A Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) developer has credited third-party web hosting for the department's ability to develop and support six new websites in six months.
The department previously built and hosted SharePoint websites — including the high-profile MySchool — in its own data centres but has begun building new, Drupal sites on external infrastructure.
DEEWR senior web developer Dan Nitsche told a Drupal conference this morning that third-party "cloud" providers tended to be more accountable, responsive, affordable and flexible than internal IT.
He explained that if internal IT did not perform to his expectations, he would not have sufficient leverage with the various layers of management to get priority.
By contrast, external providers were contractually bound by service level agreements, with financial implications should the provider fail to meet performance expectations.
Nitsche suggested that external web hosts were also more cost-effective than internal options, arguing that internal costs were inhibitive and led to lock-in.
“If we do go internal, we have to find staff to manage the infrastructure, we have to purchase software, infrastructure, there's got to be processes set up," he said.
"There’s a whole big deal about putting money. Once, you have done it, you are locked in to go internally.”
Nitsche told the conference that external providers offered flexibility and less bureaucracy, highlighting the paperwork involved in having a developer log in and manage in-house infrastructure from home.
He suggested that external providers would be less strict in that regard, and would “bend over backwards” to accommodate reasonable requests.
“We can get rid of them if necessary,” Nitsche added, noting that DEEWR had switched from an unsatisfactory, unnamed host in a matter of two to three weeks.
“We set up a bunch of VMs [virtual machines], switched our data over and said goodbye to the other one. We did not have an extensive contract with them."
Full stack of skills
Nitsche is part of a web team that sits in DEEWR's Communication & Parliamentary group.
The group is overseen by DEEWR’s deputy secretary, Michael Manthorpe, who also has oversight of the department's Technology Solutions group.
Nitsche is an advocate of developers having a broad skill set that cuts across the web technology stack.
“It’s a really important part of being able to do more with less,” he said.
“So if there is a sysadmin issue, and the dedicated sysadmin is not available, we have several other people that can jump in and do it.”
Use of the open source content management system, Drupal, at the department had grown primarly because it allowed shorter development cycles for new websites than other tools, such as SharePoint.
Where the department had deployed six websites in six months using Drupal, "with SharePoint we would have been lucky to get one or two out," Nitsche said.
Nitsche favoured Drupal over other open source CMS tools - such as the locally-developed Squiz - because the former had "extensive and varied" vendor and community support and resources.
"There is a large and diverse Drupal community," he said, noting that the community around tools such as Squiz was much smaller.
However, Squiz claims to be already in use by half of Australian Federal Government agencies.