GSATi’s Pantheon Fast Track Journey

I want to build servers!

When you start a web development company, it just feels natural to offer web hosting to your clients as part of your service. This allows you to keep control of the website to make sure it stays up to date. When we first started out at GSATi, we ran the gamut of the hosting industry—from shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers, cabinet co-location, private cloud, to our own cage and approximately $250,000 in equipment. After spending so much staffing 24x7 support, server and network engineers, monitoring services, warranties, hardware upgrades, and environmental costs, we decided enough was enough. The only benefit we found for DIY hosting was the control—at the expense of uptime, reliability, and cost.

...I don’t want to build servers….

At the end of 2014, we decided it was time to make the jump to the public cloud. We considered all the major public cloud players. We went through various trainings, and spun up servers, databases, load balancers, networking, and moved a few clients. Eventually we realized that the public cloud would eliminate the hardware and networking burden, but still left the support and monitoring costs of running our own servers. As a result, we gave up control and some responsibility, but gained the additional risk that the public cloud provider wouldn’t know Drupal and all its subtle nuances.

I want to build websites!

We needed a website management platform that knew how to properly host a Drupal website. We looked into all the major Drupal hosting players and found them either lacking in their control panel, support, or the ability to host any size Drupal website. Pantheon was our favorite, but we were nervous about giving up control. What do you mean we can’t tweak server settings or why we don’t get 24x7 support for all our websites? What if our client’s site is down and we don’t have access to fix it and we have nobody to call? The Pantheon team heard our concerns loud and clear, and pointed us to their Hosting Is Dead White Paper. It all clicked. It's a big platform like Salesforce or Heroku. Pantheon manages the security and scaling of the whole platform with software, so we don't have to be reactionary like with a crappy public host. We can monitor through their alerts and status page. And if we have a client that needs the 24x7 support, they have Pantheon Elite to solve that need.

Trying Pantheon on for Size

We felt the best way to test was to import a website. One of our customers needed to put up a temporary e-commerce website while our Drupal developers were working on their new website. I am not a developer myself—my experience is limited to administering Drupal and Drupal Commerce—but I was still able to spin up a Commerce Kickstart website in just minutes with Pantheon’s intuitive interface. I was able to understand Pantheon’s product and workflow, Git, Drupal commerce, etc., and ultimately built the site in a day. This would have taken weeks to accomplish on any other platform.

On the Fast Track to Success

After this experience, we “saw the light” and couldn’t believe how long we’d done it by ourselves. On Pantheon, we can focus on what we do best—making great Drupal websites. When we told them we had about 15 websites to migrate, they recommended their Fast Track program to help us ramp quickly and easily. We decided against an onsite meetup as our development staff is spread throughout North America (and as a technology company, surely we could use technology to get this done!). And so we became Pantheon’s first remote Fast Track participant—utilizing Google Hangouts and Slack to make it all happen.

We were shocked at the value we received of personalized training of our support, management, development, and sales staff. When it came time to migrate our sites, our team worked side by side with Pantheon to transfer the websites and resolve any issues with the change in platform. We’ve never had a vendor go to such lengths to help us onboard—they truly treated us as a business partner.


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A Few of Our Favorite Features

There are many things to love about Pantheon, but here are some highlights that really stood out for us:

  • Multidev + Dev/Test/Live: We really like that with every website, we get Multidev plus the workflow—all with Git baked-in. This allows us to use the same procedure with every client. We’re able to work collaboratively together versus siloed on a developer's computer. We love that you can use it to test out features and just burn down and create new environments on the fly.

  • Terminus: One of our concerns with giving up the control we had with DIY hosting was that we would lose our CLI to manage tasks. Not a problem with Pantheon.This is solved with Terminus as we can virtually control everything in the control panel with a CLI, as well as run most Drush commands. This is great for when you are ready to start implementing automation.

  • Quicksilver: We are in the process of trying to implement Jenkins to automate our workflows and starting to move towards Continuous Integration and Automated Testing. Quicksilver is Pantheon’s answer to that and we are really excited to start using it.

  • Launch Check: The Pantheon platform is built with Drupal/WP best practices in mind; their site dashboard even runs site audits to check against 50+ development best practices. One hidden feature that has saved us time is it’s quite often easy to get duplicates of your modules across sites and profile directories. Launch Check tells you all the duplicate modules, their paths, and the version so we can quickly and easily remove the one that is not longer needed and run a Drush registry rebuild.

  • PHP Errors: Before, whenever we’d get the dreaded white screen of death, we would SSH into our servers and read through the log file until we found what had caused it. The Pantheon interface has a built-in display and only shows the relevant data you need, and filters out all the noise.

  • Custom Upstreams: As we start to build our websites in a more productized fashion, custom upstreams allow us to manage a single repository of our distribution and module sets, and easily push them down into the individual sites. This was one of the features we loved when running Aegir on our servers, and we were glad to not have to give up that functionality. Pantheon also uses these upstreams to keep Drupal core and various distributions up to date with one click updates. We no longer have to manually update Drupal on all our sites for each release.

After over three months on the platform, we are migrating our last Drupal website to Pantheon from our previous setup. We are very pleased with Pantheon and are standardizing on the platform for all future development. Pantheon lets us focus on what we do best, while also giving us the peace of mind that our clients’ websites are in good hands.

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Topics Agencies, Digital Agencies, Agency Partners, Drupal, WordPress

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