Open Source Software At The Register
GBdirect develop software solutions for The Register website using a wide range of open source software.
The bulk of that software, including the Perl which builds the site, comes free with most open source operating systems.
The Register's Intel-based admin servers and web servers actually run on a version Red Hat's GNU/Linux distribution, but their applications should run pretty-much as well on any implementation of Unix.
That's because, like all open source software, the critical benefits of deploying Linux owe little to the brand and everything to the system's openness
The practical benefits have included:
- Predictability - Applications behave as expected, because they stick to publicly documented standards
- Interoperability - Applications and systems co-operate seamlessly, exchanging data and instructions via simple and fully documented interfaces
- Seamless Remote Control - Our developers did not actually see the machines they were writing software for, until almost a year after they started managing those machines
- Awesome Stability - What damage can a fault-intollerant script do?
- Failover - If a web or admin server were to fall over, another would take up the slack
- Load balancing - Software runs on web servers working in parallel
- No Licences - No fees and no licence management costs
- Piecemeal upgradablity - Add the latest stuff where needed, keep the old faithfuls when not
- Scaleability - Add or upgrade machines/processors without upgrading software
- Automation - Mailing Reg newsletters or syndicating stories without human intervention
- Replication - Software tested on an under-powered clone in Yorkshire works identically on the London-based site
- Security - Unix-like, easily and quickly applied patches in response to alerts
The Register's systems were originally designed and installed by a company which no longer trades.
GBdirect were, nevertheless, able to take over and extend the site's capabilities without access to documentation or transitional support, e.g. a lot of archeology went into finding out where different parts of the system were actually located and then into deciphering how those parts worked.
We would like to think that our success in managing a seamless transition was all down to our own highly developed software skills, but little would have been possible had our predecessors not implemented the site in open source software. We simply could not have interogated or modified a closed (proprietary) system to the extent that was necessary.
The need to read and modify source code was, for example, an absolute pre-requisite for fixing some pretty creaky parts of the infrastructure whilst adding new and commercially valuable functions to it, e.g. ABC auditing of visitor statistics, sponsored sections, etc.
We believe the Register provides an excellent example of the conceptual and practical advantages which open source software has over proprietary alternatives in the electronic commerce environment.
From a visitor's perspective, the site's 24x7 availability is attributable both to the elegance of Unix's basic design and to the unrivalled severity of the Linux test regime (1000s of technically-savvy geeks trying to test it to destruction).
From an advertising point of view, implementing the site's fully audited traffic statistics, its range of new advert formats and its real time updates could only have been done at great expense via a proprietary route.
From the journalist's point of view, our achievement in reducing site updates from a one hour process to a 15 second one (i.e. 240 times faster) could not have been done with closed software. When you buy closed software you typically get what you are given and pay repeatedly for "upgrades" which look suspiciously like bug fixes.
The Register's owners and managers also get a whole range of direct support services which can only be delivered in an open source environment.
Most importantly, when they need software changes (emergency/security fixes, modifications or new functionality) we can simply write and immediately deploy short scripts which re-combine existing tools to provide an optimal solution to a potentially unique requirement. Proprietary software vendors simply can't provide that degree of customisation, nor can they respond immediately to anything but their own commercial emergencies.
If your company needs to develop a site which is valuable enough to be done by professional specialists, why not contact us to discuss the services we offer?
Even if you want to keep your core development in-house, you may want to talk to our consultants' and trainers about their "webtherapy" services, i.e. a whole suite of software techniques and tricks for increasing your website's visibility, usability and commercial effectiveness.