Experience matters when it comes to anything. You probably don’t want a brand new doctor learning how to do a surgery on you for the first time. The same holds true when your site is down and you’re looking to a host’s support engineer to work through an issue with the CMS.
In this part of the agency series, we’ll once again walk through some of my favorite discovery questions I’ve heard from agency partners over the years. For this post, we’re going to tackle the value behind a fully-loaded host—from add-on technology to deep expertise in the CMS that your site is built on.
Plan Ahead for Specialized Infrastructure
"Why use a CMS?"
When talking to clients about hosting, many agencies we work with suggest reminding clients why they are choosing a CMS-based approach in the first place. Leveraging the benefits of working with these modular, extensible, community, and best-practice driven approaches to site building can save significant time and money. This naturally leads to a discussion that the more powerful or complex a system, then the more complex the underlying infrastructure will become. What this points to is the need for a hosting provider with a lot of experience doing this sort of setup and support repeatedly across many projects.
"Are there specific technologies you feel we must use for this project?"
While some clients are going to have specific requirements and some are just going to leave it to you, we’ve found that the majority are looking for recommendations. Now you can, if you wanted to, drown clients in facts and numbers. For example, you could bring up that there are a minimum of 6 different systems involved in delivering a website via the CMS. Right now there are about 282 DB options on the market, over 300 file system options out there, 35 version control options, and 36 options on HTTP servers; not to mention load balancing, routing systems, PHP versions, and all the operating systems to make those various components function. In case you don’t want to do the math, that’s over a million possible infrastructure software combination options. Multiply that with the hundreds of config options in play and the things to consider goes into the billions—ain't nobody got time for that.
Pantheon has strong opinions about which technologies are truly best of breed for performance and scale. These are based on our team's experience building hundreds of websites before deciding to build a platform that now powers over 150,000 sites. If you want to explain our architecture to clients, I recommend doing so with this interactive guide. Clients of any technical level should take comfort in the fact they are choosing an established yet progressive host for their site.
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“Are you aware of what all you need in addition to the hosting?”
In the beginning, websites were static blobs of HTML code. If all sites were still this way, then every phone would be a smart phone. Technology has continued to evolve past the web 1.0 days and the current state of developing the internet is all about tying together microservices. No longer are you only serving up a static webpage from a file, you are invoking multiple systems for commenting (Disqus), sharing (Twitter and FB), payment (Paypal) and so many other things that Drupal and WordPress mesh together so well. Letting your clients know that there are services to make their site better and help them achieve their goals helps convey that modern web applications require more than just a Linux box and file server.
Since every project is different, reciting the full menu of options to a client might be overkill, but I want to highlight talking points for a few of my favorite integrations Pantheon provides off the shelf for sites.
Solr: Just as you would not want to manually build a client CMS, you also don’t want to hand roll a search application. Fortunately, there is Apache Solr to make advanced search on sites turnkey. This service is typically an additional overhead and ‘one more thing’ to manage. On Pantheon, Solr is a one-click add on. Just another way we provide value beyond the traditional managed hosting approach. Since thousands of sites run Solr on the platform, we not only have amazing documentation to make it easier to implement, but should a support need arise, our team is already familiar with the ins and outs of the setup.
Redis: Database call times can greatly influence the performance of a site. There’s a lot you could potentially do to speed things up, but the sea of configuration and tuning choices can get overwhelming and tricky. Pantheon allows a one-click install of Redis (DB caching) and we understand nearly anything you can ask about how this service is implemented and best practices for your specific Drupal or WordPress project. Leveraging this with your clients is as simple as saying that there is an entire team at your back to ensure your agency can provide the best possible results.
New Relic: New Relic’s APM Pro gives code and query level visibility into application performance, allowing developers to quickly pinpoint performance bottlenecks. It’s like X-ray vision into your site. On Pantheon, New Relic APM Pro is available for free on every site—no matter how large or small. You should let your client know that you will be able to get better insight into performance tuning without any additional licensing fees. When you communicate with Pantheon about issues, we can use the common language of New Relic to get to the heart of the matter quickly and efficiently.
Built-Ins = Good.
A Host That Understands Them = Better.
"Are you expecting to leverage a CMS experienced host?”
Drupal and WordPress accomplish things in very specific yet different ways. Methods that work for general troubleshooting, like power cycling the physical machine or reloading the DB, are not guaranteed to solve issues caused by CMS specific issues. For example, Drupal and WordPress release core security updates pretty often, and having a host that understands this and can assist can pay serious time savings dividends. Pantheon fully tests out all core updates before we make them available, so you’re much more likely to have a flawless update experience than with a non-specialized host.
Having a solid team behind you that knows the ins and out of your particular arrangement is critical to your success in times of need. If the first step of solving a bug is trying to recall or find your documentation for all the tooling decisions you made weeks or months ago, then you are losing precious time before you can even begin working on a fix.
The founders of Pantheon managed two different agencies and hundreds of websites over the course of a decade, and know this pain all too well. Working with a multitude hosts and using bespoke architectures left them on the hook to diagnose anything that a server restart didn’t fix. When our founders started Pantheon, they aimed to assemble a team of experts, each with years of experience on Drupal and WordPress projects. As a result, we’ve now got a support fleet who knows immediately where to start looking when an issue is reported.
Bringing This Home with Clients
I’m assuming that neither your clients’ nor your agency’s mission is to be the best administrators of CMS hosting infrastructure. This is the joy of using Pantheon as your host—ours is just that. We know WordPress and Drupal inside and out. Our founders spent years building Drupal and WordPress websites for clients and know firsthand how hard this stuff is to figure out and manage, especially at scale. Let our years of hands-on experience help you get more done, faster, on your next project, with the comfort of knowing that we have likely seen and have a plan in place for any contingency.