service these incredibly large numbers of commuters. We joked amongst ourselves when we were doing this presentation that the MTA, in fact, does keep track of passengers entering the subway system, but they don’t necessarily keep track of passengers exiting the system. Beyond that joke, this was a huge undertaking for the MTA to plan for a number of years, and despite the one step further and one step backward implemented scheduling of service, they have made tremendous progress. What they wanted to do with this project is bring that out of the tunnels, off the platforms and into the hands of people that could distribute this information. So, as the MTA upgraded their infrastructure, they’ve been able to pass this information along but also a faith in the tremendous challenge of it. It’s at this point that I want to introduce Evgeniy Kashchenko, a project manager - enterprise project manager for Blink Reaction who helped managed a team of talented developers and committed stakeholders.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: So, MTA was already transitioning to Drupal and, therefore, continuing to build and Drupal made sense, and data mining the website was built using Drupal 7 and it’s installed on Acquia’s cloud. So, we worked in tight coordination with many groups here. Of course, MTA provided the requirements. They also provided the overall look and feel and branding standards for the site, as well as the most important key thing, which is the train’s data. From our side at Blink, we managed the project, did a lot of custom development, triple configuration, configured cache, and created a separate mobile app to demonstrate how the feed can be used. So we partnered with Acquia on this and the Acquia team worked on project management, as well on clients communication, configured the technology stack including Varnish and provided a lot of types of services through their partner. So, let me show you the screen of the website. Here it is. It’s taken from the data mine that was provided. So, the goal was, again, to make of it after a second information about MTA services to millions of New Yorkers and visitors. This Drupal website allows developers to create an account and obtain an API key to access those feeds created by MTA so that they can build apps to inform riders and others about scheduling and service notices. So, this site is integrated into MTA’s portal and builders of its integral part. They started to announce the launch of this platform and given the access to their data started in full and it put a lot of pressure and stress specifics to meet the deadline.

Let’s jump to the next slide. This is how the dashboard looks for a developer who already registered. Basically, all you need is your MTA key, which is shown on the right. This is the key that allows you to get the data from API’s. So it’s straightforward. To register, you can do it yourself just by going to the MTA’s info website and providing information about yourself. Right now, it’s a pilot with a couple of trains’ data, but they are looking to add more in the future as they become available because a lot of infrastructure changes to switch from analog tracking to digital needs to happen so that this data can be gathered and then presented to everybody.

So, let’s talk about projects management a bit. As a key to successful project delivery is communication and track of coordination with everybody who’s involved. One of the tools that helps to achieve it is the RASCI chart that is presented in the screen right now that basically allows you to outline the main responsibilities and activities on the project and assign those to specific individuals. Besides, you would probably want to create a communication plan in defining cadence participants in the format of the different meetings, calls and reports, which in our case was the weekly status reports that were combined with calls and screen sharing for demo purposes. Of course, you would be willing to be on top of your dependences and risks to make sure that they are mitigated in time. So, this project was in a very aggressive schedule for three months, including discovery, and we added more resources to make an update and also caught in some review time, but we know that basically, at the end of last year, Hurricane Sandy interrupted and, basically, drove the plans. So that’s why MTA had a lot of work to do with their infrastructure and the actual launch was delayed. So, iterations that we went through were discovery, which included specs, information architecture and designs. Then there were three sprints of development with demos and reviews and two separate launches because we were launching two apps - the portal itself and the demo app. Now, let’s talk about the solution itself.

So as I mentioned before, it’s Drupal 7 with heavy use of Varnish and other types of caching, widely used contributed modules, five custom modules for theme, for ESI, for flush of the cache and for messaging, and as everybody can register to the website, it’s made opened so that you can access the data field at once and only if you’re abusing the service, then your account will be deactivated. Another part of this which is a real-time feed that is provided in the format of GTFS binary file, and then some static feeds are also provided as a separate service. So if you don’t know much about ESI includes its technology that strives to resolve the problem of web infrastructure scaling and bring more awe to the edge. You can look up more on these types of caching. So, in our case, Varnish was used to basically cache the data and, again, this is the page that shows you it’s documentation that it can be accessed online at Varnish cache docs. So let me show you the architecture of the app. So how it works is the developer comes to the website, registers using the web form, then the data is stored in Drupal and access key is generated. Then the developer can access API using this key. This API is proxied by Varnish for scaling purposes, because Varnish helps us to get the reply to user tester if we know who the user is and if data is still valid. So, as this is real time application, the lifetime of a cache for the data itself is just 30 seconds which is displayed in here. The other part, which is also cache and Varnish is your API key validness. That is a longer period. So how it works: first, request is sent to a standalone file in the dark route, which is this wrapper. It checks the API key in Drupal if it’s valid or not. Then if it’s valid, it’s stored in Memcache. Then the data is provided to via Edge Side Includes. Basically, what it is is just like a tag in the reply that is then polished by Varnish and the appropriate file is entered into the database instead of your tag. One of the key performance indicated for the project was load and sustaining load. So in this case, as I mentioned before, Acquia partnered with SOASTA, which is distributed to our testing provider that can hammer your service from around the globe. What we were able to prove with this load testing is that our solution is handling five thousand users per second concurrently with the architecture that was built in place. That’s about it about the portal. Now, I will transfer the presenter to Ray and he can talk about the demo application that shows you how you can actually use this data and get some real results for that’s worth and can be used to actually know if the train is on time.

Ray Saltini: Then getting actual - if you don’t mind, let’s just keep it on your screen and I’ll speak to that. It might just be more expedient since I’m going to be…

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, absolutely!

