25 May 2018
Salsa Digital

The interview

Michael was recently in Australia (and the Salsa office) working with us on a big tender. We thought we’d take the opportunity to sit down with Michael and grill him on all things open platform.

What made you decide to open source Lagoon?

There were multiple reasons. The first one is that if you looked at the hosting stack of any specifically Drupal website (but any hosting environment today) everything was open source. But there was one key piece that wasn’t open source, and that was the platform. So it made sense to me to open source it, plus as a Drupal person I know the advantages of open source.

Secondly, as an engineer myself I know it’s all about trust. Engineers like to look at the code but in a proprietary system that’s not possible — instead we have to entrust our code and client to a hosting company, but we can’t see that platform’s code. If I can look at the code, I know what they’re doing but if can’t look at the code I must blindly trust them. Clients used to ask me about what was running in the background. And now it’s open source so everyone can see ‘under the hood’. Open source also forces you to keep code up to date because people can see it.

Lastly, there were (are) so many Drupal companies out there and all of them were basically doing the same thing. I wanted them to collaborate on how they solved problems but they were never interested in sharing. So I said I’d share everything and hope they follow suit. So far, they haven’t done that, but it puts pressure on them to follow suit and hopefully they’ll realise the way they’ve been doing things for the past six or seven years isn’t the best.

When you were first thinking about open-sourcing Lagoon did you have to rally much internally?

Not really. I’m one of the owners of the company but obviously I also checked in with the other two owners, the CEO, and talked to the whole team about it. They didn’t need a lot of convincing, and also saw that it would help our sales.

So providing it for free helps sales?

Sure. It helps sales because it appeals to people who want to go completely open source for ideological reasons, and it lets people look at the technology, the code, and they saw it was really cool and started using Lagoon. People now see us as an open source company and not just a hosting company, and that changes the perception of us. It also changes the fear of vendor lock-in drastically, and that helps you with sales because people don’t have to worry that their decision today will cause them problems in two years.

Now that Lagoon’s been out there (open source) for over six months, how do you feel about the decision?

I’m very much feeling it was the best decision, the best way forward. The amount of positive feedback from existing clients and new clients is great. I’ve also had people approach me about Lagoon for reasons I hadn’t anticipated. There are many people that work in organisations that can’t run Pantheon because they work in a highly secure organisation, but they want to use Drupal.

Highly secure? Are we talking about government agencies like the FBI and ASEO?

Well, I haven’t been approached by those particular agencies yet, but a similar situation, yes. People in a high-security environment and their system engineer wants to host Drupal sites and they can’t go to Acquia or Pantheon so they end up having to build their own hosting solutions...that used to be their only option. Now they can use Lagoon and run the platform in their own, secure environment. I’ve had developers in this situation come up to me, excited they can use Lagoon and develop cool tools instead of having to spend time developing their own, customised, private hosting environment. They don’t have to worry about security threats – they can use all the cool deployment systems and automated processes in their own data centre.

So are open platforms more secure than proprietary platforms?

Open platforms aren’t more or less secure – they can be as secure. However, if it’s not open source trust comes into’re trusting the company when they say it’s secure.

With Lagoon, you can see the code and we can build a Lagoon cluster specifically for the one client. We’re building a public cloud in Australia at the moment (with lots of different people on there) but other clients (e.g. Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC)) have their own ‘private’ cluster.

Where do you see the future of open platforms?

My hope is really that more and more people will follow the lead, more and more people will open source their platform, because there are specific hosting platforms for Wordpress and Magento (open source ecommerce platform) and right now I’m working out how to host them. But in the future, we can all bring our parts together. My ideal, my vision, is a sharing environment in the hosting community, just like how it works in the Drupal and open-source CMS communities. It shouldn’t stop now...the revolution has to go on.

And what about the future of Lagoon?

