Web Hosting with a Platform as a Service (PaaS) for Drupal (1/2): essence and benefits

Understanding the value of PaaS like Acquia and Pantheon for your Drupal website

Hosting a Drupal application is one of the key elements to success and high ROI for any digital project that places at the heart of its strategy a unique user experience. In this first part, you will see how hosting is intrinsically linked to your Drupal application and the digital experience that comes with it and what a Platform as a Service (PaaS) dedicated to Drupal is and what its advantages are. 

In the second part, we will discuss the pitfalls to avoid and the best practices to implement when we decide to link a Drupal site to a specialized PaaS. 

Hosting and the Digital Experience

Today, brands need to offer digital experiences based on the values they embody, focused on people and powered by cutting-edge technology to defend their markets and transform their businesses. That's why these companies are making heavy investments in the strategy, design, development and integration of these experiences into digital ecosystems that are increasingly complex to maintain in terms of availability, scalability and security.


Drupal Hosting - An often forgotten key element

And yet, many decision-makers still think hosting these digital experiences is not an essential element because it would only be a technical component without added value. It would be dissociated from the digital experience, interchangeable and inexpensive to implement. "The IT team will handle it well!" is often the phrase that comes up when discussing hosting a Drupal application.

Infrastructure - the technological driving force of the digital experience

Let's take a car as an example. While the interior/exterior design and the choice of spaces and functionalities do strongly influence the experience, what users want most is to arrive at their destination. This goal will only be reached if the engine of our vehicle allows it. 

That's what Drupal application hosting is: the technological engine that will allow you to offer the digital experience you are so eager to implement; it's the hosting that will support all the elements put in place to make the difference in an ever more competitive market. It is also the hosting that will ensure a high return on investment. Without an efficient and adapted engine, you will have little chance of arriving at your destination, and you will gradually leave your brand new vehicle in the garage.

Infrastructure defines the limits of your Drupal application

But let's take this analogy a step further. Do you think that vehicle engines are interchangeable between each other, between brands or even between different series of the same brand? Of course not! The engine is an intrinsic part of a vehicle, which is why the hosting of your Drupal application is also intimately linked to the desired digital experience because it defines its possibilities, limits, scalability and availability. 

Therefore, it is essential to define the hosting of your application as soon as possible and before any development. We recommend that you do so once the required functionality has been established and its integration into the digital ecosystem defined.

Optimized hosting providers for Drupal 

Drupal application hosting presents many challenges. Designing and building a digital experience for your users is hard enough as it is; why should you have to worry about performance, availability, security, or diagnosis of possible failures? Because most organizations like yours don't have sufficient internal resources to support, maintain and update such a complex infrastructure. And if you did have those resources available, you would know that the internal IT team often spends more time fighting fires than innovating and implementing new features. It can therefore become a drag on the evolution of the entire digital ecosystem.

Fortunately, several providers are specializing in Drupal application hosting, such as Acquia, Pantheon or Platform.sh to name a few. These providers offer Drupal hosting solutions, Platforms as a Service (PaaS), specifically designed to allow you to focus on the most important part: your customers' digital experience.

Benefits of PaaS vs. IaaS

The big difference between a Platform as a Service (PaaS) and an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is that for PaaS, you don't have to worry about: 

  • the operating system (OS) and its maintenance
  • everything related to the Middleware (DBMS, ... ) and its maintenance 
  • the security and the updating of security patches of the whole stack
  • the availability (runtime) of the entire infrastructure
     

This means that for a PaaS, your hosting provider will not only take care of all the physical infrastructure (as for an IaaS) but also of all the management and availability of this infrastructure. So you only have to focus on the Drupal application and data; the platform manages everything else. 

Lower infrastructure management costs

Since PaaS providers have substantial economies of scale and the best experts in the market, it would be challenging for you to set up and manage an in-house team at a lower cost for the same quality. 

Faster time to market

With a flexible and scalable infrastructure, you no longer have to wait months for your in-house team to implement a new infrastructure-related element such as a new search service (Solr) or performance service (Memcache server or a new Load Balancer). Instead, it is a matter of a few hours to install and configure them appropriately for your PaaS provider. This will allow you to have a shorter time-to-market and, therefore, adapt as quickly as possible to the digital needs of your target segments.   

Focus on the Drupal application and data

As you can see, with a PaaS, the only technical responsibility you have left is to develop and maintain your Drupal application. These are development and evolution tasks that you can delegate quite easily to an internal team of Drupal developers or your digital agency. 

The advantages of Drupal PaaS hosting

As we have seen above, a PaaS offers undeniable advantages over an IaaS, especially concerning middleware management. But in the context of a Drupal application, the middleware must be adapted and optimized specifically for Drupal, which is no small task! This is where Drupal specialized PaaS providers come into play because they will provide you with the best in Drupal infrastructure.

A much faster and more efficient Drupal site

Thanks to several years of experience, Drupal PaaS has set up extraordinarily high-performance and ultra-fast Drupal infrastructures. Drupal PaaS include in their middleware complex caching tools such as proxy caches (Varnish), memory caches (Memcache) and CDN's that would be difficult for an internal team to install configure and maintain. These caching tools, available by default, provide fast and global access to your site, reducing load times and improving the user experience, all specifically configured for Drupal and accessible in a few clicks from the management interface. 

Drupal-specific support and monitoring tools

Drupal PaaS offers you fast and efficient support services thanks to their Drupal infrastructure experts. They know Drupal and quickly understand where a problem could be located at the application and infrastructure levels. These PaaS are also configured to include powerful, flexible and Drupal-compatible monitoring tools like NewRelic that record a variety of diagnostic information and help prevent potential problems before they occur.

A more secure and highly available Drupal application

Drupal sites hosted at a Drupal PaaS are more secure and better prepared to recover from an incident. Because Drupal support professionals manage the entire infrastructure, Drupal-specific security patches and bug fixes are applied regularly, and the whole stack supporting the application is constantly monitored. 

Suppose an incident occurs and data or code recovery is required. In that case, it is very easy to restore the application to a previous state as both daily backups and code versioning are accessible via the management interface. This interface allows development teams to react very quickly to incidents and to restart the application promptly.

Faster time to market for new features

Since these PaaS providers manage the entire infrastructure related to your Drupal application for you, they take care of everything related to deployments. Therefore, these are much easier and faster to perform thanks to simple drag & drop from the administration interface. In addition, Drupal PaaS providers also provide a complete Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) solution out of the box with pipelines designed explicitly for Drupal, which dramatically reduces time to market for new features.

More independence for the management of your Drupal site

A benefit of the above is that these platforms are standardized, allowing any Drupal developer to monitor the proper functioning of your Drupal infrastructure and application in a matter of hours. This translates into more independence from internal turnover or even more independence from the digital agency that maintains the application for you. Losing an in-house engineer or changing digital agencies is no longer an insurmountable problem because the infrastructure and your Drupal site will continue to run smoothly. You will be able to take all the time you need to hire a new engineer or a new digital agency for the evolution of your site, and as you know, this kind of flexibility is priceless! 

Focus on the digital experience

Last but not least, Drupal PaaS allows you to focus on what you do best: offering an outstanding digital experience to your users to gradually transform them into loyal customers with the security that this experience will be sustainable, secure, available and above all, scalable in an increasingly competitive market where innovation is no longer a need, but a "sine qua non" condition to increase your revenue and ensure a high ROI of digital investments.

To be continued...

In a second part, we will discuss the pitfalls to avoid and the best practices to implement when we decide to host a Drupal site with a specialized PaaS. Don't want to miss the rest of this article? Subscribe now to our newsletter to be informed as soon as it is published.