When Drupal began to outgrow its infrastructure in the summer of 2005, its developers appealed to the open source community for help. OSL offered to host the equipment, and students Eric Searcy and Narayan Newton were put on the case.
"We attacked the problem from two different angles," says Newton, who now works with Tag1 Consulting and is a member of the association that runs Drupal. Searcy, now a systems administrator at InsightsNow in Corvallis, dealt with the scaling of the Web side of Drupal while Newton worked with the database.
They planned several tiers of attack, starting with two load balancers that became proxies that sent requests to Drupal's servers. It was easy then to know which server was up or down and to add new nodes quickly. The load balancers cached Drupal's Web pages, which would deliver older pages without needlessly taxing the Web server.
Newton and Searcy also added more memory and a second powerful database server. "At that point things started to stabilize," says Searcy. "Drupal had a huge growth spurt during that period. Several times we solved things for a week. And then the demand would rise even higher to exceed the performance gains we'd made."
In order to balance the needs of the database and front end, Newton and Searcy would help each other troubleshoot. "We'd have to communicate to find out where the bottlenecks were," says Newton. "Sometimes, if the Web server was the bottleneck, the database server wasn't seeing lots of activity and would be fine. The minute the bottleneck was removed, you'd throw a lot onto the other person."
Both Searcy and Newton credit the Open Source Lab with providing them with real-world experience. "The opportunities on the systems administration side of the Lab for university students are unique," says Newton. "I can't name any other school that offers the same thing."