I’ve had an interesting time lately, looking at SugarCRM for a potential customer. The project involves having an internal system for the sales team, and then a public system that needs to cope with tens or even hundreds of thousands of members. My initial thoughts were to make use of Salesforce.com for the internal side, and then wire that in to Drupal for the public-facing part. But in researching how to hook Salesforce into Drupal I came across Sugar.
Nowadays when I’m experimenting with anything to do with our server-side work, I simply fire up a new EC2 instance using RightScale, and then get to work on a RightScript that will eventually do all the installation and configuration for me. As I add things to the server, or change settings, I also add corresponding entries to the scripts to perform the same task when booting. Then, I periodically fire up a new instance from these scripts to see how well it’s all doing.
This is a great technique, for a number of reasons. One which is very useful in a busy work environment is that if you have to leave your experiments for a week in order to do something else, you can just shut down the EC2 instance you’re experimenting with, and then relaunch it again when you are ready. Thanks to the scripts you’ll be exactly where you were.
What’s more, the ‘knowledge’ that you accumulated during the creation of those scripts is captured in the scripts themselves, and to get back up to speed on what you were doing you need only look at your RightScripts–and the same goes for your colleagues.
For example, say you come across a blog post suggesting that better performance can be had from Sugar if some PHP setting is set to 7 instead of 6; if you change that in your configuration file in a live server the whys and wherefores of that decision will be hidden in some file, deep in some directory, where you’re unlikely to find it again. Commenting the change doesn’t help, since you need to know to look for it in the first place.
However, in RightScale, you make this change part of your boot script. And what’s more, instead of the boot script copying an entire initialisation file, you just get the script to modify the one setting that needs changing. That way, if you ever change the script so that it installs a newer version of Sugar, MySQL, PHP or whatever, you can still target that one setting.
Installing and configuring Sugar
The initial boot scripts worked fine, and in just a few hours I was able to create Sugar instances with ‘one click’, that:
retrieve and unpack the latest version of SugarCRM;
install PHP, including various components like email support;
alter various PHP settings, such as the amount of script memory to use;
install and secure MySQL;
schedule MySQL backups to S3;
update the DNS at DNS Made Easy.
But although this made things a lot easier, after playing with the functionality it quickly became obvious that the slow performance I was experiencing wasn’t going to go away.
And I nearly gave up on Sugar.
Luckily I decided to give it a bit longer, and started to delve into various options for PHP caching. I soon settled on eAccelerator, but I couldn’t find any way to get this onto the system, other than to actually build the modules (and I’m sure I’m not alone in preferring to use Yum when I can). But in the end I bit the bullet, since all I really had to do was to modify the RightScripts so that after installing and configuring Sugar, they pulled down the source for eAccelerator, compiled the code, and then hooked the module into Apache.
On launching a new Sugar server, things were much faster.
RightScripts and reuse
The key point here is that the time taken to create a fully working RightScript that can launch an instance of a Sugar server that is immediately ready to use, was about the same as running through the process of ‘build only’. But although each technique would have taken about the same time, creating scripts is by far the stronger option, since at the end of the process we have a means of creating as many Sugar servers as we like, any time we like.
We don’t know in advance which technologies will be best for our customers’ applications, what combination of technologies might be needed, and even how many servers will be required. But by taking the RightScript/EC2 approach to all of our server-side technologies, it means we can be as flexible, responsive, and experimental as we need to be.