Smithsonian Design Museum

"This Platform as a Service (PaaS) is designed to allow people like myself to easily develop and deploy
PHP based web apps in the Cloud."

Smithsonian on AppFog

Moving to the Fog

When people have asked me where we host our website, I have usually replied with “it’s complicated.”

Last week we made some serious changes to our web infrastructure. Up until now we have been running most of our web properties on servers we have managed ourselves at Rackspace. These have included dedicated physical servers as well as a few cloud based instances. We also have a couple of instances running on Amazon EC2, as well as a few properties running at the Smithsonian Mothership in Washington DC.

For a long time, I had been looking for a more seamless and easier to manage solution. This was partially achieved when I moved the main site from our old dedicated server to a cloud-based set of instances behind a Rackspace load balancer. It seemed to perform pretty well, but still I was mostly responsible for it on my own.

Eventually I discovered a service built on top of Amazon EC2 known as PHP Fog. This Platform as a Service (PaaS) is designed to allow people like myself to easily develop and deploy PHP based web apps in the Cloud. Essentially, what PHP Fog does is set up an EC2 instance, configured and optimized by their own design. This is placed behind their own set of load balancers, Varnish Cache servers and other goodies, and connected up with an Amazon RDS MySQL server. They also give you a hosted Git repository, and in fact, Git becomes your only connection to the file system. At first this seemed very un-orthrodox. No SSH, no FTP, nothing… just Git and PHPMyAdmin to deal with the database. However, I spent a good deal of time experimenting with PHP Fog and after a while I found the workflow to be really simple and easy to manage. Deployment is as easy as doing a Git Push, and the whole thing worked in a similar fashion to Heroku.com, the popular Ruby on Rails PaaS.

What’s more is that PHP Fog, being built on EC2 was fairly extensible. If I wanted to, I could easily add an ElastiCache server, or my own dedicated RDS server. Basically, through setting up security groups which allow communication to PHP Fog’s instances, I am able to connect to just about anything that Amazon AWS has to offer.

I continued to experiment with PHP Fog and found some additional highlights. Each paid account comes with a free NewRelic monitoring account. NewRelic is really great as it offers a much more comprehensive monitoring system than many of the typical server alerting and monitoring apps available today. You can really get a nice picture of where the different bottlenecks are happening on your app, and what the real “end user” experience is like. In short, NewRelic was the icing on the cake.

So, last week, we made the switch and are now running our main  cooperhewitt.org site on “The Fog.” We have also been running this blog on the same instance. In fact, if you are really interested, you can check out our NewRelic stats for the last three hours in the “Performance menu tab!” It took a little tweaking to get our NewRelic alerts properly configured, but they seem to be working pretty seamlessly now.

Ed. Note: This post was originally published on the Cooper-Hewitt Labs Blog and is reproduced here with permission. Many thanks to Micah and our friends at Cooper-Hewitt for sharing their story with us.