Austin Smith and Matt Johnson are managing partners and co-founders of Alley Interactive, a web development firm that has pulled off some of the most complex and high profile site launches for top digital publishers and content producers. Their clients include the New York Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation (kff.org), Digiday, Capital New York and The New Republic.
WE BUILD BIG SITES IN BOTH DRUPAL & WORDPRESS
Alley Interactive is different from other web development firms. We don’t focus on a platform, like Drupal or WordPress, but on a sector: publishers. We build their entire product. Big media sites present many unique technical challenges. Digital publishers, for example, are constantly adding content and seeking to widen their reach without compromising performance.
WHY IT’S HARD TO FIND GOOD HOSTING FOR BIG SITES
Building big media sites is a challenge—and so is hosting them.
IT’S LEGACY HOSTING, WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
We used to work with customers to set up a cluster of servers on a traditional, legacy, co-located hosting vendor. We'd tell the client, “Here's how many servers you need. Here’s the load balancer. This will be the database server. Here’s the backup database.” Everything corresponded to either bare-metal machines or VMs.
That wasn’t sustainable:
1. HARD TO PINPOINT PROBLEMS
Whenever a general site problem would arise, the client would be stuck between our firm—which focuses on supporting the application, but not the servers—and the provider, which supports the network, but not the application. We’d say, “Oh, this looks to be at the network level.” The provider would say, “No, it’s happening at the application level.” As a firm, we choose to specialize in supporting the application. We want to work as a team with the provider’s support to find solutions for any problems that arise. Even when their support was willing to help us out, they generally didn't understand our systems and couldn't always give us enough information.
2. PULLED US AWAY FROM DEVELOPMENT WORK
We’d often get pulled away from important development work to deal with other problems. For example, traffic might cause a configuration problem to manifest, so we’d need to stop what we were doing to fix it. We also had to maintain an on call presence to support our clients. As a small agency that was just starting to grow, being on call meant us personally being on call. One time we got a call at 3am after someone in the data center tripped on a power cord.
3. NOT ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE
When we started doing more WordPress development, it was difficult to find a hosting provider that could meet the needs of every client.
THE FIRST WORDPRESS LAUNCH ON PANTHEON
In the past, Pantheon supported Drupal, but not WordPress. We were pretty vocal with Pantheon about our wish for the platform to become a generalized application support engine, rather than a Drupal-specific stack. We know that a set of PHP, MySQL, and cache bindings can host any PHP app. And WordPress and Drupal are both built in PHP.
After months of conversations with David, Josh and other senior engineers at Pantheon, we launched Chalkbeat, a WordPress site, on Pantheon. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering educational change efforts in the communities where improvement matters most. The network has bureaus in New York, Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee.
Pantheon had proven it was compatible with WordPress at a high scale.
Since then we've been able to launch several more large WordPress sites on Pantheon.
WHY WE USE PANTHEON FOR WORDPRESS
Here’s why we recommend Pantheon as a large-scale hosting platform for WordPress:
1. A PREMIUM SOLUTION WITH FLEXIBLE PRICING FOR EVERYONE
Most hosting companies cater to the DIY developer. That’s not us. Our clients expect the best, which includes the best hosting experience.
2. NO MORE DEALING WITH ACTUAL SERVERS
When our clients’ sites run on Pantheon, we’re more at ease. We get to sleep a bit more.
3. WE FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT WE DEPLOY TO.
We've just started to use Pantheon's development tools for WordPress. Pantheon's strength is in spinning up development servers for us without requiring any effort on our end.
ADVICE TO DEVELOPERS: TRADITIONAL HOSTING VS. PANTHEON?
If you’re a WordPress developer, here are 3 situations when Pantheon is a good choice:
1. YOU NEED A BIG SITE TO SCALE
Pantheon scales. These aren't VMs. They’re containers. This is key for WordPress enterprise sites. It makes sites portable, and it makes them scalable, which means your website is far less likely to go down.
2. YOU’RE LOOKING TO STREAMLINE MANAGEMENT FOR YOUR BIG SITE
When an enterprise is doing apples-to-apples pricing comparisons between Pantheon and traditional hosting providers, they should factor in the following costs:
- Sysadmin time
- Maintaining the app layer itself
- Upgrading the servers
- On-call support (even in the middle of the night)
3. YOU WANT A PRO DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCE
Pantheon is more than just hosting. Pantheon absorbs all the responsibilities a hosting company used to do for you, and adds pro developer tools. It's the sum of all these things that makes Pantheon great.
Listen to this webinar and you'll learn how we launch big WordPress sites. Launch Your WordPress Site on Pantheon WebinarTopics: WordPress