National Review Cuts Costs, Improves Performance on Pantheon

Summary

National Review is a bi-monthly print magazine with daily digital content. Under the supervision of Vice President of Editorial Operations Chris McEvoy, their online content generates more than 300 million pageviews a year, and is increasingly the publication’s chief revenue driver. National Review relies on Pantheon for scalability, stability, and expert support.

National Review has published a print publication for the last 60 years. As the media landscape continues to evolve, this conservative institution has embraced digital publication. They now publish new content to NationalReview.com, where thousands of users read and share it daily.

Now that our web host is configured to our platform, we’re in the best position ever to develop, improve, and perform.

—Chris McEvoy, Vice President of Editorial Operations

The website’s popularity—including traffic spikes when an article was mentioned in the news—led to problems with their previous hosting solution. A sudden rush of traffic could take the site down, leaving hundreds of potential readers staring at an error message. In addition to the downtime, McEvoy found their bargain-priced hosting was actually raising their total cost of ownership, since the dev team had to do extra work just to keep the lights on.

McEvoy looked to Pantheon to provide the scalability and support National Review needed to keep its site up and running without constant attention from the dev team.

“We needed to take the hard road before we could take the right road,” McEvoy said. “Finally, everyone was ready for Pantheon. I remember thinking, here’s a very hands-on company of likeminded people who are going to fight for our uptime, respect us as Drupal users, and offer us all the tools necessary to better our performance.”

Before Pantheon, Downtime and Poor Support Raised Costs

National Review thought it was saving money by going with a lower-cost hosting solution. But they found their host simply couldn’t keep up with traffic surges. Though the provider claimed they could add extra capacity to meet demand, it wasn’t an automatic or seamless process. “It took several smart techs on our end to guide their hosting techs to spin up the new web heads,” McEvoy said.

Traffic spikes contributed to the downtime, but there were also configuration issues that made the site fundamentally unstable. “There was a sense we were never properly configured in terms of varnish, apache, memcache, etc.,” McEvoy said. Frequently, he would check his email first thing in the morning to find hundreds of service alerts in his inbox, but no action taken on the hosting side. Even with the provider’s enterprise-level plan, too often McEvoy’s team had to proactively work to get the site back up.

The hidden costs of their seemingly cheaper hosting solution finally convinced the financial team to switch to Pantheon. “Simply, the unexpected costs added up to much more than what we saved in going with the cheaper host,” McEvoy said.

A Zero-Downtime Migration Creates a More Robust Website

Prior to the migration, Pantheon’s launch team audited the website and suggested a series of fixes. The pre-launch process enabled National Review’s dev team to clean up the codebase, eliminating site errors and increasing stability.

With the recommended fixes in place, the migration process went off without a hitch. “Our lead guy managing this migration said it was the smoothest he has ever experienced,” McEvoy said. “We braced ourselves for the expected 5 to 10 minutes down, but we didn’t even have that.”

Pantheon’s launch support extended to National Review’s Content Delivery Network (CDN). With a little fine-tuning, the site was able to fully use all of their CDN provider’s advanced functionality.

Benefits: Easier Maintenance, Expert Support, Flawless Scaling, Lower Costs

Maintenance with Pantheon is simple, effective, and transparent. It’s easy for the dev team to see what each team member is doing, test changes, and push them without compromising uptime.

When problems do arise, the Pantheon team is there with hands-on support. “Pantheon’s support is like having an extra team of developers on our side,” McEvoy said. Instead of having to chase down each support ticket, the dev team gets regular advice from Pantheon on how to improve performance.

We’re now experiencing a kind of peace and quiet that equals money in our pockets—as opposed to the noise of unhappy developers and site users, which equals money being taken out.

Ramping up for traffic spikes is a snap with Pantheon as well. Since the migration, National Review's dev team has yet to put in a support ticket related to traffic, even as overall traffic continues to rise. The performance benefits also come with a lower cost of ownership than their previous solution.

Benefits

  • Effortless scalability for traffic spikes

  • Better support for the occasional problem

  • A more robust site thanks to Pantheon’s pre-migration checklists

  • Lower costs in dev and maintenance

  • Increased capacity for the dev team to actively develop the site