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Let's Brupal!

Apart from our local Drupal Open Days, DrupalCamp London is the Drupal event to which I’m looking forward the most every year. DrupalCamp London 2017 is coming up in the first week of March, I have everything booked and freistilbox will be sponsoring the party on Saturday night!

One of our core values at freistil IT is community. There are two aspects to this: first, our company as a community and second, being a member of the open source community in general and the Drupal community in particular. We think that giving back is an indispensable part of doing business in a community. So after the great party we had at DrupalCon Dublin, we thought that we should also make sure DrupalCamp London attendees will be having a great time outside of keynotes and sessions!

Speaking of which, the programme looks exciting! It covers a lot of interesting angles of using Drupal:

  • Site building
  • UX design
  • Coding and Development
  • Community and business
  • Symfony

The most awesome DrupalCamp London team also got together a great bunch of keynote speakers:

  • Matt Glaman, Commerce Guys
  • Jeffrey Jam McGuire, Acquia
  • Danese Cooper, Node.js Foundation

I’m also going to attend the CxO Day where there will be another impressive lineup:

  • Sarah Wood OBE
  • David Axmark
  • Benn Finn OBE
  • Barney Brown
  • Prof. Andrew Spicer
  • Paul Reeves

If you’re based in Europe and interested in Drupal, you really shouldn’t miss DrupalCamp London. Places are filling up quickly, so go ahead and register!

And hey, make sure not to miss the party on Saturday — we’d be very happy to see your drink on our tab!

'tis the season!

It’s Saint Nicholas day, time for an important announcement! As every year, we’ll be taking time off over the holidays to recharge our mental and emotional batteries. We’re going to close the virtual freistil office (which by the way just welcomed its newest member — hi Simon!) from Saturday, December 24th, to Sunday, January 8th.

While we won’t be available for regular support requests during that period, our on-call schedule guarantees that our hosting infrastructure won’t be running without adult supervision at any time. As usual, we’ll provide 24/7 emergency support for freistilbox clusters with an Enterprise SLA.

If you’re going to need help with a project from our web operations team before the end of the year, please get in touch soon so we can allocate some resources for you before we leave into the winter wonderland!

Announcing Weekly Maintenance

Managed hosting means that we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that freistilbox keeps running your websites in the most reliable fashion possible. Here are only a few examples:

  • make upgrades to hosting software components,
  • replace servers with more powerful hardware,
  • move around resources to balance capacity within our infrastructure,
  • change failed hardware components,
  • improve infrastructure automation,
  • etc. etc.

Today we’re announcing a weekly maintenance window for freistilbox. From now on, we’ll be doing regular maintenance tasks each Wednesday starting at 6am CET/CEST.

This maintenance window will have multiple benefits:

  • It makes planning our work easier.
  • It creates more transparency for you, our customer.
  • It reduces the number of changes that could affect your website’s uptime.

While standard operating procedures such as system restarts might cause short interruptions, we don’t expect significant downtime during this maintenance window. In the case that we’re planning changes which carry the risk of an outage, we’ll announce this a few days in advance on the freistilbox status page.

We will still continue to do maintenance work outside of this regularly scheduled maintenance time, especially for things that can’t wait such as urgent security upgrades.

By the way, you can now read up on all the important changes we’re making to our managed hosting platform on our newly introduced Changelog!

If you have any questions regarding our weekly maintenance window, don’t hesitate to contact us — we’re always happy to help.

DrupalCon on a shoestring budget

Last year’s announcement that DrupalCon would come right in front of our doorstep made it clear that a special marketing budget and a lot of preparation lay ahead of us. Sure enough, DrupalCon Dublin was quite a challenge for me as the only freistiler wearing a marketing hat. In this post, I’m going to tell you how I managed to create quite a buzz about freistilbox at minimal cost.

Jochen arriving at DrupalCon Dublin

Drupal Frugal

Like many bootstrapped companies, we don’t have a big marketing budget. How could we make the best of the most important Drupal conference in Europe without breaking the bank?

