For most people, America Online (AOL) is synonymous with Internet services, instant messaging or multimedia Web sites. But in the Australian market, the interactive media giant’s AOL|7 branch is also proving an unexpected advocate for open source.
All of AOL|7’s Web sites are based on Apache Web servers running Red Hat Linux. Web content is managed using a PostgreSQL database and PHP scripting language.
AOL|7 chief technology officer Alistair Carwardine said the decision to employ open source solutions in the technical make-up of AOL|7’s Web sites was propelled by the type of varied content delivered on each of its services.
Carwardine said AOL|7’s sites are database driven, and feature complex content feeds from a range of Australian sources, such as the Channel Seven network, as well the group’s international affiliates AOL and Time Warner. In order to maintain the integrity of its sites, AOL|7 needs to provide this mixture of rich content in a cost-effective manner while still conforming to high reliability targets.
“We have a series of sites which have to deliver content according to our business needs,” he said.
“With that goal in mind, Linux meets our needs in an ideal way. It does all this and still meets our technical needs.”
As well as being a stable technical solution, one of the key benefits of using open source products is that they allow the team to pick and choose when they want to upgrade to a new platform release, Carwardine said.
“I can basically pick my release and lock it in when I want to,” he said.
“I can use patches rather than having to upgrade to a whole new platform, so I’m not obliged to upgrade if I don’t want to. This means we can actually plan upgrades and manage the outage window in advance.”
But he was also quick to point out that by opting for a commercial variation of Linux such as Red Hat, AOL|7 gained access to a regular, strong supply of proven platform updates.
Commenting on AOL|7’s choice of database, Carwardine said a relational management system was the most appropriate tool for dealing with the types of loads on the company’s sites. Although most databases available could do the job, PostgreSQL’s stability and structure made it the best solution for managing the hundreds of gigabytes of content coming in.
“It [PostgreSQL] is extensible, can handle load traffic well, uses open SQL and will run on Intel servers,” he said. In addition, the low total cost of ownership and management fees associated with PostgreSQL makes it an appealing choice, he said.
Likewise, PHP was a very agile tool which integrated well with the other Linux applications and platforms running AOL’s back-end systems, he said.
“Operationally, we have a high availability environment. This set of products is ideal for this.”
AOL|7’s focus on maintaining and refreshing high-quality content has been heightened by the introduction of AOL|7’s latest dedicated broadband Web site and what Carwardine terms its range of “exhaustive content”.
“The broadband site is all about media and motion – it’s very much a case of ‘view it and do it’,” he said.
AOL|7 is a joint venture between America Online (AOL), Seven Network Limited and AAPT. The new Web site was launched alongside the company’s first ADSL broadband service offering earlier this month. Custom-designed for the Australian market, the broadband Web site homepage features a new ‘one-click’ toolbar for keeping records of the user’s favourite sites and applications. For the first time, broadband users can choose to access AOL services through either a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser.
Both the new broadband site and the AOL|7 home site use Apache/2.0.40, while the company powers its AOL mainpage with Apache/1.3.22.
Like its Australian subsidiary, AOL US also runs its services on open source products. However, the company bases its services on Sun’s Solaris platform.