Youâ€™d think that applications like Drupal and WordPress would be as easy to deploy as they are to use. After all, these two are the two leading open source content management systems used for business websites. WordPress in particular powers many millions of blogs around the world and itâ€™s an eminently usable solution. Between the two of them, these solutions power over 50% of business CMS websites globally today. So youâ€™d think actually setting it up would be to, right?
Youâ€™d also think that running applications on top of cloud infrastructure should be pretty easy these days, right? With all these automation platforms and more and more of the technical nitty gritty being abstracted away from application owners, it should just work, right?
Well, if you believe Pantheonâ€™s story, the reality is very different. Pantheon, founded in 2010, is a website hosting platform. Essentially developers and designers use Pantheon to do all the heavy lifting involved in the specifics of hosting WordPress and Drupal. And it seems to be working, since its launch, Pantheon has amassed some 65,000 websites with some doing over 100 million page views per day â€“ the value prop for those website owners is that Pantheon relieves their internal staff of the duties related to setting up, maintaining and scaling the underlying infrastructure upon which their websites run.
In terms of how it works, Pantheon is a multi-tenant, container-based cloud platform that enables website teams to build, launch, and run all of their websites from a single dashboard. Scaling, collaboration, security and new-feature deployment are all handled by the platform.Â In some ways Iâ€™m conceptually troubled by the rise of this class of hosting vendors, for a couple of different reasons:
- My own website recently had a lengthy outage the causes of which were not initially obvious. The problem with layering complex solutions on top of infrastructure from another vendor is that there is little clarity about who is responsible for different parts of the solution. Arguably its far better to either sit a website on top of raw infrastructure or to obtain website hosting and infrastructure services from one vendor. In creating ever more complex â€œsupra-platformsâ€, these companies run the risk, counter-intuitively, of introducing more potential failure points and reducing the amount of transparency that customer have
- At an even more basic level, should it really require a third party to run these solutions, which are touted as being easy and quick? Why doesnâ€™t WordPress and Drupal make the scaling, security and related parts of the infrastructure upon which it sits a part of their own platforms?
On another level, this is a super-exciting story. It shows the value containers generally, and Docker specifically, brings to a real world use case. It also shows how third parties can protect application owners from lots of heavy lifting. I spent time talking with Pantheon CEO Zack Rosen this week and got a lot more clarity on what the company is doing and just whyÂ Scale Venture Partners and OpenView Venture Partners have dropped $21.5M on their Series B funding round.
Rosen explained to me that the competition (and there are almost as many providers offering WordPress or Drupal hosting as there are WordPress or Drupal sites) invariably fall into two categories. The cheap and cheerful vendors use shared hosting, a great way to fit lots of customers on limited infrastructure but unfortunately also an awesome way to ensure that a problem within one customers site affects all customers. At the other end of the continuum are the vendors offering dedicated hosting, a robust and reliable option but one which is very expensive and complex. Pantheonâ€™s model then is to take the advantages that containerization brings, and deliver specialist WordPress and Drupal hosting on top of a container-based platform. The specific benefits that containerization (as opposed to virtualization) brings include:
- Fast provisioning
- High availability
- Smooth scaling
- Machine-precision consistency
- Better performance:
For more details on Pantheonâ€™s choice of a container versus virtualization approach, see this excellent blog post.
I started off being skeptical about Pantheon, but having spent time with Rosen, am pretty bullish on what they do. Having been well and truly burned by a WordPress hosting service that didnâ€™t live up to expectations, Iâ€™m all to aware that the company will be judged on its performance. Rosen assured me that their platform gives real certainty about High Availability (HA) and Disaster Recovery (DR) and that customer uptime has been historically excellent.
So long as those metrics remain constant, Pantheon is likely to continue to deliver a compelling message to customers, and will no-doubt prosper as a vendor in the process.