We’re also a tiny team. Putting our daily business on hold during a conference isn’t really an option because our daily business is taking great care of our customers.

Well, constraints are the mother of creativity!

Representin’

One of the best ways of keeping DrupalCon expenses low is to give a talk. (It’s also a great way of showcasing your expertise and giving back to the community.) I made the mistake of not putting enough effort into my talk proposals, so I didn’t get a session slot. (Building Resilience in IT Teams got added to the DevOps Summit, which unfortunately had to be canceled.) That left me with the option of a sponsorship that comes with a stand in the Exhibit Hall.

How does such a stand even work? Many times at expos and tradeshows over the last two decades, I witnessed how people would arrive at a vendor’s stand to be greeted by a well-dressed sales person who’d accompany them to a VIP area where they would discuss a common future. Well, for the reasons mentioned above, I couldn’t see us pull this off any time soon. But reading through the sponsorship prospectus for the third time, the Drupal Village plan caught my eye, offering us an affordable option to support the Drupal community and have a small presence for a single day. I decided to use DrupalCon Dublin for an experiment and got us a stand for Tuesday.

When the Irish Drupal Association approached us if we would sponsor their Welcome Party on Tuesday, I made a spontaneous decision to stretch our marketing budget a bit. It seemed like a win-win deal — more financial security for the Irish community team, more exposure for freistilbox.

Taking a stand

With regard to stand decoration, we already had a pop-up banner but I also wanted to have a digital display. With hundreds of servers at my fingertips every day, I never felt inclined to get my hands on a Raspberry Pi, so this was the perfect opportunity to try these tiny Linux machines. Add a cheap TV and a set of slides — project digital signage sorted!

The freistilbox stand at DrupalCon Dublin 2016

Thinking outside the conference

Compared to our competition, this was still less than par for the course. How could we create a bit of a buzz for freistilbox within all the noise? Remembering the fun I had throwing a party at the Drupal Developer Days in Szeged, I decided to give that another go. With the advantage of knowing the local pub scene, I reserved the top floor at JW Sweetman Craft Beer Brewery. I got free drink vouchers printed and started spreading the word. Keeping the venue a secret until right before the event also proved to be an effective tactic.

Having the craic at the freistilbox Happy Hour

What did we get out of it?

Up until this DrupalCon, I thought that having a stand only made sense for bigger companies. I could not have been more wrong. First of all, it was a great way to raise brand awareness for freistilbox. While growing our customer base mainly by word of mouth creates a lot of trust up front, it lets us reach only a fraction of our market. After DrupalCon, there are now a lot more people in the world who know of a great alternative for managed Drupal hosting. Dublin also was the perfect place for me to learn that exhibiting is just about having the craic — talking about whatever topic comes up.

Final tally:

  • I got to attend a great conference!
  • We had a stand!
  • We supported a party!
  • We threw our very own party!

And all this cost us about 3000€.

DrupalCon Dublin was an experiment and I enjoyed every single bit of it. The experience actually has shaped my decision to hop on my first transatlantic flight in April next year. Watch out, Baltimore!

Managed hosting for any demand

Dublin, 27 September 2016 — freistil IT Ltd is pleased to announce the launch of three new product tiers for freistilbox, their managed hosting platform for Drupal and WordPress websites. With these new tiers, the Dublin-based IT services company expands its high-performance web hosting options to cater to any size of website, from small business to global brand.

Same power, less complexity

For more than six years now, freistil IT provides specialised web hosting services with the purpose of helping web development shops focus on their core business. It was both internal and customer feedback that led freistil IT to launch a simplified product lineup at DrupalCon, the biggest conference for Drupal users in Europe.

While our previous ’T-shirt sizes’ met most common demands, we encountered edge cases where we previously haven’t quite been able to offer an economic solution., explains Jochen Lillich, founder and managing director of freistil IT. This was especially true at the ends of the spectrum where customers have either fairly low requirements or pretty high ones. Now, customers can simply select one of three base setups depending on the type of their projects.