Ray Saltini: Thank you. Good. Great! We have these two ends of this project. Obviously, the caching of the rights and credentials of the data, but what we were also asked to do is put together a very quick demonstration of how developers could access feeds from the MTA and, in particular, these real-time feeds. Typically, what the development community that the MTA has been supporting for quite some time now if there’s some increase transparency and other feeds that would develop a native phone application if you will. In this case, the business requirement from the MTA was to actually develop something in Drupal. That actually posed some challenges in particular, because some of the transit feed specifications did not have a native PHP parser. Effectively, at this stage of the project involved setting up a completely standalone Drupal 7 site and is a terrific demonstration of how Drupal can be used as a platform to serve a mobile application. We developed a response as a theme specifically for the iPhone, a mobile web theme and used fairly typical modules in Drupal’s contributed modules section to accomplish this. What was not easy about the project, of course, was this getting around the fact that there didn’t exist a partner for the transit files used by the transit associates of the MTA. So we were able to actually tap and customize a library that contributed for this that’s available on get hub. We actually had to rewrite parts of it because the stack that we were on - we built up - in one version of PHP and the library file, the general transit spec library parser for it, we built around a different version of PHP. So, what you have on your right is an actual copy of the general transit feed spec that’s used to convey this information. The real-time data is actually a binary file, but the static feed is a CSP file which we actually didn’t handled directly, but the two feeds were matched up in the application to give users the ability to actually go ahead and select stations which obviously is a static lists of stations and then the actual arrival time of their train. So, one of the things that we can do is go to a quick demo of the MTA site. So, if the folks would - I guess that would be helpful if you want to switch over to me - if Evginey have that, I should have that up here on my screen if I can manage to find it.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, maybe I can turn it up. Just give me one minute. It’s just a bit slow with the screen sharing, Ray.

Ray Saltini: Yes. [Pause] I have it up if you want to transfer the point. [Pause]

Moderator: Ray, I passed it to you so you could share your screen.

Ray Saltini: Terrific. So the folks can see here that we’ve actually got a - it’s really optimized for the iPhone and it’s limited. The choices of course are limited by the infrastructure that the MTA has in place to actually deliver the feeds for a particular line, but if we can take the local line and then we get a little map presented here. Then we get to choose to see when our next train would be at a particular station and click 168th Street in Washington Heights. This is something that you can actually try yourself if you go to datamine.mta.info. You’ll see this application on your lower right-hand side, and then click and you’ll get your arrival times for the next several trains. So, it’s a very, very simple implementation of this feeds technology, but it’s the implementation that is being expanded upon everyday by the developer community. It is leveraged by more and more feeds that become available through the MTA. That is the heart of the matter on this application screen. Never maximize your screen when you are using two monitors. Okay. So whatever’s down here…okay. So, one of the things that the MTA has done is really engaged and invested in the open source and the developer community and terrific resources of MTA, developer resources group on Google groups, as well. That and, of course, some of the technology sites that we showed you around, Edge side, includes and the transit feeds and Varnish will help you leverage this kind of implementation for your own projects. I think that this was a very out-of-the-box implementation of Drupal and, although it was a very robust enterprise level website platform, more and more we see it every day being used to create very robust, sophisticated web applications. We also saw an atypical implementation of Edge Side Includes with this. The limiting Drupal bootstrapped to really accelerate access to that level of caching. It was an important part of the engineering and architecting work that the team was able to accomplish with this project. We were actually able to ratchet the system up to 5,000 hits per second, specifically, so that the system could accommodate increased load as in the median term. So, although they only have one feed set up and running at the moment, the system was really built to handle increased capacity on an incremental phase and basis. It really is an opportunity to show off the robustness of Drupal and some of these other technologies when they’re planned out and built carefully and optimized. So thank you for everyone’s time and indulgence. If we have some questions, and if there are some things that we could provide some clarity around, we certainly will.

Moderator: Great! Thank you so much Ray and Evginey. If you have any questions, please ask them in the Q&A tab right now and we’ll get to them. [Pause] It doesn’t look like we have any questions. Ray and Evginey, do you want to end with anything or contact information if they think of anything?

Ray Saltini: Yes, absolutely! We are available at blinkreaction.com. We offer a growing selection of introductory and advanced Drupal training classes. We, of course, do professional services work on the front and back end as a function of our relationship with Acquia. We’re just looking to have the opportunity to share. Evginey, I don’t know if you want to add anything…

Moderator: We actually have some questions that came in if you wouldn’t mind answering them.

Ray Saltini: No, not at all.

Moderator: Okay. The first one was, what was the biggest challenge with the parser?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Basically, it didn’t exist and it existed for another version of PHP. We needed to adapt it. It’s short end syntax, the use of name spaces and stuff like that. So we needed to scale it back to Drupal 5.2 because that’s what’s available on the hosting. Basically, that’s how we achieved it.

Moderator: Okay. Great! The next question is how do you handle caching for authenticated sessions?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, sure. So, basically, there are many different ways to do it. So, specifically, for the back-end, we use Edge Side Includes and that’s how we are able to sustain this huge load with verifying the keys and still providing the almost real-time data which is cache just for 30 seconds with the use of Edge Side Includes. For front-end, it’s basic or standard Drupal caching that has provided blocks caching to use caching.

Ray Saltini: So, through the use of this caching that Evginey is speaking of, we were able to limit Drupal’s bootstrap. So, we didn’t need to move a full instance of Drupal in order to update the cache at any one given point in time to check developer credentials. This was handled in cache. If at any one given point in time a development credentials have been revoked, the access rights for that particular developer or their access to even a particular feed will be selectively removed from the cache. That was an important - this concept of limiting Drupal’s bootstrapping is very essential. So, we used it for what we needed.

Moderator: Okay. Great!

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, and actually there are a couple of other questions about how it works internally. So, I have two more slides that I can go over for specifically for what’s stored in Drupal versus what’s stored in cache and how it all works and how the results are matched with GTFS data. So, I just saw a couple of questions about it. So, if you want to make me the presenter…

Moderator: Okay. Let me pass it over to you. [Pause]

Evgeniy Kashchenko: So are you passing the presenter to me then?

Moderator: Yes, you have it.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Maybe it’s on the way [laughter].

Ray Saltini: Maybe it’s still seeing the Acquia presentation.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, I still see questions slide.

Ray Saltini: Is it me who has it?

Moderator: You’ll have to re-share your screen. [Pause]

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Okay. Let’s see. Does it work?