Right now Lagoon is very focused on engineers/developers but I understand that project managers and marketing people also want to login, see hits, view their sites, etc., and that’s something we’re working on – making it more accessible for non-developers. Today lots of tools are based on the command-line interface but many people are scared of that. Making Lagoon more user-friendly for non-tech people will open it up even more, to a larger community.

Our other focus right now is containerisation. The technology we use is Docker, Docker containers, and to run these in production you need a container orchestration tool. Right now we use OpenShift but there are others out there. Some people have said it would be cool if Lagoon also worked with other container orchestration that’s another future for us.

(Salsa note: For more information on containerisation, check out our blog Containerisation and OpenShift.)

I’m also hoping the future will see more companies using Lagoon. Yes, we maintain the open source tool, but I want it to be a tool that’s used by lots of other companies, so it doesn’t just make money for one single company, but others too.

Obviously that’s a key part of our working relationship, right?

Exactly. It’s part of the mentality, too. We really want to work with agencies like Salsa because they have the client relationships directly. I don’t want to go in and replace them, I want to help them. Every agency has to offer hosting to their clients and if we can do that with an open source system even better. We want to empower the agency to provide great tools and have happy developers.

(Salsa note on our history with We were working with Victoria's Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and had a shared vision of an open platform.  Around the same time, open-sourced their platform. Rather than creating a new open source platform ourselves, in the spirit of the open source community we joined forces with and worked with them to make their existing platform even stronger, as it is today. The rest, as they say, is history.)

Tell us a bit more about containers.

Everything is moving into containers in the industry at the moment. Two to three years ago people were aware of them, but not really that sure about them. But now pretty much everyone is using them (or everyone in my circles). If you look at any big company they now all run containers. Three years ago people said they’re not going to take over the world but now they are.

Talking about taking over the world, what do you think is the next big thing? Do you have people working on ‘the next big thing’?

We’re keeping our eyes and ears open but we’re not looking at being the inventor of the next big thing. And I don’t think you decide you’ll build the next big thing…you start building it and then it just happens that it becomes the next big thing. Not something you actively do.

Whatever is the next container or the next format we’ll stay on top of it and support it in Lagoon.

Will Lagoon become the next big thing?

Good question. I think it could. Definitely potential in there to take on bigger things than what it does right now. Although that’s the tricky part about open source, you never really know how many people are using it because they don’t pay you for it.

What’s the most exciting thing in your role at the moment?

Bringing Drupal to the future of hosting. If I look at other technologies, like Ruby, if you look at these communities and how developers are using it, they’re all using containers and Docker and somehow Drupal is behind in this area. And it’s very exciting to show potential clients and developers how Drupal can use containers and Docker and share that knowledge. We can basically bring them that feature and I love seeing people’s excitement at demos and that’s the really cool part. It happens every time we demo this stuff.

Anything else people might like to know?

People always ask us how you ‘get’ Lagoon. You don’t have to install Lagoon to use it. We do free test accounts and we’re starting a cluster in Australia now. So if anyone wants to use it they can contact amazee or Lagoon and we can set them up with a free test account.

Before we finish up, we’d love to hear more about your personal open source journey. Was it always open source for you?

Yeah, I grew up with open source. I’ve never written code myself that wasn’t open source. For me it’s like kids these days who can’t imagine living without a smartphone. I can’t imagine working with proprietary tools. I’ve always been able to look at code, look under the hood, and if I found a bug I’d work out how to fix it and tell people about that fix.

There was a whole other world that I never experienced. My friends went into proprietary but I was always open source. I grew up early on using Joomla, Wordpress, Gallery 2 and PHP. I was working as a photographer and basically learnt how to code a site so I could build a website to show my photography.

I guess that’s part of the reason I open-sourced Lagoon. It would have felt wrong not to have it open source. Open sourcing wasn’t a big step forward, but reaching the baseline.

Thanks to Michael for chatting to us for this ‘formal’ interview!

Get the latest digital insights and Salsa news

For a roundup of the latest news and insights across digital government, web development, open data and open source please subscribe to Salsa's monthly newsletter. 

Subscribe to our newsletter