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For the first time in our company history, freistilbox will be represented at a North-American DrupalCon! In only a few weeks, I’m going to board my flight to Baltimore. Not only will it be my first DrupalCon outside Europe, it’s actually my very first trip to the United States. I’m so excited!

Would you like a first-hand introduction to our managed web application platform and our “Hosting by Humans” strategy that ensures your Drupal hosting is a full success? Get in touch — there’ll be plenty of opportunity to grab a coffee (or a beer) and talk DevOps!

Speaking of DevOps: I’m proud that I’ve been invited to give a talk about Kontena, the Open Source Docker orchestration platform that allows us to easily and securely manage a huge number of interconnected containers. Kontena is so simple to set up that it’s the perfect tool for web development teams. Drop by room 310 on Tuesday at 12:00 and I’ll teach you how to set up a Drupal cluster on any infrastructure in less than 30 minutes!

Going to DrupalCon Baltimore, too? I’d love to hang out, so give me a shout!

geewiz

29 Mar 2017

When you look up our company’s core values in the freistil IT Runbook, you’ll find that “community” is one of them. That’s not only because we’d like to think our team is held together by more than just employment contracts. It’s also because with Open Source Software, we’re working in a space that teaches us the power of community every day.

Recognising the people who contribute to this community in an exemplary way and showing appreciation for their work is important. While there are more people who get payed to work on projects such as Drupal or WordPress than 10 years ago, the huge majority of Open Source contributors still invests their personal time and money in an altruistic fashion. And although a myriad of businesses use Open Source Software, only a few of them actually engage in the community that’s building it.

That’s why we at freistil IT think that the Splash Awards are a great idea. Let’s shine a light on people and businesses who help both the Drupal project and the Drupal community grow and improve! The Splash Awards started as a yearly event in the Netherlands and will be coming to Germany this week. At a great venue in Hamburg, the Drupal community will honour companies and individuals doing outstanding work in the following categories:

  • Social
  • Publishing/Media
  • Engagement
  • Architecture
  • Government
  • Education
  • Tools/Apps
  • Commerce

And on top of the awards in these categories, a deserving Drupal hero is going to be named “Drupalista of the Year”.

We’re more than happy to support the Splash Awards as a Gold Sponsor and I’m looking forward to presenting one of the awards myself!

And if you’d like to join the party, simply give us a shout — we have a few free tickets to give away!

geewiz

10 Mar 2017

They had a great run, but the day had to come where it would all end. Launched into this world four years apart, it’s now time for both of them to make way for the younger ones.

PHP 5.3.0 was released in 2009, PHP 5.5.0 in 2013. They’ve both outlived their official support by the PHP project for quite a while now. We were only able to operate PHP 5.3 for six years because it got a life extension in the form of the 5-year Long Term Support for Ubuntu 12.04. Now that this support is expiring, too, we’re going to replace all older freistilbox setups with our modern multi-version setup offering customers to choose between PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.0 on a per-application basis (PHP 7.1 is in the pipeline).

We’re going to upgrade all freistilbox applications still running on PHP 5.3 or PHP 5.5 to our new multi-version setup on Wednesday, 29th March 2017.

In order to make this change as smooth as possible, we’ve prepared upgrade paths that PHP 5.3 and PHP 5.5 users can take advantage of during the transition period we’re in now.

Switching from PHP 5.5

If your freistilbox cluster originally came with PHP 5.5, we’ve already upgraded it to our modern multi-version setup, adding the options of PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.0. You can now switch PHP versions for each application instance individually in the freistilbox Dashboard.

We recommend using our staging workflow to start upgrading from PHP 5.5 right away. If you haven’t done so already, just deploy a test instance for every production application you’d like to check, and use that test instance to fix all the issues the version switch might cause. Then, after you’ve made sure your application will behave, throw the switch for the production instance.

Switching from PHP 5.3

If your applications still run on PHP 5.3, you must have been a freistilbox customer for many years and we’re immensely grateful for your loyalty!

Since our old PHP 5.3 setup unfortunately does not allow us to run other versions in parallel, things get just a bit more complicated here.

The recommended staging workflow approach is the same as described above for PHP 5.5. The difference is that the PHP versions you assign to your testing instances on the freistilbox Dashboard won’t have any effect on your production servers. That’s why we’re temporarily adding a separate test box that runs your applications already on our multi-version setup. During the transition period, we’ll provide you with one test box per cluster free of charge. Should you need your transition period extended, please get in touch with our web ops team.

This test box isn’t part of your normal hosting setup and doesn’t get requests from website visitors. To see the effects of your version changes, you’ll have to talk directly to this specific test box. We recommend using one of the following two approaches.

Temporary modification of your local hosts file

Open your /etc/hosts file in an editor and enter the IP address of the test box with the domain names you’ve assigned to your test instances:

4.3.2.1 test.example1.com test.example2.com

Alternatively, you can enter a single row per domain:

4.3.2.1 test.example1.com
4.3.2.1 test.example2.com

When you now visit test.example1.com in your browser, your web requests will always go to the test box instead of your production cluster. (So don’t forget to remove these entries after testing!)

Using a browser plugin

With the help of a browser plugin that allows you to send HTTP requests with specific headers, you can talk directly to the test box, e.g. http://4.3.2.1/. You then use a plugin such as ModHeader for Chrome or Modify Headers for Firefox to make the Hosts header indicate the actual application you’d like to access. For example, Host: test.example1.com.

After the transition period

After we’ve upgraded all freistilbox clusters to our modern multi-version setup, customers will be able to switch between PHP versions anytime they like, for example to take advantage of the improvements coming up with PHP 7.1.

geewiz

24 Feb 2017

A newer Solr version than 3.x has been a frequent feature request for quite a while now. Now that we’ve regained our grip on project management (a story I’m going to share in a later blog post), we’ve shipped support for Solr 4 on freistilbox. (Attentive freistilbox users might already have spotted it in our Changelog.)

We’re running Solr 4 on brand new servers with high-powered CPU’s and SSD storage, so you’re going to enjoy maximum content search performance.

If you’d like to take advantage of the search improvements Solr 4 brings for your Drupal or WordPress website, you can simply request a new, fully managed Solr index via the freistilbox Dashboard. We can’t transfer data that has been previously stored in Solr 3, so switching to Solr 4 will require a reindex.

While this is only an incremental improvement, we’re excited to be back on top of our game again and already working on the next couple of features (of which Solr 6 support is one).

geewiz

15 Feb 2017

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!

geewiz

13 Feb 2017

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!

geewiz

06 Dec 2016

“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.

geewiz

25 Oct 2016

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!

geewiz

20 Oct 2016

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