Using cloud storage from Amazon has helped Automattic scale its fast-growing Wordpress.com blog hosting service. But Wordpress founding developer Matt Mullenweg said he'd much prefer to run an optimized open source solution on leased servers. While cloud computing is the hot buzzword, Mullenweg said open source is the key to competing in the new digital economy.
"When I have to go to the cloud, I consider that a failure," said Mullenweg, speaking on a panel at GigaOm's Structure 09 conference in San Francisco. "The thing that's been most exciting to me is how the open source tools have evolved." In particular, Mullenweg cited the significant savings Wordpress.com has realized by using the nginx web server for load balancing.
Wordpress.com, the hosted version of the open source Wordpress blogging software, now runs about 5 million sites serving more than 1 billion page views a month (see the Wordpress.com stats page for more). Automattic uses two data center providers, the dedicated hosting specialists ServerBeach (PEER 1) and Layered Technologies.
"The biggest mistake we made with the Wordpress.com infrastructure was actually buying servers," said Mullenweg, who said buying servers was "not a utility. Now we lease then all on a month-to-month basis."
Mullenweg said the decision to use Amazon's S3 storage service to host static files was driven by the fact that there wasn't an open source solution that solved the problems Automattic was facing. "I hope that over time that will develop," he said. "We should have the option to do it ourselves. Having one provider for that is kind of scary. We're probably not going to go up the stack (in using other Amazon cloud services). It's just storage for now."
Although the Structure 09 conference is focused on the cloud, Mullenweg said the term "doesn't really mean anything. When you're talking about it, I'm trying not to laugh."
But Mullenweg sees the value in content distribution networks. "CDNs are incredibly important," we loved Netli, but they got acquired by Akamai. Now we're just using dumb CDN for static files. We're trying a few people for that. CDNs have become totally commoditized."
Thirty one percent of Wordpress.com blogs are written in languages other than English. But Mullenweg said Automattic will focus on CDNs for delivering international content, rather than actually moving infrastructure overseas. ""We like keeping our servers in the United States because we only have to abide by one set of laws" he said. "They've got some crazy laws in other countries."
For his closing thoughts, Mullenweg circled back to the importance of open source. "My challenge to everyone competing with Amazon, Google and Microsoft is to remember that you're competing with Amazon, Google and Microsoft," he said. "These are strong technology companies, and if you're going to compete with them, open source is the only way to do that. Otherwise, you have no leverage."