Moderator: Yes.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Okay. Cool! So, I hope this will answer some of the more technical questions that were asked already. So, that’s a bit more detailed architectural diagram of how it works or the data flow. So here is how they request to go through and basically what happens is when somebody tries to request a feed through the API, the request is sent to Varnish. That request is actually for MTAESI.PHP. That’s the wrapper that basically checks your key validness and then includes - we have ESI, the real-time data. So, Varnish first tries to look up the cache for this page in the internal memory and then if it’s not found, it goes to the back-end to actually get it. What happens here is we first check in Memcache if we know this key and, if it’s valid, then we can basically return the data on this step. If not, then we will need to load Drupal at the lower bootstrap level and that’s basically the level to actually get access to the database. The bootstrap steps are on the right of the screen in here. So, we take first the three but the rest is kept. This allows us to save a lot of time of Drupal configuration. So again, we’ll level bootstrap Drupal. We are getting the information about the key from Drupal database and make sure that it’s valid and after that, we can store it in Memcache for further reference and we can return the ESI tag to the data file which we do in here using this ESI tag that is on the right. Basically, the path in here is the location of this file on your file system. It gets there by MTA pushing it to that location so that it is up to date all the time. So, we serve this tag with PHP then Varnish understands that it’s not something that he wants to return as is, but it needs to be switched to the file that is in here, which is done, and then it’s returned back to the consumer. So, basically, Varnish does two different types of caching. First, it caches the MTAESI.PHP file with your access key and that duration is 30 minutes, whereas the included file itself is cached only for 30 seconds because that’s the frequency of the updates and we want the data to be up-to-date. So, basically, what it allows us to achieve is that this file where ESI is included is shared among all of the requests. So, basically, first it requests to Varnish, populates it and then it’s just searched from cache, whereas a request to ESI-PHP is key specific. If you have access to the service within the last 30 minutes, then Varnish will remember you and will give you the file it wants. Otherwise, if it’s like an hour or a couple of hours, then we’ll still have the data about the key in Memcache which has a longer period of life for your key. If the key is for some reason deactivated by an admin personnel, then it is also removed from the Memcache. So hopefully this explains why they needed that they also know how the cache is done for the API portal. Now, to talk about the demo app and how the data is matched there. Basically, we have two types of GTFS data files here. One is static and that one has train schedules - basically, trains names and stations that were there; whereas, real time has actual delays or any changes in the schedule that are there. So the static data doesn’t change that often, like maybe a couple of times a year. It’s cached in Drupal tables. So, basically an admin personnel can refresh it at will when they need to, and it will be updated in Drupal tables, whereas real-time GTFS data is parsed by this protobuf PHP module, which can be found on gate hub by default URL. So, what it does is parses this binary data file and populates it to Drupal cache so that when users come to the website, we can get the data about lines and different stops on them, and then map match it with real-time data to provide the results that you saw on Ray’s demo. So, I hope that helps and we’ll look through the other questions that you might have.

Moderator: Okay. Great! The next question is, is Drupal storing data from the parser or simply rendering it? If it’s just rendering the data, do you have to write a custom module to interpret that data and output it into the view?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Yes, basically, that’s what I just went over. So the real time data is parsed by this protobuf PHP by Ivan Montes. Then it’s stored in Drupal cache.

Moderator: Okay. The next question is, how many instances of the app do you have for the load? How scalable is this?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: There are a couple of servers that are shared among a couple of different applications that MTA has. So it’s not only this demo app and API portal, but it also has some other Drupal applications that MTA already built before. What makes it informant is actually the caching architecture and infrastructure that is put in place.

Moderator: Okay. Great. Are there any real-time statistics? Let’s say - how many users are using it at the same time?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: There are some based on operational data. There is a plan to add more of real time monitoring there and generate administrative reports, as well. That’s something that is planned for the next phase. In terms of real numbers, I’m sorry. I just don’t have those [laughter].

Moderator: Of course. The next question that came in is, so does it mean that the entire cache is being flushed and rebuilt every 30 seconds?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Let me go back to this slide. I’m not sure which application you’re asking about but if it’s API portal, then the part with your key is cached for 30 minutes within Varnish and a longer period within Memcache, and the file itself with the real-time data is refreshed each 30 seconds. If you’re talking about demo app, then again, there are two pieces in it. For the static data, it is refreshed as needed and real-time data - I think right now, it’s set to a minute or so. So again, it’s an app for demo purposes. The intention is for other developers to understand what data is inside and how it can be leveraged.

Moderator: Okay. Great! I think that’s it for questions. On my end, the recording will be posted in the next 48 hours to the website and we’ll email it out to you. I want to say a big thanks to Ray and Evginey for presenting and thank you everyone for attending. Evginey, do you want to end with anything?

Evgeniy Kashchenko: No. Thanks a lot everybody for joining us today and let me just share this slide. So basically, you can reach me or Ray at the emails that are on the screen. It’s ray.saltini@blinkreaction.com or evginey.ka - oh wait a minute that’s misspelled. It’s s-h-c-h-e-n-k-o@blinkreaction.com.

Moderator: Alright. Thank you so much.

Evgeniy Kashchenko: Again, thanks for participating today.

Moderator: Bye.

Ray Saltini: Thank you.

Click to see video transcript

Hannah: Today's webinar is: Constructing a Fault-Tolerant, High Available Cloud Infrastructure for your Drupal Site.
First speaking we have Jess Iandiorio, who is the Senior Director of Cloud Products Marketing, and then we have Andrew Kenney who is the VP of Platform Engineering.

Jess, you take it away now.

Jess: Great, thank you very much, Hannah. Thanks everybody for taking the time to attend today, we have some great content, and we have a new speaker for our Webinar Series. For those of you who attend meetings you know we do three to five per week.

Andrew Kenney has been with the organization since mid-summer, and we are really excited to have him, he comes to us from ONEsite, but he is heading our Platform Engineering at this point, and he is the point person on all things; Acquia Cloud specifically, he'll speak in just a few minutes.
Thank you, Andrew.

Just to key up what we are going to talk about today, what we want to talk about, is we want our customers to be able to focus on Web innovations, and creating killer websites is hard, so that’s why we wanted to be able to spend all of the time you possibly can, figuring out how to optimize your experience and create a really, really cool experience on your website. Hosting that website shouldn’t be as much of a challenge.

