Hosting a Drupal website deserves the same amount of attention as its development, but often does not receive it

14 June 2021


A poor hosting set-up will throw a spanner in the works, even if the development of your website went smoothly. What we see is that a lot of attention is given to development, while hosting is treated as a side issue. In addition, the hosting configuration is often done by a developer, even though these are clearly two different areas of expertise. Focusing on an optimal hosting strategy delivers better integration, a more efficient website, and better cost efficiency. Is the hosting of your website in good shape?

Spend some time on your hosting if you recognize these indications

There are many clues to a less than perfect hosting situation if you can see the link between cause and effect. Slow servers, for example, can create a slow website. Are your storage costs steadily increasing? This may be due to a badly configured search engine on your website. If the search database is not regularly cleaned up, it will become larger and larger. You will therefore need more and more space for this (useless) data. The security of your website also depends to a large extent on the hosting configuration. The underlying software must be updated regularly to provide the best protection. One last example of a possible clue: a hosting pipeline that is not in good shape will result in slow delivery. This can manifest itself in the form of a website that goes down for half an hour during a release.

How a Drupal website is hosted

Drupal hosting can be separated into 3 layers:

  • Entry point: the gateway
  • Processing layer: the actual Drupal code that is being run
  • Data layer: storage of any form of data such as images, text, sessions, etc.

The main function of the gateway is to serve as a conduit. It processes requests and forwards them to Drupal. This layer also provides extra security against potential hackers. The two most common technologies for Drupal here are NGINX and Apache HTTPD, with the latter being officially supported.

The processing layer contains PHP. This is the language in which Drupal, Magento and many other software packages are written. Previously, this was installed as an extension within the web server. Today it is run as a separate process, known as PHP-FMP.

The data layer, in turn, takes care of data storage. Often this is a combination of database technology and a file server. The most common and recommended technologies are MySQL and MariaDB. The file server can be the local file system, or even a cloud storage service such as AWS S3.

Good Drupal hosting strategies

It's important to know is that you can host Drupal on any platform.

Barebone web server

This is the traditional way. It usually involves a virtual machine, or even a physical server. The web server, processing layer, and often also the data layer all run on the same instance. A Drupal developer will often work locally with a similar solution, using tools such as XAMPP or WAMP. But hosting Drupal for development is completely different from setting up a robust hosting platform.

To cope with peak loads, heavyweight services that can run 24/7 are often implemented here, and that costs money. All for that one peak, which may never happen. Want to know how much this costs you? Simply look at the average load percentages. Most web servers of this type never exceed 10%, unless you have active visitors 24/7 and a very popular website.

Decoupled web server

Like DXP systems, web server configurations can also be decoupled. This allows changes to be made to the presentation and the functionality without affecting the content of the site.

Hosting the three layers on separate instances allows for much more precise scaling. Does your Drupal system need a lot of memory? Then it only needs to be added to the PHP-FHM server. Handling peak loads is also easier. With a correctly configured Drupal cache layer, only the gateway needs to have enough capacity for a mass of visitors. However, your instances are still running 24/7, as before. Do you leave the light on at night?

Decoupled cloud services

Many companies are already using the cloud these days. Hosting your Drupal website in the cloud also brings many benefits. This automatically reduces maintenance and support costs, since you piggy-back on the cloud services.

The difference between decoupled web servers and decoupled cloud services is very small in design terms, but the cloud offers a number of additional benefits. For example, most cloud providers offer autoscaling services. This means that a smaller server will automatically be selected if there are a low number of visits, resulting in lower costs. Peak loads are automatically handled, but you only pay for the higher consumption during these peaks. Setting this up correctly is something best done by a cloud specialist.

Does some of this sound sadly familiar? Take back control with our Drupal Check-Up

An analysis of your current website, tailored to your current needs or wishes. We have developed a list of options you can select from, based on the three pillars for getting the most out of Drupal (resilience, hosting and UX).

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