GrantStation: using a cutting-edge cloud platform to help fund cutting-edge research

Challenge

To maximize the speed, performance, and reliability of a Drupal-based subscription database of grant opportunities and tutorials

Solution

Upgrading to a hosting solution that included improvements to server setup, software additions, and development and staging environments

Results
  • The ability to clone branches in order to seamlessly test functionality additions, improvements, and fixes—in a secure, safe manner—before pushing them live to customers
  • The flexibility to incorporate a variety of tools, such as Moodle to host on-demand courses
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Nonprofit research is the lifeblood of science. And grants are the lifeblood of nonprofit research. Government and industry fund millions of dollars in grants every year. The trick for researchers is to find, among the thousands of grant opportunities, the ones designated for their area of studies and the parameters of their projects.

GrantStation guides nonprofit organizations through the grantseeking process with a curated database of vetted funders and in-depth tutorials. The site’s deep customization and search capabilities let customers quickly sort through the many funding and educational opportunities at their disposal. To support these capabilities, GrantStation needs to maximize the speed, performance, and reliability of its server and software. For that, GrantStation relies on Platform.sh.

“Our developers have been able to work well with Platform.sh to meet a variety of challenges over the years,” says Cecily Borzillo, GrantStation’s director of site technology, “including improvements to our server setup and software additions. Using Platform.sh, we’ve been able to make use of development and staging environments to seamlessly test functionality additions, improvements, and fixes—in a secure, safe manner—before pushing them live to our customers.”

Modernizing to meet customer needs

Before migrating to Platform.sh, the GrantStation website resided on ASP and ASP.NET. The technical limitations of the hosting site handcuffed GrantStation in frustrating ways. “It had a lot of really outdated dynamic link libraries,” says Borzillo. “We couldn’t update the website, that’s how bad it was. We couldn’t add new products or change product prices or anything like that.”

Having such an obsolete hosting solution did offer one advantage, Borzillo jokes. “Our site was basically unhackable because the code was so ancient.”

Now powered by Platform.sh, the GrantStation site, which runs on Drupal, has the capacity and flexibility to offer up all its users ask for. “We’ve got everything on Platform right now,” says Borzillo. “For instance, we offer on-demand courses on topics such as successful grant writing, raising funds from local businesses, and building a grant strategy. All those courses are hosted on an instance of Moodle that we have on one of the environments at Platform.”

Using Platform.sh, we've been able to make use of development and staging environments to seamlessly test functionality additions, improvements, and fixes—in a secure, safe manner—before pushing them live to our customers.

Providing developers’ favorite features

Switching to Platform.sh opened up a whole new world of features for GrantStation. “We really like the ease with which we can spin off development environments from our master development environment,” says Borzillo, “to be able to just do development in various branches. And we love the version control features. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re developing, even if you test things thoroughly. To be able to pull back a commit at the last minute is just so handy.”

One new feature that Borzillo is eager to take for a spin is the “Metrics and Observability” tab that’s been added to the management console for production environments. From that tab, developers can see CPU, RAM, and disk usage across all their hosts. They can pull back to view their usage over the course of a day or zoom in to study individual measurements. And each metric comes with utilization thresholds that alert you to any potential problems.

“Any additional information that we can get is always useful, especially with regards to how our website is performing: threshold issues, peak times that people are reaching in our site, what the bandwidth looks like given the numbers of hits that we’re getting,” shares Borzillo. “Right now, our server performance is sort of a black box. More data around that will be very helpful.”

Platform.sh has done a really good job with technical support and customer service, at reaching out to us to find out what we need. That's made us feel like we're valued as customers, that we're not just another paying client.

Customer care keeps GrantStation coming back for more

As long as researchers need funds to fuel their projects, GrantStation will be there to help them find the perfect funding. And as long as GrantStation needs to provide high-octane performance, Platform.sh will be there to fuel its server and software. Knowing Platform.sh is always at their side keeps GrantStation signing back up.

“Platform.sh has done a really good job with technical support and customer service, at reaching out to us to find out what we need,” says Borzillo. “That’s made us feel like we’re valued as customers, that we’re not just another paying client. It’s kept us in love with being with Platform and goes a long way toward making us want to re-up when it’s time for a new contract.”