The topic today is designing a fault-tolerant, highly available system and the point of the matter is, if your site is mission-critical how do you avoid a crisis, and why do you need this type of infrastructure?

Andrew has some great background around designing highly-available infrastructure and systems, and he's going to go through best practices and then I'll come back towards the end just to give a little bit of information about Acquia Cloud as it relates to all the content he's going to cover, but he's just going to talk generally about best practices and how you could go about doing this yourself.

Again, please ask those questions in the Q&A Tab as we go, and we'll get to them as we can. For the content today, first Andrew is going to discuss the challenges that Drupal sites can have when it comes to your hosting, what makes them complex and why you would want a tuned infrastructure in order to have high availability. He's been able with the types of scenarios that would cause failure, how you can go about creating high availability and resiliency, talk about the resource challenges with some organizations may incur, and then you may go through practical steps in best practices around designing for failure and how you can actually do that and architect and automate the failover as well. He'll close with some information on how you can test failure as well.

With that, I'm going to hand it over to Andrew, and I'm here in the background if you have any questions for me, otherwise I'll moderate Q&A and I'll be back towards the end.
Andrew: Thank, Jess. It's nice to meet you, everyone. Feel free to ask questions as we go or we can just have those at the wrap up, and I'm more than willing to be interrupted though.

Many of you may be familiar with Drupal and its state as a great PHP Content Management system, but even with it being well engineered in having a decade-plus of enhancements, there some number of issues with hosting Drupal and these issues were always present if you're hosting in your own datacenter, or environmental server in, let's say, RackSpace or a SoftLayer but even more challenging when you're dealing with Cloud hosting.

The Cloud is great at a lot of things, but some of these more Legacy applications are very, very complex and extensive applications may have some issues which you can solve with modules, you can solve with great platform engineering, or you can just work around in other ways.

One of these issues is Drupal expects POSIX file system, this essentially means that Drupal and all that’s filing the output calls were designed with the fact that there's a hard drive underneath the Web server, if not a hard drive in there, is an NFS server, there's a Samba server. There's some sort of underlying file system. This is not oppose to some new applications where maybe they're built by default to go store files inside Amazon [Espree 00:04:16] or inside Akamai NetStorage, or inside documented oriented database, like CouchDB or one of those databases.

Drupal has come a long way especially in Drupal 7 in making it so that you can enable modules that will use PHP file streams instead of direct app open … Legacy, Unix file operations, but there's a number of different version of Drupal and they don’t all support this and there's not a lot of great file system options inside the Cloud. At the end of the day Drupal still expects to have that file system there.

A number of other issues are: Drupal may make … you may make five queries on a given page, you may make 50 queries on a given page, and when you're running everything on a single server this is not necessarily a big deal. You may have latency in the hundredth of milliseconds, when you run you're running something on the Cloud it may be the same latency on a single server, but now let's talk about you're running and even with the same availability zone in the Amazon you may have your Web server on one rack and you may have your database on a rack that is a few miles away within the same availability zone.

This latency, even if it's only one millisecond or 10 milliseconds per query it could dramatically add up. One of the key challenges in dealing with Drupal both at the scale of [horizontal 00:05:49] layer as well as just in the Cloud in general, it's how you deal with high latency MYSQL operations. Do you improve the efficiency of the overall page and use less dynamic modules or less … 12-way left joins and views and different modules? Do you implement more cashing? There are a lot of options here but, in general, Drupal still needs to do a lot of work in improving its performance at a database layer.

One other similar-related note is Drupal is not built with partitions tolerance in mind, so Drupal will expect to have a master database that can you can go commit transactions to. It won't have any automatic charging built in so if you move, let's say, the articles on your website, your article section may go down but you'll still have your photo galleries; your other node-driven elements.

Some other new-generation applications may be able to deal with the loss of a single backend database node, maybe they're using a database like a REOC or Cassandra that has grades, partition tolerance built into it, but unfortunately MySQL doesn’t do that unless you're in familiar in charting manually. We can scale out Drupal and scale up Drupal to MySQL layer and we can have availability MySQL, but at the end of the day if you lose your MySQL layer you are going to lose your entire application essentially.

One of the other issues with Drupal hosting is, there's a shortage of talent, there's a shortage of people that have really driven Drupal at a massive scale. There are companies like … the economies of the world who are the Top 50 Internet site that’s powered by Drupal, or there's talent that the WhiteHouse giving back Drupal, but there's still a lack of good, dev ops expertise in terms of selling that … an organization that runs hundreds of Drupal sites. How to go to deploy this either on your internal infrastructure in, let's say, a university IT department, or to go deploy it on a rack space or a traditional datacenter company?

Drupal has its own challenges, and one of those challenges is: how do you find great, either engineering operations, dev ops people to go help you with your Drupal projects?
Now there's a number of ways, and you're all may be aware. of how an application would die in a traditional datacenter. That may be someone tripping over a power cord, it may be you lose your Internet access or one of your actual upstream ISPs or you have DDOS attack.

Many of these also go from the Cloud, but the Cloud also introduces other more … complex scenarios or in a couple of scenarios. You can still have machine loss, Amazon exacerbated this by that machine loss may be even more random and unpredictable, so Amazon may announce that a machine is going to be available on a given day, which is great and probably something that your traditional IT department or infrastructure provider didn’t give you unless they're very good at their jobs.

There's still a chance that at any given moment, Amazon machine may just go down, and may become unavailable, and you really have to introspection into why this happened. The hypervisor layer, all this … the hardware abstraction is not available to you, Amazon shields us, RackSpace Cloud shields us. All these different clouds shield you from knowing what's going on at the machine layer, or there may just be a service outage, so Amazon may lose a datacenter, RackSpace, just this weekend, issued in the Dallas region with its Cloud customer.

You never know when your actual infrastructure and service provider is going to have a hiccup. There may just be network disruption, this could be packet loss, this could be routes being malformed going to different regions different countries, a lot of different ways that the network can go impact your application, and it's not just traffic coming to your website, it's also your website talking with its main [cache 00:10:10] layer, talking with its database layer, all these different things.

