With Platform.sh, the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung is ready for any headline
When construction workers in Hildesheim found a British aircraft bomb back in August 2014, the entire inner city was evacuated within a few hours in a large scale operation unlike any that had ever been seen before. One that led to 20,000 people having to leave their homes, workplaces, and businesses to seek safety as it was unknown whether the bomb was equipped with a long-term detonator and required a controlled detonation, or not.
This day remains unforgettable for the people of Hildesheim and for their local daily newspaper, the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung, too. The Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung was regarded as the most reliable source of information for all Hildesheim residents and on the days following the bomb discovery, they turned to it to find out what would happen next with the evacuation and bomb detonation. And while the newspaper was diligently updating the news to inform residents, a problem emerged - their website was completely overwhelmed by the increased number of visitors, and crashed.
"We were standing with our backs to the wall and couldn't do anything," recalls the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung's Head of IT, Alexander Loss.
Four years later, Storm Chiara sweeps across Germany and hits Lower Saxony. Due to the storm, many roads and railroads were blocked alongside trees crashing on homes and cars which required fire departments to be deployed to numerous locations across the region. Once again, thousands of residents are affected and turned to the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung website for information and guidance. But this time the website remained fully operational and all visitors were able to access it without a hitch.
"Generally speaking, the number of visitors to our website is relatively foreseeable, but as a newspaper we are always having to deal with adhoc situations that then result in lots of traffic," says Loss with regard to the emergency situations. "At the time we did already have Fastly, but no high-performance platform beneath it. A website just can't keep up when there are thousands of visitors at the same time, and that's definitely what I noticed about our server when we were still doing the hosting ourselves. But now, with Storm Ciara, we didn't have any problems. Everything worked wonderfully, as it should," says Loss.
So the question is, how did they do it?
Platform.sh is the "all-round carefree package"
The Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung was founded in 1705 and is Germany's oldest daily newspaper that is still in circulation. And to tackle the issues they had been facing with their current website management, Loss was searching for a new reliable and efficient hosting provider which would be able to deal with all types of web traffic issues in the future. As up until that point, Loss had hosted on their website on the company's own server, which gradually became more cumbersome.
"We only have a small IT team and I have more or less taken care of this area by myself. It was very time-consuming and stressful," he says. "Everything eventually became a thick cluster that I had built myself in order to be able to absorb the burden should there once again be too many visitors trying to access the website. In terms of technology, it had gotten to be quite advanced, but then it got to be so big that you couldn't adequately deal with anything at all.”
Since 2014, Loss has been working with Tim Lochmüller from the tech agency HDNET. Shortly after the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung experienced the website disruption due to the bomb find, Loss came across a blog article by Lochmüller about high-performance websites and contacted him in order to get advice on the performance of his own website. HDNET then began to oversee the website and recommended Platform.sh for the site relaunch.
"Though we do have two in-house specialists for AWS and AZURE, Platform.sh was the first choice for the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung," says HDNET developer Lochmüller. "It was the best solution and an inexpensive alternative, as Fastly, which the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung was already using, comes with the Enterprise package.
"The alternative would have been to host through Amazon, Microsoft or Google. But as a provider that supplies everything as an 'all-round carefree package' from one source, Platform.sh was the clear choice in this situation. And everything turned out to be a wonderful fit.”
Optimal infrastructure, no matter how many entities
The Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung used Platform.sh for the complete redesign of its website. Both Loss and Lochmüller were quickly won over by Platform.sh's efficient CLI tool and praised its user-friendliness and easy access to all infrastructure components via the console. And they’re now happy to be able to sit back and relax when it comes to infrastructure management.
"The console's performance is unrivaled. You can solve everything if you know the right commands, and the versioning is awesome from start to finish," says Loss. "The backups are great - everything is reversible. Everything just makes sense and I don't want to have it any other way.”
Beyond the website, which was built with TYPO3, Loss manages other Wordpress entities that he would like to migrate to Platform.sh. His goal is to do away with using the company's own hardware and instead give up his responsibilities as system administrator so that he can fully focus on developing features. And Lochmüller agrees: “For me as a developer, a good infrastructure stands out when I notice it as little as possible and it's easy for me to interact with it. This is exactly the case with Platform.sh.”
Easy to get started with thanks to workflow integration and reliable customer support
Platform.sh was able to be quickly and smoothly incorporated into the developer workflow after a quick installation of the Platform.sh integration in Bitbucket. However, even if there were any questions or issues, the Platform.sh Team offers 24/7 global support for all customers.
“In terms of technology, everything worked very well," says Lochmüller. "We were always able to reach someone with Platform.sh and we received an answer within just a few minutes if there was a question. The Slack channel in particular was great for onboarding."
“Everything has been running really smoothly, and with Jonas, Solutions Architect at Platform.sh, we had an excellent contact person for technical concerns who quickly addressed our issues in a way that's hard to beat” adds Loss.
Increasing deployments, decreasing costs
With Platform.sh, the developers for the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung can now quickly and easily update the development environment via command line. "Keeping the local system in sync with the master system was previously very demanding. Now it takes just a few minutes and we save quite a lot of time," says Lochmüller.
And with regard to testing new features, developers now use the production environment's fast cloning instead of testing manually, which is very time-consuming. "For us, the topic of the test system was always associated with a lot of manual labor," explains Loss. "Today we press a button and you get a snapshot of the entire system, and you can test it and develop it. It's simply great."
In addition, Loss says that the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung saves not only time through the use of Platform.sh, but money as well. "Platform.sh is more budget friendly than what we were previously operating ourselves," he says. “For us it is one-third less expensive.”
Strong interest in COVID-19 reporting
Since the outbreak of COVID, many news websites have to be able to deal with growing visitor numbers and provide the general public with news about the actual situation 24/7. While some newspapers haven't been able to adequately cope with the new visitor numbers, the Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung has had no issues with providing its readers with around-the-clock news. According to Loss, website visits have doubled during the COVID crisis, which has amounted to 3 million visitors and 6 million page views.
"The people of HIldesheim inform themselves around the clock about new developments, guidelines, and behavior patterns," says Loss. "And the website functions smoothly, without any issues."
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