PaaS and Support: The best of both worlds

Code Enigma senior developer, James Panton, caught up with Aaron Porter from #AberdeenCloud at Drupal Dev Days 2014 in Szeged, to talk about life, the cloud and everything

Photo of Greg Harvey
Wed, 2014-04-02 18:01By greg

Original image by Tamás Szügyi

It’s that time of the year again, the European Drupal Dev Days event is in full swing, this time in Szeged, Hungary. Szeged has an eternal place in the hearts of die-hard Drupal developers across Europe, thanks to what is widely considered to be the best DrupalCon yet, DrupalCon Szeged in 2008. In many ways, Dev Days is what DrupalCon once was, a smaller, cosier, more developer-led event. And it attracts a wonderful crowd of dedicated developers and their respective companies with one goal in mind - a better Drupal.

Our senior developers, Dan Smith and James Panton, went along this year. In fact, we believe CCTV footage will likely reveal they both fairly skipped to the airport, both having attended in 2008 and dying to return to what they collectively consider to be the spiritual home of Drupal. And, happily for us, James managed to grab a little time out of his busy schedule of code sprints, BoF sessions (Birds of a Feather, essentially special interest discussion groups) and lectures to speak to Aaron, the chief tub-thumper and ever-present Drupal event chaser at #AberdeenCloud, our partner company for providing Platform as a Service (PaaS) hosting solutions for Drupal.

In our first podcast ever, Aaron explains more about #AberdeenCloud and how their partnership with Code Enigma offers a real alternative for Enterprise Drupal customers.

Hello! Welcome to the Code Enigma podcast, our very first one, and our very first guest is Aaron Porter from #AberdeenCloud.

Hello James, thanks for letting me be the first person that you speak to on your Code Enigma podcast.

You're very welcome, it's lovely to have you here - and "here" is Szeged. We're here for Drupal Dev Days, and what have you been up to?

I have been here in Szeged, volunteering to just try and help out with this great event. I've been selling T-shirts, running around rooms, making sure people had extension cords, trying to keep the coders fully caffeinated, and tonight I've arranged for a nice little party of 100+ developers to go out in the city of Szeged.

There's pluses and minuses with that. We might not get so much work done tomorrow.

Indeed, you might have a very solid point there, but tomorrow's also going to be the sixth day in a row for a lot of these guys and I think it's really important for them to blow off some steam together. All work and no play doesn't lead to good coding anyway.

Well thank you for your important role as chief nerd-herder!

[laughs] I like that title.

We're looking forward to the party tonight. So, you go to a lot of Drupal events, are there any you haven't been to in the last year?

Well I haven't been to many in the States, but in Europe I definitely make the rounds. I miss a few of the one-offs here and there, but most of them - yeh, I'm definitely around!

So you go to these events and you help out, and that's really appreciated, we all need looking after while we're working at sprints. But you also want to let people know about #AberdeenCloud, so why don't you do some of that here? What is #AberdeenCloud and why is it a great place to host a Drupal website?

Great, yes, thanks. I would love to talk about #AberdeenCloud, in fact it's one of my favourite topics. [laughs]

#AberdeenCloud, we are a Drupal specialist hosting and development platform. So I think it's a really great piece of technology for developers, because quite simply it allows developers to develop. They don't have to waste a bunch of time setting up complex architecture, when they're not even necessarily sure it'll work and do what it needs to do when it's done, they can cut all of that out. No more losing time with broken workflows, or setting up different environments, or waking up in the middle of the night because a server is down. With #AberdeenCloud a developer can literally sign up for a free account and, within just a few minutes, they can have several billion dollars, that's billion with a B, dollars-worth of computing equipment available to them to build whatever they want, so they can literally be using the same equipment that several multi-million dollar companies globally are currently using.

This is what we devs need, because we devs don't want to be doing this, we don't really know what we're doing, and to have that all done for us is ideal.

Yes, just sign up and start Drupaling!

Now you can get a free development account, is that how it works?

Yes, we offer all of our development tools for free for developers, that's one of the ways we've actually driven the platform forward. A lot of the innovation and the stuff that we've worked on has come directly from customer feedback. It's added a tremendous amount of functionality that we've been able to offer.

So what you offer, PaaS for Drupal, if we Googled that you wouldn't be the only company that comes up. There'd also be Acquia and Pantheon, why would we jump past them and go to you?

That's a good question, it is about key differentiators in the end. I'd say let's clarify what some of those are. Acquia, it's a different game with them, they are a Drupal services company, they provide all kinds of Enterprise services and products to end clients and they're successfully employing a massive sales machine to drive the Drupal market forward, which is something that benefits everybody. We don't do any of that, we don't have the capacity to drive the market forward like that, but the advantage to us by not being that big is it allows us to position ourselves in a way that we can provide a higher value proposition for our partners. We're essentially seeking to complete two goals in this market. We want to create the tools that make a developer's life easier and we want to help shop owners increase their bottom line.