One of the key points of Amazon Cloud specifically, is that its file system, if you're using Lasix Box storage, there's been a lot of horror stories out there about EBS outages have taken down Amazon's EC2 systems or anything that’s backed by EBS. In general, it's hard to go have an underlying, like I said before, a POSIX file system at scale, and EBS' instrument technology, but it's still in its infancy. Amazon, although it's focused on reliability and performance for EBS has a lot of work to do to go and improve that, and even people like RackSpace are just now deploying their own EBS-like sub-systems with an open stack.

Your website may fail just from a traffic spike. This traffic may be legitimate traffic, maybe someone talked about your website on a radio program, or TV broadcast, or maybe you get linked from the homepage of TechCrunch or Slashdot, but traffic spike could also be someone that’s initially trying to take down your website. The Cloud doesn’t necessarily makes us any worse other than the fact that you may have little to no control over your network infrastructure, you do not have access to a network engineer who can go to point out exactly we are upstream and all these factors are coming from, and go implement routing changes, or firewall changes to do this, so the Cloud may make it harder for you to go control this.

Your control thing, your ability to go manage, your service in Cloud may go down entirely; this is one of the issues that crops up on Amazon when they have an outage. They may go all the way back so you can do anything. It may go down entirely and you have to be able to engineer around this and ensure that your applications will survive even if you can't go spin up new servers or go adjust resizing and different things like that.

Another way to system failure is that your backups may fail, it's either a network to go and do backups of servers and volumes and all these different things in the Cloud but you have no guarantee even when the API says that a backup is completed, that it's actually done. This may be better than traditional hosting but it's still a lot of progress to be made in engineering to go accommodate this.

In general, everyone wants to have a highly-available and resilient website, there's obviously different levels of SLAs, some people may be happy if the website can sustain an hour of downtime, other organization may feel their website condition is critical and even a blip of a few minutes is just too much because it's actually having financial transactions or just publicity if the website is down.

In general, Drupal specifically should be … your hosting at Drupal should be engineered with high availability and resiliency in mind. To do this you should plan for failure because that’s in the Cloud, just know that any given time a server may die and you can have either the hot standby and process in place to go spin up a new server. This means that you want to make sure that your deployment and your configuration are as automated as possible.

This may be a puppet configuration, it may be CFEngine configuration and may just be the chef or a batch script that says, "This is how I spin up a new machine and install the necessary packages. This is how I check out my Drupal code from GitHub, but at the end of the day when you're woken up by a pager … due to a pager at 2:00 in the morning, you don’t want to have to go think about how you built the server, you want to have a script to go spin it up, or ideally, you want to use tools to go have it scale over automatically; and so you actually have no blips.

Obviously, to have no blips means that you need to have this configured automatically. You should have no single points of failure, that’s the ideal in any engineering organization, any consumer-facing or internal-facing website application have no single point of failures. In a traditional datacenter would mean having dual UPSs, having dual upstream power supplies and network connectivity; having two sets of hard drives in their machine, or having RAID, or having multiple servers, having your application low-distributed across … in regions … geographic regions.

There's lots of single points of failure out there. The Cloud abstracts a lot of this, so in general it's a great idea to run the Cloud because you don’t have to worry about the underlying network infrastructure, you can actually spin a server up in one of the five Amazon East Coast availability zones, and you don’t have to worry about any of the hardware requirements or the power, or any of those things. In order to have no single points of failure, it means you have to have two of everything, or if you due to the downtime have … you can use Amazon's Cloud formation along with CloudWatch to go quickly spin up a server from one of your versions and just boot that up that way, but definitely it's good to have two of everything, at least.

You will want to monitor everything, before I said you could use CloudWatch to go monitor your servers, you can use Nagios installations, you can use Pingdom to make sure that your website is up, but you want everything monitored, so your website itself is returning … Drupal returning the homepage, do you actually want to submit a transaction to go create a new node and validate that this node is there, using companies like Selenium.

Do you want to just make sure that MySQL is running, do you want to see what the CPU help is, or how much network activities there is, and one of the other things is you want to monitor your monitoring system. Maybe you trust that Amazon's CloudWatch isn't going down, maybe trusting Pingdom not to go down, but you probably won't trust the fact that if you're running Nagios and your Nagios server goes down, you can't sustain an outage like that, you don’t want that to happen at 2:00 in the morning and then someone tells you on Monday morning your website has been down all weekend, and a good idea to monitor the monitor servers.

Backing up all your data is key for resiliency and business continuity, and ensuring that your Drupal Cloud system is backed up; your MySQL database is backed up. Your configurations are all there, and this includes not just backing up but validating that your backups are working, because many of us may have been in organization where, yes, the DBA did back up a server but when the primary server failed and someone tried to restore it from the backup someone found out that, oh, well, it's missing one of the databases or one of the sets of cables. Or, maybe the configuration or the password wasn’t actually backed up so there's no way to even log in to that new database server.

It's a very good idea to always go and test all of your backups, and this also includes testing emergency procedures, for organizations have to have business continuity plans, but no plan is flawless and plans have to be continually iterated just like in software. The only way to ensure that the plan works is to go actually engage that plan and test it, so it's all of my recommendation that if you have a failover a datacenter, or you have a way to failover for your website, you will want to test that failover plans.
Maybe you only do it once a year or maybe you do it every Saturday morning at a certain time, if you can engineer out so there's no hiccup for your end users, or may be your website has no traffic at any given point in time of the week, but it's a great idea to actually go test those emergency procedures.

In general, there's challenges with Drupal management, and just the resource challenges. The Cloud tells you that your developers no long have to worry about all the testy details but are necessary to go launch and maintain a website. You don’t have to have any operations staff to be more … invest in Hype. I think a lot of engineers always felt that the operation team is just a bottleneck in their process and once they have validated that their code is good, either versus their opinion or they're running their own system test, or unit test. They wanted to go just push that live and that’s one of the principles of continuous integration.

The reality is that developers aren't necessarily great at managing server configurations, or engineering a way to go deploy software without having any hiccup to the end user client who may load a page and then there's an AJAX call that refreshes in another base so we want to make sure that there's no delay in the process, and that code doesn’t go impact the server, and the server configurations are maintained.

