Designing a web hosting platform is a project that like most systems architecting should be heavily goal oriented. Without goals to achieve, there will be no metrics on which to base decision making. In architecting our own platform, we set business driven goals geared toward helping our clients achieve success.
It is very fun for our engineering team to architect custom technological solutions for every use case and problem that our clients present. When that same team is asked to support all of the divergent environments and platforms that have been created, the whole system falls to ruins.
We need a platform that is unified, coherent, sustainable, and yet, also is flexible enough to meet all of our clients needs.
Choosing Software – Philosophy
With our need for a unified and supportable platform locked into stone, we saw two choices: build our own or use something already built.
Building our own software solution was appealing. We would get full control over every aspect of the architecting and development. We could tweak and tune things exactly how we wanted them. Our engineers and architects would be masters of the system.
But with that fine tuned control, comes the responsibility of developing, maintaining, and nurturing that solution.
Imagine a world where we needed full control of every aspect of our platform. Imagine designing and manufacturing a microchip, custom building a computing platform. We would need to microengineer computer chips, resolve electrical engineering issues, and glue everything together. Some industries have the time and resources to undertake such endeavours. We don’t have decades and millions of dollars to get something rudimentary working.
To that end, we have adopted a unified strategy in our systems architecting. We allow the experts, the masters, to handle the individual components. And who better to handle the complex challenges in our field than the masters. We will gladly step aside and bow to the experts. That is the core of our platform. We don’t offer our expertise alone, but also consolidate the work and ideas of experts around the world into a unified solution to drive our clients’ business to success. We strive to offer the best of the best.
Choosing Software – This or That
Even with the knowledge of all the experts in the world, we are left with challenging choices in building a platform.
In a very top-down fashion, the first choice we were faced with was a choice of a content management system. A CMS is the software that allows the average human being to update and maintain a website without being a master web programmer. It is the system that allows our clients to be self-sufficient and keeps our technical team sane.
There was a pretty clear short list that emerged:
- No CMS. Static HTML Pages
- Drupal – Extensible and Flexible
- WordPress – Easy to use… and used by almost literally everyone
Running our site and clients’ sites on simple static html files would provide the best performance. Most of our clients would never be able to make the changes they need by themselves. Our technical team would quickly be relegated to manually updating pages, fixing typos, and doing the kind of mindless work that drives talented engineers and architects to madness.
Drupal has always been a favorite of our technical team. The Drupal platform is easy enough to setup and use. It is also highly customizable. It will be anything you are willing to program it to be. But then… with that very statement, we fell into trouble. We can’t have our technical team spending weeks coding a solution to a problem that had been solved elsewhere.
This is where WordPress’ huge user base comes into play. Chances are, most problems have been had by users and a lot of the problems have already been solved. On top of that, the solutions to WordPress problems tend to be simple plugins. With the extreme ease of use, even our non-technical staff are able to add functionality and features to clients’ sites. When we add in that with some simple training, most of our clients are able to add and update their own content.
There are hundreds if not thousands of WordPress hosts. Most of them are failing their customers. WordPress, while easy to use, can cause issues very quickly. Many of these hosts do nothing for their clients once the first page is up. These pages often take upwards of 10 seconds to load and render. These pages will never rank anywhere near the first page of any major search engine. We don’t think that’s right. As a rule, we stand by our customers and provide a platform that will load and render a page near instantly. We also give our clients the tools and guidance to ensure that their website actually drives business through the door.
This is where it gets Technical
Our engineers hated WordPress at first. We ran performance benchmarks against it and other options. WordPress wasn’t the front runner. Our engineers are problem solvers though. We’ve built a platform that took page load times from three and five seconds down to less than one second. It was a full stack process. Our engineers tuned the underlying operating system, maximized the performance of our server software, and then cached everything. We’ll be detailing the technical aspects later in this series.
Competing in an Over-saturated Market
Web hosting is an especially over crowded market. There are thousands of choices. We can’t operate by undercutting or overselling the big guys. We have to offer what they cannot: Personalized and dedicated service. A service that doesn’t care about taking money from clients, but would rather rise to success by their side.