Now when you get to the difference between us and Pantheon, it's a different story. First off I'd say if you're a European company and you're [reading] this, I think it's important for them because they can get support in real time with us. We're located in Helsinki, Finland, so you can wait a day for your support ticket to be answered or most of the time with us you can get it answered within 15 minutes. So that's kind of a big deal for local companies especially.

In terms of technology, we have some different technology offerings. We have our command line that we released almost a year ago so we were very early to market with that. We also have a true high availability system available, which means we don't just offer our pipelines, the actual PHP workers, we don't just put them in a high availability configuration, we actually have the technology to do self-replicating databases and they can also be geographically distributed. Not everybody has been able to come up with that technology yet, so I think it you were to do a one-to-one comparison, it's pretty easy to see we pack a lot more into our stack, and on top of that we throw in the free offering for developers and we love to offer the free hosting for Drupal community events.

Excellent, we always appreciate that. That sounds really interesting, one particular thing I'd jump on is we're based in Europe as well, we work with lots of organisations who need European servers and they can't be hosted elsewhere, for whatever legal reason, so that's been an important differentiator for us.

Sure, and I mean obviously if we were to go through the technology piece by piece, there'd be hundreds of differences, including what the underlying infrastructure is, but it's that, in a nutshell, to keep things simple.

Now, here at Code Enigma we've been #AberdeenCloud partners for almost a year, so what's the benefit to a #AberdeenCloud customer if they take your services via us rather than going to you direct? How does that whole partnership thing work?

With you guys it's a great example because that sort of exemplifies our overall business model. I'd say your customers are who we're talking about here, because your customers are not our customers, you guys are our partners. So I would say your customers, they get the best of both worlds, right? They've got Code Enigma for all their Drupal work and support, and they've got #AberdeenCloud for their tech stack, and between the two of us I believe we can provide more value to our clients. And I think that we're both small enough in size that we're actually able to maintain closer relationships with the companies we work with, and I think that's a pretty good advantage for us.

Yes, I think we've enjoyed the close relationship between Code Enigma and #AberdeenCloud, because it's been great to have feedback about the developer tools, you've been about to react quickly and make changes, and it's been great for us that way.

Thanks! I'll feed that on to the engineers.

So talking about those things, we've been doing quite a lot of tight-control workflows for Enterprise clients, and that all hinges on the command line client that you mentioned. Is there a roadmap though for a more classic public API?

Yes, the next major release that will be available is a public API, and that's coming very very soon. That's going to allow you to add tons more functionality and it'll be functionality specific to what you guys tie in to the API, as opposed to what we provide.

Cool, that's something to look forward to, what's it looking like for 2014? I know we've got one Enterprise account coming online soon, I'm sure we're not the only ones.

No, 2014 has started off really strongly for us, especially in the last couple of weeks, we've won some pretty big projects and some of those were with the help of Code Enigma, so thank you guys. But you're definitely not alone, it seems that the word is really starting to spread that there is a very strong, viable alternative for European Drupal agencies that need an Enterprise-ready technology partner that's not going to bust their budget.

And that's what it's about, partnership, isn't it? You don't really shout about the end customers as such do you?

Not at all.

Because, the way you see it, partnerships are what's important to your business?

Indeed, as I mentioned before, the partnership with Code Enigma really exemplifies our business model. Our goal is to be working with digital agencies and as a company standpoint we don't really think that showcasing your work on our system is... Well, it seems like a bit of name-dropping and I understand that it is a marketing tool and it certainly lends credibility when people see, you know, X Y Z company is hosting on your stack, but again, those clients aren't our clients. Code Enigma is our client. So we do have a reseller page where our partners are all listed and those are the people we're here to serve, those are the people we're working with, so when people say "who's running on #AberdeenCloud?" we say, "well, Code Enigma's on #AberdeenCloud." I don't know about your clients and who you guys are working with, but they can contact you guys and ask.

Now you started work on the tools back in 2012, am I right?

That's correct.

You've been live for about a year or so, how's your growing been, because you've obviously grown a lot in a short space of time. Has that been painful? Have you had growing pains?

Indeed, we are a start-up company and sure, there have been a certain amount of growing pains with that company, but with organic growth, I don't know ... we don't have big financial backers dictating the direction of the company, so I think growing organically, there might be some risk-aversion in our approach, but in our position - not having to answer to other people - it's one of the risks that we can take, to grow slow and grow at the right rate for the company.

And, talking about growing, you're always working on new stuff. Anything upcoming we should keep an eye on?

I really think that the public API is going to be a big deal, as I said earlier, you guys and other developers are going to be able to tie in other services to our system and not just be dependent on the tools we're providing, so I can envisage that's going to add a tremendous amount of functionality for developers out of the box. Besides that, I would say the best thing is to sign up to our newsletter and keep up to date on all the cool stuff we're making.

Where do we sign up?!

Thanks Aaron, one last question - where's my #AberdeenCloud T-shirt?

[laughs] It's in mail.


Code Enigma are Drupal support partners with #AberdeenCloud. If you want to find out how you can combine our consultancy and support with the #AberdeenCloud PaaS solution for Drupal, give us a call.