Operations staffs are still very, very likely and you have to go plan for failure to go plan your performer process in reality. It's very hard to go find people that are great at operations as well as understanding an engineer's mindset, and so dev ops is resource challenge.

Here's an example of how we design for failure. Here at Acquia, we plan for failure; we engineer different solutions to different clients' budgets to make sure that we give them something that will make their stakeholders, internally and externally happy. We have multiple availabilities on hosting so for all of our managed Cloud customers when we launch one server we'll then have another backup server in another zone.

Drupal will replicate data from one zone to the other. If there's any service interruption in one zone it will go serve data from the other zone, so this includes the actual Web node layer, or the Apache servers that are serving the raw Drupal files includes the file system. Here we use Cluster effects to go replicate the Drupal file system from server to server and from availability zone to availability zone.

It's also the MySQL layer, we'll have a master database server in its region, or we may have a slave against those master database servers, but it's ensuring that all the data is always in two places and anytime there's a hiccup in one Amazon availability zone it won't impact your Drupal website.

Sometimes that’s not enough. There's been a number of outages recently in the Amazon's history where maybe one availability zone goes down, but due to the control system failure, or due to other issues with the infrastructure there's multiple zones that are impacted. We have the ability to have multiple region-hosting, so this may be out of the East Coast, and the West Coast, U.S. West, and maybe the … our own facilities.

It really depends on what the organization wants, but the multi-region hosting gives businesses the peace of mind and the confidence that if there is a natural disaster that wipes out all of U.S. East, or if there's a colossal failure that’s a cascading failure in the U.S. East, or one of these different regions that your data is always there, your website is always in another region, and you're not going to experience catastrophic delays in bringing your website up-to-date.

During Hurricane Sandy there were a number of organizations that learned this lesson when they had their datacenters in, let's say, Con Edison's facilities in Manhattan and maybe they're in multiple datacenters there, but it's possible for an entire city to go and lose power for, potentially a week, or to have catastrophic damage by water to the equipment. It's always important to have your website available for multiple regions and we offer that for our clients.

One of the other key things … since they are to prevent failure is making sure that you understand the responsibilities and the security model for all the stakeholders in your website. You have the public consumer who is responsible for their browser and them engaging with them and showing they don’t distribute their passwords to unauthorized people.

You have Amazon who is responsible for the network layer for … during that two different machine images on the HyperVisor don’t have the ability to go disrupt each other. Making sure that they are … the physical medium of the servers and the facilities are all locked down and that customers using the security groups can't go from one machine to the other, or have a database called on from one rack to the other for different clients.

Then you have Acquia who is responsible for the software servers to the platform as a service layer with Drupal hosting. We are in charge of the operating system patches, we are in charge of configuring all of the security modules for Apache and in charge of recommending to you that you have Acquia network inside tools that you need to update … you need Drupal modules to ensure a high security, and you do all these things, but that brings it back to you. At the end of the day you're responsible for your application, your developers are the ones that go and make changes too and implement newer architectural things that may need to be security tested, or that choose not to go update a module for one point of view or another.

There's a shared security model here which covers both security availability in compliance, there may be a Federal customer who has to have things enabled a certain way just to go comply with a [FISMA 00:24:23] or Fed ramp accreditation. Obviously security can go impact the overall availability for your website and you don’t engineer for a security up-front them half of them can go take down your machine or they'll compromise your data so you don’t want your website back online until you’ve validated exactly what has changed.

What's very important to understand in the shared security module, and as you're planning for failure. Another thing I had briefly touched before was monitoring. This includes both monitoring your infrastructural application as well as monitoring for the security threats I just mentioned. At Acquia we use a number of different monitoring systems which I'll go in detail in, including Nagios, including your own 24/7, 365, operation step, but we also use third party software to go scan our machines to ensure that they are up-to-date and have no open ports that may be an issue, or have no demons running that are going to be an issue. Or have no other vulnerability.

This includes Rapid7, OSSEC, monitoring the logs, and for thwarting any … lots of issues across issues during security scans. It's important to monitor your infrastructure both from making sure the service is available as well as there's no security holes.
Back to monitoring, we have a very robust monitoring system, it's one of the ways … it's one of the systems we have to have, it's something we have 4,000-plus servers in the Amazon's Cloud, so all the Web servers and database servers and the Git and SVN servers, and all these different types of servers, they are monitored by something we call [Mon 00:26:01] Server, and these, on servers check to makes sure the websites are up, check to make sure that MySQL and Memcache is running, all these different things.

The mon servers also monitor each other, you see that from the line form mon server to mon server at the top, so they monitor each other in the same zone. They may choose to go monitor a mon server in another region, just to ensure that if we lose and entire region we want to get a notice about it.

The mon servers may also be the [height 00:26:32] of Amazon's Cloud, that we may go through rounding from someone like Rackspace, just to have your own business continuity, best-breed monitoring to ensure that if there is a hiccup or service interruption in one of the Amazon regions that we go and catch it. It's important to have external validation of the experience and if we … we may just use something like [Pingdom 00:26:50] in order to go ensure your website is always there.

Ensure that it is operating within the bounds of its SOA, so there's all sorts of ways to do monitoring but it's important to have the assurance that your monitored servers are working and each monitor that goes down has something else alert you that it's down, just so you don’t impact your supporter operations team in trying to recover from an issue.

In pattern high availability resiliency in your monitoring infrastructure is very important. One of the other things; just being able to recover from failure; this includes having database backups; this includes having a file system, snapshots, so you can recover all the Drupal files, making sure that all your EBS volumes are backed up. Pushing those snapshots coming way over to [Espree 00:27:42], making sure that the process is replicated using a distributive file system technology-like luster. With all of this, you can potentially recover from catastrophic data-failure because having backups is important.

You can choose if you want to have these backups live, live replication of MySQL or the file system, or just hourly snapshots, or weekly snapshots, and that depends on your level of risk and how much you want to go spend on these things.

In terms of preventing failover, we utilize a number of these different possibilities, but you can use Amazon Elastic load balancers, multiple servers behind an ELB, and these servers can be distributed across multiple zones. For example, we use ELBs for a client like the MTA of New York, where they wanted to go and ensure that Hurricane Sandy wiped out one of the Amazon availability zones, we can still serve their Drupal website from the other availability zones.