Capacity on demand

The new middle tier of freistilbox is based on a distributed hosting infrastructure that allows for both scalability and high availability. Named freistilbox Pro, this product is optimised for web developers who manage multiple projects. It is similar to the previous product line but drops the S-to-XL levels in favour of simple capacity upgrades.

Lillich comments the reasoning behind this change frankly: I think that the T-shirt sizes created too much complexity on both sides, especially where customers used a ‘mix & match’ approach. We have users who grew their setup over time to something like 'L+L+M+S’; on the other hand, a few of our customers might not even know they could do that. With freistilbox Pro, all customers start from the same base setup and simply add things like storage capacity or request processing units on demand. And since redundancy is now built in by default, there’s no need anymore for doubling a plan just to make the setup more reliable.

Hosting at scale

A new high-end plan is geared towards business-critical websites with millions of visits per month. freistilbox Enterprise uses the same distributed software infrastructure as the Pro tier but runs it on dedicated physical servers and includes an enterprise-grade service level agreement.

A lot of high-traffic websites such as the Rolling Stone Magazine or Doctors Without Borders depend on freistilbox to deliver their content reliably to a huge audience, Lillich says. In order to meet their growing demands, we often built custom setups like '3x XL plus dedicated database cluster’. And still we encountered occasional performance bottlenecks. With freistilbox Enterprise, we eliminate the risk of resource contention by providing customers with a fully dedicated IT infrastructure on physical servers. As a side effect, this isolation also has positive effects on security.

Flat-rate billing

What distinguishes freistilbox from the competition is that both the Pro and Enterprise tiers are not billed per website or by number of incoming requests. Customers are free to set up as many websites as they like, at no additional cost. Lillich regards this approach as the most economic for both sides: We provide a managed hosting platform with a certain capacity. It’s completely up to the customer if they use their hosting power to run a single web application or if they share it between thirty websites.

New solution for small projects

With the previous hosting plans, this argument fell apart when a customer actually had only a single website to run. Due to the high entry price, some customers looking for a simple but powerful hosting solution found freistilbox appealing from a technological perspective but simply not affordable.

It may have taken us some time to respond to that particular demand but that’s exactly why we’re launching freistilbox Solo today, Lillich admits with a smile. This hosting plan offers customers similar technology as its siblings but is limited to a single production website and 3 staging environments for development. At a monthly fee of 49€, it is priced at less than half of the former entry-level plan.

DevOps instead of tickets

The hosting infrastructure for all three plans is purpose-built for Drupal and WordPress. Each plan comes with all the services required by high-performance web applications, for example a Varnish content cache, SSL encryption, an Elasticsearch indexing engine and a Redis database for storing internal application state. The whole system is fully configured and managed by the freistilbox operations team.

I don’t doubt that web developers have the skills to do their own hosting, states Lillich. But building amazing websites is hard when you spend your nights resolving server issues. Our managed hosting platform offers a better alternative: While we take care of all the operations aspects, our customers can work efficiently and sleep peacefully.

Modern DevOps practices are central to how the freistilbox team works with their customers. Keeping the dreaded support ticket only as a last resort, the freistilbox team prefers a casual chat with their customers via services like Slack and Intercom. I’m proud of how our distributed team culture reflects in our customer relationships, says Lillich. In modern IT we have left the dark ages behind us where development and operations worked in their separate silos and viewed the other as either an enemy of progress or a threat to uptime. We love to cooperate with our customers day by day, answering questions, resolving performance issues and recommending ways to get the most out of our hosting platform.

Starting today, freistilbox Solo is available at a monthly fee of 49€, freistilbox Pro starts at 159€ per month, and freistilbox Enterprise has an entry price of 1800€. For details see www.freistilbox.com.


About freistil IT

Founded in 2010, freistil IT delivers high-performance web hosting solutions for leading open-source content management systems Drupal and WordPress. With their product freistilbox, the Dublin-based company provides customers with a fully managed, scalable and reliable hosting platform. A distributed team of web ops experts guarantees that business-critical websites hosted on freistilbox operate at optimum performance and availability.

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