Understanding the GeorgiaGov Platform
At the Georgia Digital Remodeling Summit hosted by GTA, I spoke about the GeorgiaGov platform and what it offers state agencies and elected officials. Many agencies who have self hosted websites walked up to me and asked clarifying questions. This is a compilation of my speaker notes and the follow up question/answer session.
What is the GeorgiaGov platform?
The GeorgiaGov platform is a technology investment made by the State of Georgia to reduce duplication and improve efficiency for the web presence for the State of Georgia. There are a bunch of static websites and content management systems floating within the state that require special attention and end up using resource time. The GeorgiaGov platform is Drupal based and fine tuned to serve state branded websites. We understand that different agencies offer unique services and one look for all doesn't work. So we have created several themes for agencies to choose from. The theme only decides the look and feel of your site. The structure, content, and tone is set by the agency. Two websites using the same theme can look very different by using a combination of the various components we offer for the platform. Even though it is referred to as a "platform", think of it as software as a service (or SaaS).
What is SaaS?
Software as a service is a way of delivering a web based service instead of maintaining hard copies of software on physical computers. A good way to understand the SaaS model is by thinking of the rental vs buyer analogy. Imagine you rent a loft. You are in control of organizing the interior structure, bringing in your own furniture, and putting up pictures or paintings that please you. If you have any service related issues, like a water leak or jammed windows, you have a number to call. Similarly with the GeorgiaGov platform, you are responsible for your content and creating the structure of your website. Leave all the behind the scenes updates and patches for us to figure out. We make sure your belongings are safe by keeping the system secure, efficient, and protected all the time.
So how exactly is this a platform?
To answer this question I need to explain the multitenant architecture concept. All users and websites share a single code base that is centrally maintained. Each site is a separate instance, attached with it its own database. This allows the content data for each agency to be opaque from other agency websites. Drupal offers thousands of modules to be used within websites. We have cherry picked a few modules that align with the state’s needs and have made them part of the platform. Any website hosted on the platform can choose a combination of these modules to create the building blocks for the website. Because all the sites run on a common infrastructure, we can focus on adding enhancements to the platform instead of spending time on maintaining several versions of code bases.
If this is all driven by themes is there any room for customization?
The good part about themes is that they are not templates. They are a mere indication and suggestion of the story you want to tell through your website. Think of Lego. There is a certain standardization for the blocks and the elements but it is up to you to create what ever with those blocks. Similarly, by setting up a site, we are enabling users to create their own structure. The sites can be customized to fit processes and workflow without affecting the common infrastructure. Because of the way the GeorgiaGov platform is architected, these customizations are unique to each agency and are preserved through upgrades.
Is this something commercial hosting providers can do for me?
What agencies get with being on the platform is not just hosting. This is an all around service offering pre-designed themes, a web publishing platform, future enhancements, and support. The adoption cost is significantly lower since the development work is already done and creating an instance for your agency is quite seamless.
If everything is in the cloud is the data safe?
The GeorgiaGov platform is hosted in the cloud. Our vendor has a stellar reputation for guaranteed site uptime and this particular cloud, being a Drupal tuned stack, is monitored 24x7 with sophisticated tools checking the pulse of every site’s performance, security, and code health. Cloud hosting also helps with the scalability of the platform. The elastic nature of the cloud enables the platform to sustain through traffic spikes and platform growth.
It has been 3 years and the states investment in the web publishing platform is already showing results. In 2013 the uptime for the GeorgiaGov platform was 99.98% and has accommodated almost 20 new agency websites. If you wish to learn more, do drop us a note at digitalservices.georgia.gov/help.