54: Meet Michael Cooper: Insight, improving Drupal performance and security

Michael Cooper, Engineering Director for the Acquia Network ("If it's broken, it's probably my fault."), brought a vision with him when he came to Acquia: a tool to manage, optimize, and secure large numbers of Drupal websites easily. This has turned into one of the Acquia Network's crown jewels, Insight, which monitors hundreds of metrics on live Drupal sites and offers not only alerts for more than 170 kinds of potential problems, it also proactively suggests ways you can improve your site' performance, SEO optimization, and more.

The road to Drupal and Acquia

Michael started in IT on the SysOps side, managing "half the Unreal Tournament servers in the world from 1999-2003," and "hundreds of thousands of Counterstrike games on 350 physical servers in 7 data centers," on his own. He was tempted into the software side of things when he noticed that, unlike sysadmins, the programmers get to go home and sleep ... :-)

He started doing some PHP and his expertise in performance and large-scale development. He built and ran a large network of sites on his own CMS for a large automotive supply company, but left when they were bought out. Drupal 3 was not quite what he was looking for when he checked it out, and he started developing using the Code Igniter framework. After a while Michael got sick of repeating the same tasks over and over and came to the conclusion that building the same components again and again "is just stupid," and had another look at Drupal. Drupal 5 was doing "everything he wanted" and he was hooked.

Michael moved on to Kaspersky and worked with Acquia's Kate Fogarty. They converted all Kaspersky's Americas websites to Drupal over a year and a half. When the company decided to move the sites to something else, Michael said, "I want to go to the company where Drupal is always the right answer."

And he got there, too ...

On Drupal for freelancers

"It allowed me to make a heck of a lot more money than I would have if I had had to build everything from scratch. Every project could be more profitable because I wan't having to build everything over and over again or architect everything myself." Kids! Listen to Michael!

Working at Acquia

"I get to live my dream: building really cool software that I love to make, building tools and applications that make people's lives better, that people are excited to use. I get to do it all through this system that has a great community, a lot of great collaborators, and a really strong codebase that is easy to work with. Acquia is a place where all they do is make awesome things with Drupal!"

About Acquia Insight

Acquia offers its technical staff so-called "gardening days" to work on Drupal issue queues, side projects, and new ideas. Michael came to Acquia with experience in managing large stables of websites. "Except for the Update Status page, which only checks modules, within Drupal itself, there's no really way to tell if things need to be done on your site. When I came to Acquia, I saw the power of the Acquia Connector Module, that could sit on someone's website and provide us information about their website. It had this enormous potential to be extended ... we could built dashboards on our end and show them all sorts of information about their website." Hey presto a gardening days project was born! Today, we call it Insight and it comes with every Acquia Network subscription, anyone running a Drupal site can have a subscription, not just those on Acquia Cloud.

What does Acquia Insight do for Drupal site owners?

"I refer to it as an ongoing audit of your website," says Michael, all on one place, "it allows you to see if modules need to be updated, if configuration has been changed, if your stack is configured properly. It also has an add-on called "SEO Grader" that helps you configure your Drupal site for SEO." Insight will alert you proactively, too: "A great example is someone's debugging the site at nine at night, they turn off page caching and forget to turn it back on. The next day you hit Reddit or something and your site goes down. With Insight you can configure it to get alerts, so you could get an email alert and go back and turn on page caching before the problem ever became a big deal."

Centralized information gives you better sites for less effort

"We want to help everybody make their websites more secure, make their websites run better. It's good for all of us if Drupal is perceived to be a more secure, more performant solution."

Even if 80% of the information Insight provides can be easily pulled from any given site, Insight does so automatically, all the time and includes proactive optimization suggestions and alerts for 170 different types of potential problems, proactive optimization recommendations, code change diffs, and more.

"Any good Drupal developer, everything we have in Insight, they a) already know, or b) could probably figure out relatively easily. This is all based on what the community knows about Drupal. Our Support team has come up with some new things, based on their experience supporting thousands of Drupal websites. But you're not always the only one on your site! Someone else could be in there playing around. Sometimes you turn over admin control to a client and they destroy it and they come and get angry at you. Insight can alert when they make these changes, contact them and help fix it proactively, everybody looks better."

Show notes

  • Acquia Network: answers, site management tools, and support when you need it for any Drupal site
  • Insight: "Be a Drupal hero." Acquia Insight takes the mystery out of Drupal tuning and management, giving you greater visibility and control over your sites.
  • Acquia Connector Module
  • Since this interview, Michael has published the science fiction novel, "Outsystem" ... Read it if you can stand cliffhanger endings :-)