We also used our own load balancers just in our backend to go and distribute traffic between all the different Web nodes, so one of the availability zone may go for request to the other availability zone, where you can do round robin, and that’s a different logic in there to go to distribute the request to all the healthy Web nodes, and to make sure that any unhealthy Web node we cannot sent and travel too, so while our operations team are automating systems to go recover from the reason it's unhealthy.

We have the ability to also use DNS switch to take a database that's catastrophically failed or has other replication labs or something out of service. We always choose, at Acquia, to ensure that all your data transactions are committed. We'd rather have no data loss than incur a minimal service disruption, and so you're potentially losing, usually uploading the file or a user … and account being created or some other … we have people building software service business on top of us, so that loss and protection is very important to us, and so we utilize a DNS switch mechanism to make sure that that database traffic all flows to the other database server.

For the larger sites, multi-region sites, we actually use the manual DNS switch, to switch from region to the other, this prevents a flopping of an issue and having a cache server turned into something even worse, where you may have data written to both regions. The DNS switch allows us and allows our clients to build their Web site over when they choose to and then when everything is status quo again, they can go build back.

As I said before it's very important to test all of your procedures and this includes your failover process. It should be scripted so you can go, failover to your secondary database server, so you shut down one of your Web nodes and have it auto-heal itself. People like Netflix are brilliant about this, where they have their Simian Army as they call it, that they can go shut down RAM and shut down servers, and shut down entire zones and ensure that everything is recovered.

There's a lot of best practices out there in terms of actually testing the failover, and these failover systems and the extra redundancy that you’ve added to the [limiting 00:31:22] or points of failure is key and other non-disaster scenarios. Maybe you were upgrading your version of Drupal or you're rolling out a new module and you need to go add a new database or alter a cable, go through that process within Drupal.

You can failover to one of your given database nodes and then apply the [modular 00:31:44] schema changes to that node without impacting your end users. There's ways you use these systems and in your normal course of business to make sure that you use the available nodes to their full capacity and minimize the impact to your stakeholders.

Jess, do you want to talk about why you would to do everything yourself?

Jess: Sure, yeah. Thank you so much, Andrew. I think that was a really good overview, and hopefully people on the phone were able to take some notes and think about, if you want to try this yourself, what are the best practices that you should be following.

Of course, Acquia Cloud exists and as I'm in marketing I would be remiss not to talk about why you'd want to look at Acquia, but the reasons why our customers had chosen to leave DIY, they are mainly pocketed into these three groups. One is: they don’t have a core competency around hosting let alone high availability, and so if that core competency doesn’t exist it's much easier and much more cost effective to work with a provider who has that as their core competency and can provide the infrastructure resources as well as the support for it.

Another main reason people will come to Acquia is they don’t have the resources or have no desire to have the resources to support their site meeting 24x7 resources available in order to make sure that the site is always up and running optimally, so Acquia is in a unique position to respond to both Drupal application issues as well as the infrastructure issues. We don’t make code changes for our customers but we always are aware of what's going on with your site, and can help you very quickly identify the root cause of an outage and resolve it quickly with you.

Then one of the other reasons is it can be a struggle when you're trying to do this yourself, either hosting on premise and you have purchase servers from someone or if you’ve actually gone straight to Amazon or Rackspace. Oftentimes people have found themselves in between sort of blame game and a lot of finger-pointing if the site goes down, their instinct would be to call the provider and if that provider says, "Hey, it's not us, lights are on, you have service," then you have to turn around and try to talk to your application team, what's wrong, and so there can be a lot of back and forth, a lot to time wasted and what you really is your site up and running.

Those are reasons to not try and do this yourself, of course you're welcome to, but if you try and you haven’t had success, the reasons you're going forward with Acquia is our White Glove service so, again, fully managing on a 24x7 basis for the Drupal application support as well as the infrastructure support, as well as our Drupal expertise, so we have about 90 professionals employed here at Acquia across operations, who are able to scale up and down your application.

We have engineers, we have Drupal support professionals, and they can help you either on the break-fix basis or on an advisory capacity to understand what you should be doing with your Drupal site between the code and configuration to make it run more optimally in the Cloud, so that’s a great piece of what we offer. Of course all of the engines covered today in terms of our high availability offerings and our ability to create full backups and redundancy, across availability zones as well as Amazon Regions.

We are getting to the close here, if you have some questions I'd encourage you to start thinking about them and put them into the Q&A.

The last two slides here just showcase the two options that we have if you would like to look at hosting with Acquia, Dev Cloud is a single server self service instance, so you have a fully-dedicated single server, you manage it yourself and you get access to all of our great tools that allow you to implement continuous integration best practices.

This screen shot you're seeing here is just a quick overview of what our user interface looks like for developers and we have separate dev staging and prod environments pre-established for our customers, very easy-to-use drag and drop tools that allow you to push code files and database across from the different environments while implementing the necessary testing in the background, to make sure that you never have made a change to your codes that could potentially harm your production site.

The other alternative is Managed Cloud, and this is the White Glove service offering where we promise your best day will never become your worst day with someone playing traffic spike that ends up taking your site down. We'll manage your application and your infrastructure for you, our infrastructure is Drupal tuned with all the different aspects that Andrew has talked about. We've used exclusively Open Source technologies as part of what we add to Amazon's resources and we've made all the decisions that need to be made to ensure high availability across all the layers of your stack.

With that, we'll get to questions, and we have one that came in. "Can you run your own flavor of Drupal on Acquia's HA architecture?"

Andrew: The answer is, yes. You can use any version of Drupal and I think we are running Drupal 6, 7 and 8 websites right now. You can install any of Drupal modules you want, we have a list of which HA extensions we support. We support most popular modules out there. There's always been a day, maybe there is some random security module or some media module that need something and we may need to go sell it for you or recommend the alternatives. You can … people have taken Drupal and just … for lack of a better word, and just bastardized it, and just built these kind of crazy applications on top or we've written chunks of it, and then it also works with our HA architecture.

