ITS Applications and University Communications Conduct Successful Pantheon Migration

Posted on: May 26, 2017

In April 2015, ITS Applications and University Communications launched the redesigned www.utexas.edu website (aka “the core site”) in Drupal 7. This launch represented the culmination of several years’ worth of work on the “Digital Experience” initiative and was a major overhaul of the university’s digital front door in terms of design and technology. The new site was built on a custom, on-premise web hosting infrastructure that extensively leveraged UT-V virtual servers and major portions of the UT Web platform to ensure high performance and high availability for a critical ITS service.

Since that time, ITS Applications has entered into a vendor relationship with Pantheon (https://pantheon.io), a cloud website management platform that specializes in Drupal and WordPress. Pantheon is used as the technical foundation for the UT QuickSites and CMS Hosting Platform services and offers an integrated suite of developer tools, including version control, continuous integration, and one-click deployment. Pantheon’s platform architecture leverages Linux container technology, which allows its operations staff to quickly provision additional computing resources as needed for sites experiencing high-traffic events.

After a successful first year working with Pantheon, ITS Applications staff engaged in a feasibility investigation for migrating the core site to the Pantheon platform. The built-in development workflow and deployment tools would meet or exceed the same requirements as our complex and expensive on-premise infrastructure. After analyzing issues related to cost, security, networking, and functionality, it was determined that migrating the core site to Pantheon would result in substantial cost savings for VM equipment and system administration, as well as greatly reduce the depth of technical skill needed to maintain the on-premise hosting.

In January 2017, a project team comprised of staff from ITS Applications, ITS Systems, the Information Security Office, and University Communications worked together to develop and execute a plan for migrating the core site, with a stated goal of making this a zero-downtime event that would be invisible to the thousands of users who visit the site daily. The plan eventually included incorporating the use of a global content distribution network (CDN) vendor, which not only provides an additional layer of security and distributed denial of service (DDOS) protection for the site but also caches copies of the site content at points of presence around the world, increasing performance for UT’s global audience.

After several weeks of migration runs and testing, the final cutover to Pantheon quietly took place on May 17, and went off without a hitch. This effort will provide ongoing value to ITS customers in the following ways:

  • Freeing up a substantial amount of limited and costly on-premise virtual computing resources to be used for purposes that cannot be hosted in the cloud
  • Eliminating dependencies on the campus IT infrastructure for a site whose primary audience (prospective students and their families) is off-campus  
  • Improving site performance for all of UT Austin’s external constituents by utilizing global caching in CDN data centers
  • Increasing agility through improved developer tools, to help our partners in University Communications respond to changing messaging needs
  • Saving over $110,000 annually in resource and staff costs

Several colleges are already on Pantheon, via our two services built on that platform, including the Graduate School site on the UT QuickSites service.  In total, there are 60 Drupal and Wordpress sites from a variety of colleges, schools, and units hosted on Pantheon.

Many thanks to the following members of the project team and staff who contributed directly to the migration effort:

·         ITS Applications: Catherine Camillone, Mark Fullmer, Joe Goodman, Paul Grotevant, Mike Marsello, Polo Reynaga

·         ITS Networking: Oscar Silva, Jason Wang

·         ITS Systems: Mic Kaczmarczik, Dave Moss, Geoff Nelson, James Russell, Steve Walker

·         Information Security Office: Cam Beasley

·         University Communications: Jamie Lay, Zach Meyer

Also, last weekend was the University’s 134th commencement, and many of our ITS Staff either spent time getting prepared for the event or spent time at the event ensuring everything came off without a hitch.  I had the chance to come around Saturday evening and see first-hand what you do and to thank many of you in person for your support.  From stringing fiber, installing cameras, streaming video, and building security - you made it a very, very special event and I appreciate it!