A survey of CDNs for use with Drupal

I have spent some time researching Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and how they can integrate with Drupal.  Note that I have not yet implemented a CDN solution, so my experiences and opinion may change….  I will try to do a second post or update when we’ve actually rolled something out live.

Here are some criteria I’d use in selecting a drupal module for CDN management:

  • Do you need a CDN?  This is the key question, as a CDN can speed up your site, but introduces a layer of managment and expense that might not be worth the hassle.
  • Do you mind patching drupal core?  This might be a maintenance issue going forward.
  • Do you want to have just images on your CDN, or javascript and CSS as well?  What about video?
  • How contained within the drupal interface do you need your interactions with a CDN to be?  Are you comfortable using a third party tool sometimes?
  • Do you have an existing CDN to work with, or are you selecting a CDN from scratch?  Obviously, you have more flexibility in the second case.
  • Do you mind coding? Some of these modules seem like they are 75% of the solution, but you might need to write some code to finish things up.

There are a number of modules that attempt to integrate a CDN into Drupal, or might help doing so.  All of these had a release for Drupal6.

  • CDN: this seems like a great fit.  Active development, good sized issue queue, support for multiple CDNs.  It also patches core. Here’s a list of CDNs used with this module.
  • media_mover: this module seems like it might be useful if you were needing to move image and or video files to a CDN.  That might require some coding, although I remember there being some S3 and FTP support.
  • creeper: this module is all about Amazon API integration, including CloudFront.  Plus, what a great name!
  • parallel: fairly new module that changes the source hostnames of images, css files and javascript html tags.  Therefore, they can be served off a CDN, or another web server, etc.
  • storage_api: this is a general storage service with a CDN focus, but doesn’t appear to be well documented or supported as of this time.
  • cloudfront: adds Amazon CloudFront support to the imagecache module

These all seem to be useful in their own ways.  The current project I’m working on is already invested in the Amazon infrastructure, mainly because of Project Mercury, so cloudfront is our current choice.

Did I miss any key modules?

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NearlyFreeSpeech.net: pay only for the hosting you use

I had a friend tell me about NearlyFreeSpeech.net. Much like Amazon’s cloud computing services, you only pay for what you use.  Unlike Amazon, there’s no complicated infrastructure or proprietary protocols to get familiar with.  I doubt it has the reliability and scalability of Amazon either.

The pricing is pretty crazy: a penny a day for a website, $1/GB for your first GB of transfer, etc.  There’s a calculator to give you an idea of what you’d pay.

For a certain type of user, who my ‘web presence in two hours’ method just won’t work for, and who can use time in lieu of money, this seems like a great solution. I’m thinking, for example, of non-profits that are just trying to get a web presence and who don’t want to use one of the blog sites for reasons of design control.  If all you have is a static site, this can be very affordable:

“Static sites don’t have any baseline charges at all; you pay only for the storage and bandwidth you use, making them incredibly affordable if you’re on a limited budget and you’re working with a prebuilt website like those produced by many of the most popular web design programs.”

I don’t have any idea what kind of support or uptime they offer, but I love the idea of hosting that might start at $3/month, but can scale up easily and transparently.  They’ve been around since 2002, so they must be doing something right.

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Using APIs to move time entries from FreshBooks to Harvest

I recently was working for a client who has their own time tracking system–they use Harvest.  They want me to enter time that I work for them into that system–they want more insight into my time use than monthly invoice. However, I still use my own invoicing system, FreshBooks (more on that choice here) and will need to invoice them as well.  Before the days when APIs were common, or if either of these sites did not have an API, I would have had three, equally unsavory, choices:

  • Convince the client to use my system or at least access it for whatever data they needed
  • Send reports (spreadsheets) to the client from my system and let them process it
  • Enter my time in both places.  This option would have won, as I don’t like to inconvenience people who write me checks.

Luckily, both Harvest and FreshBooks provide APIs for time tracking (Harvest doco here, FreshBooks doco here). I was surprised at how similar the time tracking data formats were.  With the combination of curl, gnu date, sed, Perl and bash, I was able to write a small script (~80 lines) that

  • pulled down my time data for this client, for this week, from FreshBooks (note you have to enable API access to your account for this to work)
  • mapped it it from the FreshBooks format to the Harvest format
  • then posted it to Harvest.

A couple of caveats:

  • I still log in to Harvest to submit my time (I didn’t see a way to submit my time in the API documentation), but it’s a heck a lot easier to press one button and submit a weeks worth of time than to do double entry.
  • I used similar project and task codes in both systems (or, more accurately, I set up the FreshBooks tasks and projects to map to the Harvest ones, since FreshBooks is what I had control over).  That mapping was probably the most tedious part of writing the script.

You can view my script here, or at least a sanitized version thereof.  it took about an hour and a half to do this. Double entry might have been quicker in the short term, but now I’m not worried about entry mistakes, and submitting my time every week is easy!  I could also have used XSLT to transform from one data format to the other, but they were so similar it was easier just parse text.

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Using phpMyAdmin without the “Show Databases” privilege

phpMyAdmin is a pretty cool piece of software, and a very useful tool. If you haven’t used it before, it’s a full featured web-based interface to MySQL databases. You can use it to add data, update data, delete data, export data, and basically any other management of the database you might need.

I ran into an issue the other day. I was trying to allow phpMyAdmin to access a database on a remote host. The user that phpMyAdmin was connecting as didn’t have the “show databases” privilege (I imagine this is common in shared hosting environments, which is what this was). This, apparently, is what phpMyAdmin uses to populate the drop-down of databases on the left-hand side after you login. Since it didn’t display that drop-down, there is no way of selecting the database to which this user did have access.

I searched for a while, but couldn’t find anyone else with this problem. So I thought I would post the solution I found.

The solution is to hard code authentication data for the remote server in my config.inc.php file.  Then, you append the server and the database that you want to connect to the phpMyAdmin url.

In the config.inc.php file:
$cfg['Servers'][$i]['host'] = 'xxx.xxx.xx.xx';
$cfg['Servers'][$i]['user'] = 'user';
$cfg['Servers'][$i]['password'] = 'pass';

In the url that normal users use to access the database:
http://phpMyAdmin.example.com/phpMyAdmin/index.php?db=databasename&server=xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx

The left hand side still isn’t populated with any databases. But, this allows you to go directly to the database to which you do have access, and perform whatever tasks you want (and have permissions for). I tried adding the “db” parameter to the config.inc.php file, but that didn’t seem to work. I didn’t try using any other form of authentication than hardcoded, as I wanted to make this as simple as possible for the phpMyAdmin users.

I was running an older version of phpMyAdmin (2.11.9.5); I didn’t test this on newer versions.  If you do, please post a comment and let me know if this still works.

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