User Spotlight: Atla’s Lightning Fast Load Times

October 11th, 2019 by  | Comments Off on User Spotlight: Atla’s Lightning Fast Load Times

Do you host Open Journal Systems (OJS) and/or Open Monograph Press (OMP) as a library publisher, academic press, or institution? If so, you’ll know that the server that hosts the software can have a major impact on how users experience your journals or press. PKP’s Head of Platform Experience, Nate Wright, recently chatted with Atla Open Press to learn about how they’re utilizing Amazon’s Web Server (AWS) to achieve lightning fast load times for their peer-reviewed journals, monographs, and conference proceedings

PKP sprints provide an opportunity for us to meet the community using our software and learn about some of the exciting things they are doing. At our Pittsburgh (PGH) sprint this past summer, we met Christine Fruin, Scholarly Communications and Digital Projects Manager for Atla. Christine showed us how they use OJS and OMP as part of their goal to provide open access materials to their membership and beyond. We were blown away by the speed of their sites. Nate explains why speed matters:

“When a journal loads too slowly it can have a big impact on how the visitor experiences the site and this may affect whether the journal is perceived to be a low- or high-quality publication. We take it for granted these days that when we type a search into Google the answer will come back immediately. Over time, users come to expect that same instantaneous response from every site they visit. Load times for a journal that seemed snappy to users five years ago now seem slow and cumbersome.” 

Atla informed us that they are migrating all of their on-site server infrastructure to the cloud, using AWS. This has helped them achieve faster load times for OJS and OMP. To get a closer look at Atla’s server, Nate chatted with their Director of Information Systems, Jim Butler

Nate: Why did you decide to run OJS and OMP on AWS?

Jim: Increasingly we are being asked to do more with less. AWS and other cloud providers allow you to spin up environments at a fraction of the cost and time of rolling your own equipment. The financial incentive alone is a huge draw to at least start experimenting. Another key driver is the flexibility AWS offers. Cloud computing allows you to ramp up resources when needed and pull back when things slow down. Paying for what you use and nothing more is a real game changer.  

Nate: What AWS services are you using to keep the software running and how difficult was it to get started?

Jim: Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is the service I use most often.  With EC2 you can spin up a server in minutes. You can start with a prepackaged Linux or Windows Amazon Machine Image (AMI) and configure the processor type, ram, networking, storage, etc. Depending on your expertise, you can configure everything via the web console or use deployment scripts to automate the process. Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) is another popular service that allows you to store data.  We utilize this service as one method of storing backups from our EC2 instances. It’s high availability and reliability make it an appealing service to handle this task. If anyone is running a larger database, I would recommend using Amazon’s Relational Database Service (RDS). This web service allows you to run your OJS/OMP databases without the worry of setting up and managing a server. Your storage can grow as your database grows and this is key to avoid overpaying for storage you don’t need. As an added plus, all these services can be replicated across multiple availability zones around the world to ensure uptime.

Nate: What benefits have you seen from running the software on AWS?

Jim: When you look past the cost savings, another major benefit is control.  With physical servers I was used to having access to everything. Surprisingly when using EC2 I found all the control I needed was already being provided. We also used to work with web hosting providers for some projects. Most of those projects have been transitioned to AWS thanks to its greater flexibility and control. Another benefit of AWS is its performance.  It’s true you get what you pay for, but I find even the cheapest/lowest EC2 tiers run PKP’s software just fine. From a technical standpoint, PKP and the community do a great job of producing these publishing tools while keeping them pretty easy to manage. The tech investment is fairly small compared to our other projects.

Nate: Can you provide a rough estimate of the costs associated with hosting OJS or OMP on AWS?

Jim: For our OJS instance, which hosts multiple journals, the AWS costs comes to about $20 a month.  If we continue to add journals to this instance, we can easily add processing/ram/storage.

Nate: How have you managed this migration to minimise disruption for your users?

Jim: To ensure our transition ran smoothly, we picked opportune moments to move services to the cloud.  When a service was due for a major upgrade, we took extra time to shift that process to the cloud. Whenever hardware was nearing its end of life, we looked to move those services and data to the cloud. This strategy has increased the complexity for our IT staff, since we are working in a hybrid environment, but we feel it imposed the least amount of impact on others.  We are about 70% complete and hope to have everything transitioned in the next 18 months.

Nate: Can you recommend any resources for those in our community who want to get started using AWS?

Jim: Amazon’s Resource Center is a great place to start. Try to attend one of their webinars or conferences. And I think pricing is a concern for everyone as well. I have talked a lot about AWS but I am in no way saying this is the only option. It’s important that individuals do their homework and see which cloud provider is right for them. In my experience, AWS is ahead of the pack but Microsoft is making a strong push with their Azure services.  If you are hesitant to make the move, I’d recommend you try some of the free tier offerings for AWS, Azure and Google’s Cloud to see if cloud computing is right for you.

Atla’s story (and their use of AWS) is just one example of how investing in server infrastructure can improve user satisfaction, reduce frustration, and streamline scholarly communication. If you’re interested in hosting with AWS, check out this post from the PKP Community Forum for tutorials, system requirements, and related documentation. 

Meet Christine at PKP 2019! Christine Fruin will be presenting “Finding Our Own Direction: Open Monograph Publishing with Atla, OMP and Editoria” at PKP’s 7th International Scholarly Publishing Conference in Barcelona this November. Visit http://pkpbcn19.net to learn more.

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