PHP, Cgiapp, and extensibility

At work this week, Rob was doing some monitoring of our bandwidth usage. We have SNMP on each of our servers now, and he uses MRTG to create bandwidth usage graphs that are updated every five minutes or so. He's been monitoring since late last year.

Before January, we had two systems going. The first, legacy, system hosted the majority of the content from garden.org, and was done using Tango 2000, a web application server that ran on top of IIS and Windows NT 4. I say 'ran', because Tango 2000 was the last version to ship; the company that made it stopped supporting it a year later. This meant we could not upgrade our server's OS to Windows 2000 or 2003, nor could we switch to a more secure web server, etc. It was a time bomb waiting to happen.

The second system is a basic LAMP system -- Linux + Apache + MySQL + PHP. Rob began migrating applications to it shortly after he started at NGA 3 years ago, one application at a time. Mostly, new applications were placed on it, though in May 2003, he and the other programmer who was there at the time started migrating old applications to the techology. Part of the reason I was hired was to continue this migration.

The migration was time consuming, and plenty of other projects often got in the way. However, starting last July, we made a big push to get it all ported over -- before the old WinNT server fails on us. In January, we were able to rollout the new garden.org, which runs on this new technology.

A big reason we were able to finish is because of Cgiapp. I originally ported it to PHP last year around this time, and knew that while I wanted to develop new applications using it, I wasn't so sure I could sell Rob on it.

Amazingly, it didn't take much to convince him. We had already started using Smarty for templates just before this, and were also using OOP in new development. Cgiapp just helped unify these technologies and to provide a nice, standard framework with which to program.

This last can not be emphasized enough. We started developing all applications in three places: an API for data access, a Cgiapp-based application, and our templates. Either one of us could pick up development of an application from the other without having to spend a day or two familiarizing ourselves with the idiosyncracies of what the other had decided was the programming paradigm of the day. Sure, we still have our own programming styles, but the framework makes it easy to debug or extend each others programs painlessly.

Now, back to the bandwidth reports: Rob has noticed that our bandwidth usage has been growing steadily on the new server since we switched garden.org over -- a 45 degree line. At one point this week, our outgoing bandwidth was almost 3 T1s -- and we were having no performance issues whatsoever. This simply would not have been possible on the old system -- nor without Cgiapp. We've managed to produce both a hardware architecture and a programming framework that has proved immensely scalable -- which will in turn save the organization money.

I love open source! How else can you create such high-performing software without paying through the nose for it?

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