Our expertise is in the Core Drupal, but our professional services and our technical account managers are great at analyzing applications and understanding how to improve them in performance so by now we support pretty much any … the platform can host any PHP application, or static application. It's optimized for Drupal, but the underlying MySQL and file system and Memcache and all these different requirements for Drupal website; they are the AJ capabilities of that works across the board.

Jess: And we do have multiple incidents where customers have come to us, and they’ve got their application running and in our Cloud environment fine, but they came to us from hosting directly with RackSpace or Amazon and they found it to be either unreliable or it just wasn’t cost-effective for them because of the amount of resources that had to be thrown at the custom code.
Another good thing about Acquia is through becoming a customer you can have access to all these tools that help test the quality of your code and configuration, so when you have extensive amounts of custom codes that are brought into our environment we can help you quickly figure out how to tune it and/or if there are big issues that are the culprit for why you would need to constantly increase the amount of resources you're consuming; we can let you know what those issues are and we can do a site audit through [PS 00:38:37] like Andrew mentioned.

Our hope and our promise to our customers is that you're lowering your total cost of ownership if you're giving us the hosting piece of it along with the maintenance, and if there's a situation for any of our customers where we are continually having to assign more resources because of an issue with the quality of your application; that’s when we'll intervene, and suggest, as a cost-savings measure, work with our PS team to do a site audit so we can help you figure out how to make the site better and therefore use less resources.

Andrew: In a lot of cases we can just grow more hardware at a problem to go have that be a Band-Aid, but it's at both our best interest and the best interest from the customer in terms of both their [builds 00:39:17] as well as having an application that will last for many, many more years, to have our team recommend this is what you should not have done. This is how you can best use this module or this other recommendation to go have a more highly-optimized website for the future.

Jess: The question on, "Why did Acquia choose Amazon to standardize the software, Cloud, on?"

Andrew: Acquia has been around for the past four or five years and Amazon was the original Cloud Company, I was at the Amazon Reinvent Conference a couple weeks ago and one of the key agencies there said, "Amazon is number one in the Cloud and there is no number two." We chose Amazon because it was the best horse and the time, and we continue to choose Amazon because it's still the best choice.

Amazon is … their release cycle for new product features and new price change and all these things is accelerating. They continue to invest in new regions and Amazon is still a great choice to go reduce your total cost of ownership by increasing your agility and your velocity to go build new websites and deploy new things, and move things off your traditional IT vendor to the Cloud, and so we are so very, very strong believers in Amazon.

Jess: "Does Acquia have experts in all theirs … as a Drupal architecture across the data base, the OS, caching?" Then the marketing person is going to take a stab at this, where it's a [crosstalk 00:40:50]…

Andrew: We definitely have experts at all different levels. The RBS team may go and we have some Red Hat experts, we have some … a bunch of experts so they can go recommend different options, for people who don’t host with us. Internally we are all gone to based-hosting so that that may be the expertise about operations staff. Database, we know we have operation staff dedicated just to MySQL. We have support contracts with key MySQL either consulting or software companies for any questions that we can't handle.

It's one of the ways that we go scale if you don’t have to go pay at the corner of the world a 10 grand fee for something that we can just go ask them. Caching , we have people that have … help design some of the larger Drupal sites out there and live through them to be under heavy traffic storms, people that they may go contribute after Drupal Core caching modules, be it Mem-cache or regis-caching and all these different capabilities. With [Agar 00:41:56], we don’t have to use Agar internally but we do interact with it and support it, a lot of our big university or government clients may be using Agar in their internal IT department and they may go and choose to use us for maybe some of the flagship sites or for some other purpose. Yes, we do have experience across the board.

Jess: [Ken 00:42:22], unless you have you any questions that you came in straight to you; that looks like the rest of the questions that we have for the day. Hopefully that you found this valuable, you’ve got 15 minutes back in your day, hopefully. You can find good use for that.
Thank you so much, Andrew, for joining us, I really appreciate it and the content was great.

Andrew: Thank you.

Jess: Again, thanks everybody for your time; and the recording will be available within 48 hours if you'd like to take another listen, and you can always reach out directly to Andrew or myself with any further questions. Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks everybody.

Migrating Weather.com Onto Drupal

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The Weather Channel (TWC) has one of the most highly visited web sites in the world (www.weather.com). And, it’s certainly among the largest Drupal sites.

But in terms of web experience for its visitors, the forecast was not all clear skies. With over 2 million locations, each with unique forecasts, page load times were less than ideal and were lacking the features their visitors desired. TWC also realised that there were too many legacy platforms to support and too many roadblocks when it came to updating site content.

Ready. Set. Drupal! An Intro to Drupal 8, Part 2

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In this two part series, we'll give you a quick introduction to the Drupal 8 out-of-the-box site building experience. This course is for people who are completely new to Drupal. You might be a developer or a decision maker, but you need to know what makes Drupal tick, and fast.

In part 2, you’ll get an overview of site building, extending Drupal, and contributing to the Drupal and the community. This course includes:

Digital Transformation Strategies for Enterprises: Successful Stories & How to Make It Happen

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Smart enterprises and brands recognise that a web content management system (CMS) is a critical foundation for building and running great multi-channel digital experiences - it’s a key part of a digital transformation strategy. But with fierce market competition and technology evolving at the speed of light, even the most savvy organisations find it hard to keep up and drive digital success at a global level.

Ready. Set. Drupal! An Intro to Drupal 8, Part 1

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In this two part series, we'll give you a quick introduction to the Drupal 8 out-of-the-box site building experience. This course is for people who are completely new to Drupal. You might be a developer or a decision maker, but you need to know what makes Drupal tick, and fast.

In part 1, you’ll get an in depth overview of the platform, a status update on the latest version, and the tools you need to get up to speed. This course includes:

The Future of Digital Marketing is Context-Driven

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Connecting and engaging with your customers is more important than ever before, and greeting them with a uniquely crafted experience is no longer just the dream of marketing and commerce executives. It’s a reality, and it’s a customer expectation.

In order to keep customers engaged, brands understand that they need to deliver experiences that are specifically tailored to individual interests and preferences, and that are driven by location, device, behaviour, and context.

Sign up for the webinar to learn: